In this third feature, information taken from actual witness accounts reveal why the jet may have crash landed in Kosciusko County.
All information was made available by Anderson resident Mike Carpenter, a retired professional recovery diver who studied mishap since 1991.)
As Clarence Meinert watched the flaming jet slightly to the northeast of his home on what is now known as Old U.S. 30 near Warsaw, Harry and Esther Stabler were in bed in their home north of Durham Lake, some 15 miles away.
Having heard what sounded like a low-flying plane in trouble, Esther awoke and sat up in bed. Peering out a west-facing window into the winter night, she saw what she would later describe as “a flaming streak” heading toward the earth at an angle too steep to considered a landing attempt.
A Missed Deadline
Lt. Frederick Davis was three minutes late reporting at Mason City, Iowa, on his cross-country flight. Records show he failed to make any radio contact at his next checkpoint over Moline, Ill. It may have been another warning sign that a mechanical failure was imminent.
Documents also indicate Airman Robert Watkins may have become ill sometime during the flight and may have even succumbed to hypoxia – a state of oxygen deficiency that can be induced by breathing in something such as carbon monoxide.
Finally, at 11:46 p.m. EST, Davis did report over Goshen, noting he was approximately 24 minutes away from his next checkpoint at Cleveland, Ohio. It would be the last time anyone ever heard from the men.
Clarence Meinert and Esther Stabler, though residing in different areas of the county, had no idea they were among several people witnessing a tragic event that, now 55 years later, would remain a puzzling mystery.
In all, some 20 people saw or heard something in the winter skies on that fateful night. Among them was Charles Hutchinson who lived on CR 400 South near Pierceton.
In an early investigation conducted by the Goshen Civil Air Patrol, Hutchinson was reportedly returning home from work when he heard a plane and what sounded like a dull thud explosion.
Francis Widman and his wife, who resided on Brallier Road northeast of Pierceton, were also awoken by what they said was a plane or jet engine running rough. As it passed over or near their house, it rattled the windows, startling them out of bed.
A Mrs. Randall who lived 2 1/2 miles west of SR 15 near Clunette, and another couple near Sechrist Lake all reported hearing a plane going back and forth overhead as if searching for a place to land.
And there were the Greiders near Cromwell; Mrs. Dale Hickman and Cecile Anderson, both who lived just north of James Lake. They reported hearing a plane, seeing a brilliant light, feeling a concussion and hearing a rumbling.
Mrs. Jesse Eshbach and Al Withers who respectively lived on the north and west sides of Winona Lake, also reported orange streaks traveling from a west to east.
Chester Kelly, who lived one mile east of Winona Lake, heard a jet around midnight traveling northeast. Ray Selmon, Mr. and Mrs. Jack Lowery and Ethel Whilstone, all residents near the southwest side of Warsaw, heard a low-flying aircraft circling overhead around midnight but said it was snowing too hard on that side of the county that they were unable to see what direction it might have been traveling.
And the sightings did not end there.
As one of only a handful of people who had homes on James Lake in 1956, and the only one who resided there year-round, Ritter was certain he had heard something crash into the murky waters. But with no one to validate his concern, he would pass away three years later still not knowing for sure what happened on that December night in 1956.