Cincinnati Aviation Heritage Society & Museum

Preserving aviation's past for future generations.

B-25 CRASH LANDS AT LUNKEN

Actual 1963 Cincinnati Enquirer Newspaper Article

By Paul Lugannani
of The Enquirer Staff
February 21, 1963

CO-PILOT JUMPS; LOAD OF SNAKES, ALLIGATORS INTACT

A crippled twin-engine aircraft, loaded with some 2000 reptiles of a wild animal show, made a spectacular wheels-up landing Wednesday afternoon at Lunken Airport and the pilot walked away. In a thrill-packed 15 minutes, the World War II type B-25 plane, came in, one engine dead, the other failing, with the landing gear jammed.

The co-pilot had bailed out minutes before, after Leonard McGee Downe, Calif., the pilot assessed the hazards compounded by a 24-mph cross wind. Roy Hurst 25, Meridian, Miss., the co-pilot, suffered scratches and head cuts when he parachuted from 3000 feet and landed in a tree near Newtown. He was taken to General Hospital.

Reptile-laden B-25
“See You Later Alligator” . . . chute billows as co-pilot leaves reptile-laden B-25 over Lunken.

The plane, Wild Cargo, is a World War II medium bomber of the type used in the famous Doolittle raid on Tokyo. It was converted into a transport by its owner, Arthur Jones, Sildell, La., television performer and producer of an animal show scheduled to open Saturday at Music Hall. Mr. Jones later said the show will go on. The “passenger” list included four alligators.

Pilot Leanard McGee
Leonard McGee
... the pilot

The pilot was minutes out of Lunken, en route from Sildell, when he radioed the control tower that his airplane’s right engine was dead and the landing gear inoperable. As he circled the field at 6000 feet to reduce the gas load, tension mounted on the ground, where nearly a dozen police and fire department vehicles took up standby emergency positions.

Cincinnati Fire Marshal Ben Ballard marshalled the forces to the north end of the main runway which angles south from Beechmont Levee. He stretched 1000 feet of hose under pressure from a Wilmer Avenue hydrant and was ready to pursue the plane with 3000 more feet.

Don't go till I give the signal - and remember there are alligators in there.. Human life first, then animals if possible, he told his men who were clad in aluminum asbestos heat resistant suits. From the control tower Wesley Schaffer, chief, calmly conversed with the pilot of the stricken craft, suggesting safety procedures.

At 3:05 p.m. Pilot McGee and veteran of 20 years in the air and a ferry pilot in World War II, reported the co-pilot was going to parachute. Mr. Hurst delayed his jump until the plane had passed north of the field. He disappeared in a wooded area.

Moments after the Orange and white chute blossomed, Mr. McGee circled to the left and began the grim, wheels-up approach to the runway. All who say it agreed it was a perfect crash landing. For a moment it appeared the worst would happen fire. Midway along a 400 foot, grinding slide there was flame among the myriad of trailing sparks.

B-25J skids to a stop
Firemen Reach For Hoses As Plane Skids To Stop . . . smoke seeps from cockpit as craft makes near-perfect wheels-up landing.

Fortunately, the flame died of its own accord just as the craft ground to a halt.

However, fire in the electrical system filled the cabin with smoke. Marshal Ballard stopped it by disconnecting the battery. Mr. McGee virtually catapulted himself out of the top escape hatch, the door of which he previously had jettisoned.

Running for his life, Mr. McGee collapsed on another runway 200 feet away. “That was something! He gasped-“Just let me sit here awhile and say nothing.” After a pause: “I hope that co-pilot made it. He cracked his head hard when he went out.”

Moments later, refreshed by a cigarette in a police cruiser, he explained:

“I didn't get shook until that final approach. As I was coming down that second engine started going out on me. I didn't think I’d have enough power left to reach the field. I shut off the fuel before touchdown.”

That precaution apparently spared firemen from fighting a major fire. Firemen unloaded the trussed alligators and crates of snakes and turtles. “Boy I felt good when I saw all of that equipment down there.” Mr. McGee said gratefully to a fireman.

(Original Caption-Photo Missing)
Mr. And Mrs. Albert Alligator and family step aboard a Lunken Airport reptile special for transportation after their flight had difficulty in landing Wednesday. The gators and a group of snakes en route to a wild animal show were aboard the converted B-25 that made a wheels-up landing at the airport after the co-pilot parachuted.

History of this B-25

The Fighter Factory's Virginia Beach, VA) B-25 was built in 1944. Originally the plane was equipped with a radome in the nose of the plane and surveillance equipment in the fuselage. Chino, California was home to this Mitchell for several years where it was designated as a TB-25N trainer. It is believed that this B-25 never saw combat, but did make a wheels-up landing in Cincinnati, Ohio, during its civilian duties. In 1951 a man from Louisiana was using this B-25, then named, "Wild Cargo," to fly exotic animals to the Cincinnati Zoo.

On one flight into Lunken Field in Cincinnati, the bomber had 1,500 snakes aboard when the landing gear failed to retract After landing on the belly of the plane, the airport needed three days to round up most of the snakes. The plane was dragged off the runway and lifted to again sit on its landing gear by Cincinnati Aircraft, Inc. The rightful owner never returned to claim the plane, so it was eventually auctioned off by the local sheriffs office.

Walter Soplata purchased the plane and took it to his house in Newbury, OH. After four decades of sitting on his property, Walter sold the plane to Vintage Aircraft, Inc. The Fighter Factory purchased the B-25 a few years later but the plane remains with Vintage Aircraft, Inc., in Woodstock Georgia for a complete restoration. The radar and surveillance equipment has been stripped and a clear nose has been added, which will make the Fighter Factory's aircraft a B-25J Mitchell.