Tomorrow (June 29) it will be sixty nine years to the day since a young pilot from the 352ndFighter Squadron lost his life in a flying accident. Lt William M. Mathias was the first loss to the Group since arriving in England. Taking off from Goxhill to complete a camera gunnery mission, Mathias got into a rat race with another pilot (as the training mission required) but misjudged his altitude while trying to evade his opponent and smashed into the ground at high speed. As the pressure mounted on the pilots before they entered combat simple mistakes could become deadly ones.
Sadly this was not to be the only loss suffered by the Group. During their time in England the 353rd lost nineteen pilots in flying accidents (not including weather related combat losses) and suffered a further two pilots seriously injured. Across the Squadrons the 350th lost nine pilots, the 351st lost three and the 352nd lost seven – clearly then the bad luck was not confined to the 352nd. When you also note that the Group recorded 137 non-combat related accidents involving damage to aircraft during this time you can appreciate just how dangerous operating Thunderbolts and Mustangs was – it was not just the enemy that could get you killed and moments of carelessness, inexperience or just bad luck could cost you dear.
As a postscript to this story, William ‘Bill’ Streit was very good friends with Bill Mathias and ‘Scotty’ McPherson. Returning to Goxhill from leave in London, Streit was devastated to hear of the loss of Mathias and later named his aircraft ‘Scotty Bill’ in honour of his two close friends. The name served him well and ‘Scotty Bill’ carried him, with a few incidents, through most of his tour. Streit left the Squadron in June 1944, but before then the aircraft was assigned to another pilot – sadly the luck didn’t hold and the aircraft was lost, along with its pilot 2ndLt Luther Avakian, after being hit by flak June 7, 1944.