(The following is the second in a series regarding the mysterious disappearance of an Air Force T-33 trainer jet that, on Dec. 8, 1956, went missing. It is believed the T-33 lies at the bottom of a Kosciusko County lake where it has become an underwater grave for its pilot and passenger.
In this second feature, information taken from military and other miscellaneous documents reveal early problems with the flight and witnesses recount the fatal descent.
All information was made available by Anderson resident Mike Carpenter, a retired professional recovery diver who studied mishap since 1991.)
It was right at midnight on Dec. 9, 1956. As was his usual routine, Clarence Meinert watched the television sign off with the playing of the national anthem, his cue to tie on his boots, bundle up in his work coat and head out into the cold, wintry night to feed his chickens.
From his yard near Warsaw, Meinert heard the T-33 overhead and looked up. He caught site of the running lights just before he watched in horror as huge flames erupted from the craft’s belly. Meinert did not hear an explosion, but waited for the sound of a terrific crash that never came. He remembered only the eerie silence.
Early Warning Sign
It was 10:13 a.m. Pacific Standard Time on Dec. 8, 1956. Lt. Frederick Davis III, piloting the T-33 trainer jet, left Geiger Air Force Base at Spokane, Wash., on the first leg of a cross-country flight. His mission: to deliver Airman 2C Robert Watkins to Westover, Mass., to his wife who had been seriously injured in an auto accident.
Davis reported trouble with the flight nearly from the start. In fact, instead of following his flight plan to Lowry Air Force Base in Colorado, he made an unscheduled stop at Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, Utah. He cited communication problems with his radio.
Mechanics at Hill AFB quickly changed out the jet’s radio so Davis could continue his trip on schedule. After Davis departed, the old radio was tested and determined to be in fine working order. That meant he was still flying with some kind of mechanical problem.
Davis arrived at Foss Field in Sioux Falls, S.D., at 6:29 p.m. Central Standard Time. There, he would be joined by who witnesses would later say was a “very fatigued” Watkins.
Although there are no records to explain why Watkins was so fatigued or why he wasn’t picked up at the much closer Spokane, Wash., starting point, military records indicate his condition may have played at least a small role in the men’s deaths.
The Final Takeoff
Records from personnel at Foss Field show Davis did not report any maintenance that needed to be performed on the single-engine jet and said the pilot appeared alert as he spent over an hour checking weather conditions and preparing his final flight plan. He was expected to land in Westover Air Force Base at approximately 12:30 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.
At 9:25 p.m. CST, three hours after his arrival at Foss Field, Davis, with Watkins then seated in the rear passenger seat of the T-33, readied for a final departure.
Davis, however, was summoned back to the base tower at the request of Foss Field Flight Services and advised he had left little, if any, extra fuel for in-flight delays.
Perhaps in a hurry to deliver his passenger, Davis instructed Foss Field personnel to simply alter the numbers on paper and he would continue as planned. Davis and Watkins departed Foss Field at 10:25 p.m. CST.