Westerly, R. I. – March 9, 1945

Westerly, Rhode Island – March 9, 1945


North American Texan Military Trainer
Author Photo

     On the afternoon of March 9, 1945, a navy SNJ-5, “Texan” trainer aircraft, (Bu. No. 43917), took off from the Charlestown Navy Auxiliary Air Field for a training flight over southern Rhode Island with two men aboard.  The pilot was Lt. (Jg.) William Edward Stakely.  With him was Lt. (Jg.) Howard Gilmore Boren, Jr., 23.  According to the navy accident report, “The purpose of the flight was to instruct Lt. (Jg.) Boren in recoveries on instruments from stalls, spins, and unusual positions.” 

     As the aircraft was going through a series of aerial maneuvers over the Bradford section of Westerly, Rhode Island, ground observers looked up to see the aircraft spinning violently towards the ground as a “detached portion” of the aircraft could be seen “fluttering” after it.  The aircraft dove into the ground and exploded and neither man was able to bail out.

     The “detached portion” that fell away was found to be the left wing of the aircraft which was recovered in a wooded area about three-quarters of a mile from the crash site. 

      An excerpt from the official U. S. Navy report reads: “A close examination of the left wing showed it to be completely crumpled.  It was curled up and twisted from the leading edge of the wing tip diagonally aft and inboard toward the wing root.” 

     It was believed the wing structure failed due to stresses placed upon it during the routine aerial maneuvers.  The accident was not the fault of the pilot.

     Lt. (Jg.) Boren was a combat veteran and had received the Navy Cross for his actions in battle.  To read the citation or to see a photo of Lt. (Jg.) Boren, click on the link below. 


     As of this posting no further info is known about Lt. (Jg.) Stakely.


     U. S. Navy accident report dated March 9, 1945 





Westerly, R. I. – September 20, 1943

Westerly, Rhode Island – September, 20, 1943


U.S. Navy SBD Dauntless
U.S. Navy Photo.

     On September 20, 1943, Ensign Charles Frederick Leiserson, age 21, was piloting an SBD-4 Dauntless, (Bu. No. 10470), on a gunnery training mission when the aircraft crashed and burned in Westerly, R.I.   Also aboard was Ensign Raymond R. Strimel, age 28.  Both men were killed. 

     Ensign Leiserson moved to Washington, D. C. in 1933, and upon graduation from Woodrow Wilson High School, attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduating in 1942.  He worked at Grumman Aircraft in Bethpage, Long Island, and enlisted in the Navy in September, 1942, and earned his pilot’s wings at Corpus Christi, Texas.  He continued his training at Fort Lauderdale, Florida before being sent to Rhode Island.  He’s buried in Arlington National Cemetery.



     Ensign Strimel was born in Marietta, Ohio, and attended Ohio State University and the University of of Oklahoma.   He’s buried in East Lawn Memorial Park in Reno, Ohio.



     U. S. Navy Accident Report #44-8706, dated September 20, 1943

     The Evening Star, (Washington, D.C.), “Ensign Charles F. Leiserson Killed In Rhode Island Crash”, September 21, 1943, pg. A-8


Seaplane – Westerly, R.I.,

Seaplane – Westerly, Rhode Island

     A vintage post card view of a seaplane in Watch Hill Cove, Westerly, Rhode Island. 

Click on image to enlarge.



Off Watch Hill, R.I. – October 26, 1944

Off Watch Hill, Rhode Island – October 26, 1944


Ensign Norman Francis Day U.S. Navy - WWII

Ensign Norman Francis Day
U.S. Navy – WWII

     At 6:52 p.m., on October 26, 1944, Ensign Norman Francis Day, 20, piloting an F6F-5N Hellcat, (Bu. No. 70895), and Ensign W. D. Cochran, piloting another F6F Hellcat, took off from Charlestown Aux. Naval Air Station in Charlestown, Rhode Island, for a night training mission. 

     The pair flew to Fisher’s Island, New York, (Off the eastern end of Long Island) and engaged in simulated strafing maneuvers on searchlight positions.  After about 40 minutes, Ensign Cochran attempted to call Ensign Day by radio and got no response. 

     A fisherman on a boat reported a plane apparently experiencing engine trouble had crashed into the water about 2 miles due south of Watch Hill, Rhode Island.  Watch Hill is in the town of Westerly, Rhode Island.


U.S. Navy F6F Hellcat U.S. Navy photo

U.S. Navy F6F Hellcat
U.S. Navy photo

     The crash was not witnessed by Ensign Cochran.

     At the time of his death, Ensign Day was assigned to Carrier Aircraft Service Unit 27, (CASU-27), assigned to the Naval Air Station at Charlestown, Rhode Island.  He’s buried in Arlington National Cemetery.  (See link below.) 



     Larry Webster, Aviation Historian, Rhode Island.  

     U.S. navy aircraft accident report 48-44

Westerly, R.I. – July 9, 1978

Westerly, Rhode Island – July 9, 1978

     Shortly before 8:30 p.m. on the evening of July 9, 1978, a Piper Cherokee, (#N-5254S), took off from Westerly Airport with four people aboard, bound for Red Hook, New York.  Heavy fog and low cloud cover blanketed the area making for hazardous flying, but the experienced pilot was certified in instrument flight.  As the aircraft took off, it began a long slow turn to the right. 

     Meanwhile, a man was hitting soft balls to a group of boys in a field off East Avenue, not far from the airport.  He later told reporters that he’d heard the low flying aircraft before he saw it come out of the 100 foot cloud cover and crash.  He related how the aircraft came out of the clouds so low that he yelled for the boys to duck as it passed overhead.  The plane then banked to the right as the pilot tried to avoid some trees, and the right wing dropped and dug into the soil, causing the nose to slam into the ground.  The aircraft then cartwheeled for about 100 feet before coming to rest.  All four occupants perished, but nobody on the ground was injured.  


     Westerly Sun, “Westerly Crackup: The Pilot Had Lost His Bearings In Life”, July 23, 1978, page 1, (With diagram of crash scene.) 



Westerly, R.I. – October 24, 1943

Westerly, Rhode Island – October 24, 1943

U.S. Navy Grumman Avenger National Archives Photo

U.S. Navy Grumman Avenger

National Archives Photo

     On October 24, 1943, a Grumman TBF-1 Avenger (Bu. No. 06096) piloted by Ensign Ralph E. Sethness, 28, was approaching Westerly Auxiliary Air Field (Today known as Westerly State Airport) when the plane developed engine trouble and crashed on the golf course of the Winnapaug Country Club.  (The club was, and still is, located at 180 Shore Road in Westerly.)

     The plane came down near the 7th hole and burst into flames.  Two local men, Robert C. Gentile, and Benjamin B. York, were the first to arrive at the scene where they found the badly injured pilot lying right next to the burning wreck with live ammunition from the plane’s machine guns starting to go off.  With disregard for their own safety, they carried Ensign Sethness fifty feet away and lay him down.  No sooner had they done so, the plane’s fuel tanks exploded spraying flaming gasoline all about the area.  The flames quickly set off a succession of machine gun rounds, and Gentile shielded the injured man with his body.   This lasted for about two minutes until the heat of the flames forced them to move Ensign Sethness another fifty feet away.  There they tended to him as best they could until fire and rescue units arrived.     

     Both men were later awarded the Carnegie Medal of Heroism for their efforts.  

     The Grumman Avenger generally carried a crew of three men however, on this particular flight Ensign Sethness was alone.  The reason for the flight was not stated, nor was the cause of the accident.   Ensign Sethness was assigned to torpedo squadron VT-15.


     The Westerly Sun, “Saw Plane Crash, Shore Road Men Rush To Scene”, October 25, 1943

     U.S. Navy accident report #44-9275

     Carnegie Hero Fund Commission


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