Going through the early days of the Group has reminded me what a tough time the 352nd Squadron had during the first few months in England. I have added a new page to the header bar where you can see the terrible losses experienced and click on links to follow up on the individual stories. September 18, 1943 was yet another tragic day for the Squadron with the loss of a pilot in a crash thought to have been caused by mechanical failure – the accident brought the total of 352nd pilots lost in the few short months since arriving in England to nine.
At 14:05 hrs that day members of the Group witnessed a horrific crash when Thunderbolt SX-R (a/c 42-7985) crashed near the 350th Squadron dispersal area at Metfield. The pilot, 2nd Lt. Francis J. Hajosy (Wakeford 58), had only joined the 352nd Squadron as a replacement four days previously and was up on a local familiarization flight.
Witnesses saw him coming in as if to land on runway 33 with his wheels down. Others reported that the planes’ engine sounded as if it was in trouble and was throwing white smoke. 1st Lt Maurice Kohn, the 350th Squadron Engineering Officer, reported what he saw:
I looked up and saw the plane, which was flying in a westerly direction, wheels down at approximately 400 feet. I turned to one of my men and said “Dibble, doesn’t that plane sound as if it were in trouble?” Within a few seconds the plane went into a left bank at about 100 feet, nosed sharply down and crashed into the ground. Flame broke out at the moment of impact. I and S/Sgt Dibble, T/Sgt Bielli, S/Sgt Hartman, and Sgt Fioretto jumped into a jeep and raced to the burning plane with the intention of removing the pilot. Ordering the men to stay clear of the burning aircraft, S/Sgt Dibble and I rushed to the cockpit. There were S/Sgt Croshaw and S/Sgt Flint, without regard for their own safety, already busily engaged in removing the pilot…S/Sgt Dibble and I gave immediate assistance and together we removed the pilot…[and] placed [him] in the ambulance.
The crash investigation report states that the plane appeared to be in trouble and that Lt. Hajosy was desperately trying to reach the nearest runway. As his wheels were down it was presumed that he had committed himself to a field landing (a landing off field with wheels down would have been even more risky). The report also stated that he may have been trying to ‘stretch’ his glide to make it in safely or that he misjudged the amount of safe bank to use and suffered a subsequent loss of flying speed which caused the crash. Sadly Lt. Hajosy died immediately as a result of the crash. His remains were returned to the United States and he is buried in St Edward’s Cemetery, Stafford Springs, Connecticut.
As a postscript to the crash, the enlisted men who selflessly attempted a rescue were awarded the Soldiers Medal. S/Sgts Leo C. Flint, James B. Dibble and Sgt Stanley A. Croshaw were presented their awards by Brig Gen. Murray C. Woodbury at a ceremony held at Metfield on March 24, 1944.