1943 Lambert Tragedy Claimed Lives Of St. Louis Mayor, Nine Others
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ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – Seventy years ago today one of the worst tragedies in St. Louis history took place with the mayor and several others plunging to their deaths in front of a large crowd at Lambert Field.
The crash of a glider plane filled with dignataries on Sunday August 1, 1943 is largely forgotten today.
But a few years ago the Missouri History Museum spoke with a woman who was at Lambert that day as part of a retrospective they put together for a musum display.
“Suddenly the right wing of the thing fell off,” recalled Marion Phelps, “and you could hear people in the crowd kind of go…’Ohhh’…wondering what in the world was happening. But I think they thought it was a stunt.”
Museum curator Sharon Smith says it certainly wasn’t a stunt.
A single bolt had failed, which caused a wing to shear off and sent the glider plummeting an estimated 2,000 feet to the ground in front of Phelps and thousands of other stunned onlookers.
“The most tragic event in St. Louis history,” Smith told KMOX News. “Of course, happening right on Lambert Field in the midst of a group of spectators was probably one of the most traumatic events that the city had seen.”
Ten people lost their lives that day: then-mayor William Dee Becker, Lambert Airport founder and president of Robertson aircraft (the company which built the glider) William Robertson, St. Louis Chamber of Commerce president Thomas Dysant, St. Louis County Chief Executive Henry Mueller, Max Doyne, Charles Cunningham, Harold Krueger, Lt. Col. Paul Hazelwood, Capt. Milton Klugh (the pilot), and Pfc. J.M. Davis.
“I can still hear that thing as it hit the ground with a kind of a…thud,” Phelps recalled during her History Museum interview. “I didn’t want to be there and I didn’t want to see any more of it at that point, because we knew there had been no survivors.”
That session was conducted by Jody Sowell, director of exhibitions and research for the museum.
“Amazing that one of the most dramatic and frightening events in St. Louis history has really been erased from public memory,” he mused.
A commemorative plaque listing the names of the victims can be seen on the wall of a stairway between the first and second floors at St. Louis City Hall.