St. Louis, Missouri / Good Springs, Nevada
“Off course, behind schedule and below altitude.” That is the official determination for what caused the crash that killed actress Carole Lombard (and 21 others) in 1942. Unofficially, some still believe it to have been the work of fate (via “supernatural” design). In short, the number 3—a reputed “bad luck” numeral at the time, seemed to be everywhere. The Lombard party was suppose to travel back to Los Angeles via train after the war bond rally in Indianapolis. Their group of 3 (consisting of Carole, her mother Elizabeth and friend Otto Winkler) only managed to board the plane because of 3 last minute seat cancellations. Carole was 33 years old at the time. It had taken 3 days to reach Indiana (her home state) by train. The plane was a DC-3, designated “Flight 3.” Documentation about a peculiar unexplained “light in the sky,” just prior to the crash intrigued me. The mysterious light had been observed several days earlier by a lead airway beacon mechanic (and his partner) near Baker, California only a month before the “Battle of Los Angeles” alledged UFO incident on February 24, 1942. I was researching the Lombard crash for a possible documentary project when I came across something interesting—the “turning point” appears to have happened in St. Louis–at Lambert Field Airport. By coincidence, Capt. Wayne Williams—the pilot who flew the plane to its doom, had once lived in St. Louis himself (flying mail back and forth between St. Louis and Chicago).
My only connection to Carole herself (albeit indirect) was my marginal acquaintance with actor Robert Stack during the time I was living in Hollywood. I met Stack in 1978 at his home in Beverly Hills. My mother had been a huge fan of his and had named me after the character he had played in his 1956 Oscar nominated role in Written on the Wind. It was Stack who had taught Carole Lombard how to “skeet shoot.” And it was Stack who had co-starred with her in her final movie—ironically titled To Be or Not to Be.
One of my parent’s favorite films had been Fate is the Hunter (1964). Loosely based upon the novel of the same title, the book’s preface payed homage to all those pilots and crew members that had lost their lives up until then. The captain and co-pilot of Lombard’s flight was noted among them. Watching the film, it is hard not to believe that its source material was not taken directly from the real-life circumstances that sent Flight 3 to it’s doom. During an impromptu trip out to southern California in 1994, I decided to take my rental car to Las Vegas, set on climbing Mount Potosi–in hopes of seeing the 1942 crash site. A pilot friend had mentioned how the area was still rife with plane debris from the wreck. I was a novice when it came to hiking. In fact, I had no experience whatsoever. I purchased a small backpack, some bottled water, cutting tools (if needed) for any large wreckage pieces I might find, one Army MRE (meals ready to eat) and nothing else. I had no cell phone (they weren’t available yet), and had told no one of my plans. I rented a room at the local Motel 6, in Las Vegas. It was close to I-15. It would take me approximately thirty minutes to drive back south, just to reach the highway exit for Good Springs.
The next morning, before daylight, I headed out to meet the mountain. The road to Good Springs was blacktopped. From there out to the mountain base, it was all dirt…all the way. I don’t recall how many miles, but it seemed like I drove forever. Once there, a government entry gate prohibited me access to the actual incline road. So, from there on—I hiked. The mountain was 8500 feet high. The Lombard plane had missed clearing its peak by only 730 feet. The temperature on the desert floor would be reaching upwards of 112 degrees the day of my “adventure.” Once on top of the mountain, however, the altitude temperature was substantially cooler. I located the area of the crash quite easily. In fact, I could see it once I reached the upper peak. I tried to put reason to the “whats and whys” of the crash. There weren’t many answers…just the number 3. *See my 1998 interview from E! Entertainment Television’s Mysteries & Scandals HERE. Equally strange, was that former St. Louis mail pilot Wayne Williams had experienced only one night flight out of Las Vegas before—which, ironically, had occurred exactly 3 weeks earlier (when many of the airway beacons lining the flight route were still “blacked out” due too the attack on Pearl Harbor).
Had the flight not been 3 hours behind schedule (due to a smoke-related two hour stop-over hold in St. Louis), the plane would have landed at Boulder City’s airstrip (TWA’s hub)—26 miles SE from Las Vegas, without incident. Because it was dark by the time Flight 3 reached the lower tip of southern Nevada (due to all the delays), it was automatically diverted to Vegas. According to the official CAB (Civil Aeronautics Board) findings, the TWA plane struck a cliff just below the crest of Mount Potosi–33 miles from its departure point (the North Las Vegas site of Nellis Airforce Base now). Meanwhile, back on the mountain…I had exhausted my water supply by the time I reached the top. The smart thing to have done, would have been give up and head back down the mountain road I had hiked up. Instead, I descended…into an adventure. Within a hour or so, I had become dehydrated. I was out of food and water. I started to feel dizzy and disoriented. It had taken me nearly eight hours just to reach the top of the mountain peak. In a weakened state by late afternoon, my only thought was to get off the mountain. Heading down, I was unaware that Mount Potosi was connected to Charleston Mountain range. It was a mistake I would later pay dearly for.
After slipping and then tumbling down a large open wash area, a thick cactus needle broke off and embedded itself in my leg. The needle pierced my blue jeans, striking an apparent “acupuncture pressure point,” rendering my one leg partially numb. I then began dragging my leg behind me. Walking was difficult at best. If tried to climb back up the mountain (to try and get my bearings), I would slide back down on the loose gravel. If I attempted to find shade, I’d hear rattlesnakes—warning me off. I became bloated and swollen. My high blood pressure did not make it any better. I had brought along my 35mm camera with me. I snapped off a few self portrait shots, so that if I “didn’t make it out alive,” at least they’d know what I looked like. Three hours later, I reached the base of what I thought was Mount Potosi, I believed my parked car was waiting just “right around the bend.” I was mistaken. The range over-lapped, so I was actually 23 miles from my car! Blisters were now covering the underneath of both of my feet. I was severely sunburned and could barely walk. The sun was going down now. Soon, I would be alone out there—in the desert, and with no flashlight; just me and the rattlesnakes. So exhausted, weak and tired, I could hardly stand up. I dare not try and sit down. The last time I tried, a small scorpion had tried to get under my shirt.
I had been following the sound of gunfire in the distance. It was my only hope. Thankfully, it was not a “desert murder” taking place, but a young father and his three kids. They had been out camping for the weekend. About to head back home, they were all packed up and ready to leave when I stumbled into view. I remember begging for water, as the concerned kids kept trying to force feed me cookies! Finally I got some water. The father was a helicopter pilot for one of the casinos. He graciously gave me a ride back to my car. The pickup truck he was driving was a truck he used for outings. It was old and beat. It also had a bad fuel pump. As we got closer and closer to my car, the fuel pump began acting up. The father and his kids dropped me off, so as not to get stuck out there themselves. I walked the remainder of the way back to my car and headed back to my motel room in Vegas.
Much has been forgotten about the “peculiar lights in the sky” that were noted in regards to the crash of Lombard’s flight. “Hanging like a suspended lantern” above the mountain range, the mysterious unexplained light was first theorized to have possibly been part of a sabotage plot to “lure Flight 3 to it’s doom” (because of the 15 Army Air Corps ferry pilots on board). This theory was quickly discounted after an airway beacon mechanic came forward and reported to the FBI about seeing an “identical type light” hovering in the sky above Baker, California just three days earlier. The mechanic was engaged in recovery efforts following the Lombard crash when he by chance learned of the similar light from an area ranch owner who had seen both the light and the plane’s fiery explosion.
These two mid-January incidents preceded the now-famous “Battle of Los Angeles,” (which unfolded on the evening of February 24, 1942) by just a short period. Officially chalked up to having been a result of edgy “jitters and nerves” (due to fear and anticipation following the then-recent December 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor attack), the “battle” was said to have been nothing else. Following the 1952 “UFO invasion” over Washington, D.C. where a rash of multiple bright objects were observed flying in “controlled formation,” many have since re-examined the 1942 Los Angeles incident and cited numerous notable similarities. Was what happened over Los Angeles a “UFO invasion” as well? If so, then perhaps one best devote closer scrutiny to that which transpired in those cold dark skies above Baker, California and above Lombard’s Nevada death mountain. If fate and “the supernatural” was not involved…then perhaps a few “little grey aliens” just might have been?