Topics - U.S. Navy Beechcraft SNB-1
Mid-Air Collision with Douglas DC-4
April 25, 1951, Florida

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Transcribed from St. Petersburg Times, St. Petersburg, FL, April 26, 1951, p. 1:

Airliner and Navy Plane Collide; 43 Persons Die

KEY WEST — (UP) — A Cuban airliner and a Navy plane practicing “blind” flying rammed together in a cloudless sky over Key West yesterday and 43 persons perished when the two shattered aircraft plummeted into the ocean. There were no survivors.

Thirty-four passengers, including 28 North Americans, and a Cuban crew of five went down with the Cubana Airlines DC-6 in 80 feet of water within sight of hundreds of horrified bathers in Key West’s public beach. Four Navy flyers perished in their twin-engined Beechcraft which fluttered into the ocean “like a falling leaf,” an observer said.

Captain R. S. Quackenbush Jr., commander of the big U. S. Naval Installations here, said the Navy plane was “engaged in an instrument training flight."  "We don’t know if the crew was flying blind at the time of the collision,” Quackenbush said, “but when they do, one of the pilots has clear visual observation at all times.”  There was one unconfirmed report from an unidentified witness that the passenger airliner was smoking before the two planes hit in the air.

The four-engine airliner, en route from Miami to Havana, smacked into the Atlantic about 1,000 yards offshore from the bathing beach, within sight of the plush Casa Marina tourist hotel. The Navy rushed crash boats, a barge and Navy divers to the scene from the Navy submarine base about two miles away, where President Truman has his vacation White House.

The chopped up bodies of two women and a man were recovered by the first boats reaching the scene and two Navy divers operating from the barge hooked a line to the wreckage and recovered several other bodies. Meanwhile, the Navy fished out the bodies of two flyers from the Navy plane which had a wing sheared off by the force of the collision.

The big airliner of Compania Cubana de Aviacion, a subsidiary of Pan American Airways, left Miami at 11:30 a. m. with a gay group of passengers bound for Havana. It was due to pass over Key West about 11:50 a.m. At 11:59 a. m., Naval authorities said, came the shattering collision between 4,000 and 6,000 feet altitude.

Naval Crew Fatalities

  • Bardsley, Ens. Eugene Samuel - co-pilot

  • Gasser, Aviation Radioman 1/c Alfred LeRoy

  • Ready, Midshipman Francis Lavelle

  • Stuart, Lt.jg. Robert Lawlor - co-pilot

Bardsley, Eugene Samuel

Eugene was born October 15, 1930 in Spokane, Washington, a son of Samuel Paul Bardsley (1902-1952) and Leah Eugenia Stiefel Bardsley (1906-1990).  His siblings were Paul William Bardsley (1929-2008), Leon Joel Bardsley (1932-2020), Stephen Jerome Bardsley (1941-2020) and Sandra Bardsley.

Gasser, Alfred LeRoy

Alfred was born February 27, 1926 in Sauk County, Wisconsin, a son of Martin Charles Gasser (1908-1968) and Margaret E. LeSage Gasser (1906-1988).  His siblings were LeRoy Leonard "Smokey" Gasser (1928-1997), Thomas M. Gasser (1930-2004), Phillip A. Gasser (1932-2018), Jeanette Gasser Klang, and Charles J. Gasser (1934-2010).

Ready, Francis Lavelle

Stuart, Robert Lawlor

Robert was born May 03, 1922 in Newton, Massachusetts, the son of Vincent Cyril Stuart (1895-1946).  He married Rebecca Arlney Berlin Bell (1924-1992) in 1948.  Their children were Kathryn A. "Kathy" Stuart and Barbara "Bobbi" Stuart Martz. 

Civil Aeronautics Board Accident Investigation Report

Click HERE to read the Accident Investigation Report put out by the Civil Aeronautics Board, October 22, 1951.


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