Archiving a plane crash
David Hale is not an aviation enthusiast.
The Bowman Museum volunteer and Crook County Historical Society member had never known about a plane crash at the Prineville Airport in 1935 involving a local military pilot.
But a visitor query last year prompted Hale to not only learn about the crash and about the plane involved in the tragic accident, he became engrossed in the incident and decided to compile a book on it.
Lt. Wistar "Chick" Rosenberg and Capt. Harry Killpack were killed in the crash, which happened immediately after take-off from the airport on Aug. 29, 1935. Killpack had come to Central Oregon to inspect local Civilian Conservation Corps camps, and Rosenberg was his pilot for the return trip to their base in Vancouver, Washington.
Rosenberg was the son of prominent Prineville doctor John Rosenberg. He was selected to attend an Army cadet aviation training program and emerged as one of the top-ranked pilots. He had just married his young wife, Kathryn Lynch, a few months before the accident.
Rosenberg was visiting his parents in Prineville while Killpack was making his inspections. His father drove his son and Killpack to the airport to fly back to their base in Vancouver and was waiting to see the plane depart. The service observation bi-plane left the runway with no problems and lifted in calm weather. When the plane reached an altitude of about 150 feet, the engine stalled, and the plane came crashing to the ground about one quarter of a mile from the airport. Both men were killed instantly, and Dr. Rosenberg witnessed the accident.
Last year, after a pilot was killed in a plane crash at the Madras Air Show, a museum visitor asked Hale if the bi-plane from that crash was the same as the one from the 1935 Prineville crash.
He didn't know, so he embarked on a research project to uncover the answer.
"I found out that the plane in Madras was a Stearman bi-plane that was built by Boeing between the years of 1930 and 1940," Hale said, noting that they were used at the time as military training aircraft. "Now, they are used in stunt shows or for crop dusting," he added.
He later learned that the bi-plane from the 1935 crash was not the same. It was an O19B that Thomas-Morse Aircraft Company built between 1929 and 1930. The American observation bi-plan was built for the U.S. Army Air Corps.
"Out of 176, none of them exist today," he said.
Hale had found the answer to the visitor's question, but he didn't end his research there. The more he investigated the crash — searching through old newspapers, microfilm archives and various websites — the more the story captivated him.
"I thought, 'Well, let's see what else I can find,'" he recalls. "I went online and I happened to find Aviation, Archeology, Investigations and Research. I was scrolling down and found Rosenberg's name."
Hale obtained a copy of the accident report that featured eye-witness accounts of the crash as well as the final, official description of the accident.
After completing his research project, Hale compiled his collection of pictures, newspaper stories and official crash report documents and put them together with a timeline chronicling Rosenberg's short life. He provided one copy of the book to Prineville Airport Manager Kelly Coffelt and another to a local insurance agent, Mike Hornback, who had shown interest in the project. Other copies are available for purchase at the museum with proceeds benefitting the Crook County Genealogical Society.
Hale has begun presenting his research project to various audiences, the most recent being the Historical Society at an event last week. And as he recounts the events of the tragic crash, he is finding that his research has created an emotional connection to the incident and young pilot who lost his life that day.
"It got to the point where on my last presentation, reading the accident, it choked me up," he said. "It felt like it was a family member. I was so engrossed in the whole thing."