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The Worst Aerial Tragedy in Washington History: The 1938 Plane Crash in Anacostia

On November 9th, 1938, two aviators, Lieutenant Colonel Leslie MacDill and Private Joseph G. Gloxner, burned to death in the worst aerial tragedy in the history of Washington after their airplane crashed on a street in Anacostia. Read the full story here.
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Came across is crazy photo on Shorpy. This happened on November 9th, 1938 when two aviators, Lieutenant Colonel Leslie MacDill and Private Joseph G. Gloxner burned to death in, what was then, the worst aerial tragedy in the history of Washington after their airplane crashed on a street in Anacostia.

They had just taken off from Bolling Field and their plane went down, destroying three cars in the crash.

Airplane crash in Anacostia
Airplane crash in Anacostia

Oh, by the way, MacDill Air Force Base near Tampa was named after the pilot. He was kind of a big deal.

Here’s the Washington Post report about the accident.

A special Army board last night was investigating the crash which killed and cremated two Army fliers when their pursuit plane went into a spin, narrowly missed two houses and smashed to earth in Anacostia, 2 miles from Bolling Field.

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The dead were Col. Leslie MacDill, 49, of the War Department general staff, who lived at 3105 Cathedral avenue northwest, and Private Joseph G. Gloxner, of First Staff Squadron, of Reading, Pa. Both were instantly killed.

Maj. Charles P. Prime, chief investigator, said last night that eyewitnesses have given conflicting reports regarding engine trouble. Coroner A. Magruder MacDonald said he would postpone decision on holding an inquest into the deaths until he had received the Army report.

The BC-1 pursuit plane piloted by Col. MacDill took off from Bolling Field at 9:36 a.m. Three minutes later it crashed on S street, a block away from the busy intersection of Good Hope road and Nichols avenue.

Accounts pieced together from numerous eyewitnesses indicate that something happened to the motor and Col. MacDill tried to get back to his field, and then with death staring him in the face aimed his plane for a narrow space between two houses in order to land on Thirteenth street, headed for an alley.

The plane cut down telephone and power wires, knocked down a pole, clipped off tree limbs and plunged into the earth between the curb and street in front of the home of Robert Thompson, 1807 Thirteenth street, southeast.

The plane immediately burst into flames, settled back on a parked car. Burning gasoline flowed down the street and destroyed three other parked cars.

One civilian came within 10 feet of being killed in the crash. That was Clarence W. Ohm, plumber of 1612 W street southeast. He had parked his car directly across the street from the crash, and was just getting from his car when the plane struck.

Both bodies were burned beyond recognition by the flames which leaped as high as 50 feet. One of the bodies was thrown from the fuselage, while the head was torn from the other. Fireman fought half an hour with water and chemicals.

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Louis Fiedler, mechanic, and Harry Rosenthal, manager of Mandell Chevrolet garage at Thirteenth street and Good Hope road, and Earl Hazel, of 1235 U street southeast, rushed to the plane with fire extinguishers. The heat drove them away. Fiedler’s face was scorched.

The street at the time of the crash was deserted except for Ohm. Few people were attracted by sound of the plane until it exploded because Anacostia residents have become accustomed to low-flying planes.

Ohm related that because of a broken gasket on the exhaust pipe of his automobile, he heard nothing until a plop which suggested to him falling of a human body. From his parked car he heard a scream and saw a body on the pavement before an explosion “like a 16-inch gun” shot up huge clouds of black smoke and flames.

Still shaking from his experience last night he said, “it was the most horrible thing I ever saw. I thought the world was coming to and end. I have felt so bad all day I couldn’t clean up the brains splattered on my car.”

Col. MacDill was a graduate of Hanover College, University of Indiana, and the Army War College. He leaves his wife, Mrs. Marilla Augusta MacDill, and two daughters, Katherine Rose, 14, and Rose, 11.

Col MacDill was first commissioned a second lieutenant, Coast Artillery Corps, in 1912. By time of the World War he had been promoted to captain of Air Corps. Overseas he organized the Aerial Gunnery School at St. Jean de Monts, France.

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In 1920 he was graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and held several commands until 1930 when he came to Washington in Plans Division, Office of Chief of Air Corps. After attending the Army and Naval War Colleges, he returned here in 1934.

The bodies of both men are being held at Walter Reed Hospital.

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