Homer Rodeheaver Witnesses
Tragedy from Porch of His Home
First Flying Trip Proves Fatal to Well-Known Winona Lake Youth
Jack Rodeheaver and Lieut. L. D. Merrill are victims of Crash Just East of Warsaw Machine Turns Turtle with Winona Lake Youth at Levers and Auburn, ME., Aviator Plunges 2,000 Feet to Death East of Dalton Foundry.
Plane with Pilot Drops into Corn Field
Jack Rodeheaver, aged 19 years, of Winona Lake, a half-brother of Homer Rodeheaver, singer for Billy Sunday, and Lieut. Lynn D. Merrill, age 29 years, of Auburn, Maine, were killed in an airplane accident between the Warsaw and Winona Lake at about 5:15 Thursday evening.
The bodies of both victims were horribly mashed in a fall from a height estimated at between 1,500 and 2,000 feet.
The exact cause of the tragic accident may never be known, although several theories have been advanced by persons who witnessed the fall of the two men and by mechanics who subsequently examined the machine.
With Rodeheaver piloting the airplane and Merrill in the seat behind him, the two men went into the air shortly before 5 o'clock. They soared about over Winona Lake and the golf links for a few minutes, gradually rising to a height estimated at 3,000 feet. They were seen to descend possibly 1000 feet when the engine suddenly stopped running. This attracted the attention of numerous persons who happened to be on the golf links and they continued to watch the machine. Suddenly it swerved a little, according to witnesses. The airplane turned a little on one side and as it did so, Merrill was seen to arise from his seat and apparently reached forward, seemingly in an effort to reach a lever in front of Rodeheaver.
Plunges to His Death
A moment later Merrill plunged to his death, alighting in a pasture about 350 feet east of the Dalton foundry and about 175 feet north of the Pennsylvania railroad tracks. His body was badly crushed. Some physicians express the view that he probably was dead before he struck the ground.
The airplane continued to turn turtle and continued upside down in a southwesterly direction, crossing the Pennsylvania right-of-way and finally crashing to the ground in a corn field about half a mile from the point where Merrill met his death.
Rodeheaver was alive when would-be rescuers reached him, but he was unconscious and plainly in a dying condition. Word was quickly communicated to his mother at Winona Lake and she was speeded to the scene in an automobile reaching her son's side just before he expired. Following the crashing the machine to the earth, Rodeheaver was carried to the edge of the field, about 50 feet, where everything possible was done for him pending the arrival of a physician. He had suffered fatal internal injuries, however, and it was but a short time until he expired.
As Mrs. Rodeheaver left the automobile she climbed over the fence and rushing to the side of her son, grasp his head and wailed:"Oh my precious baby. What will I do without my precious Jack."
She seemed to realize that he was dying. Efforts were made to lead Mrs. Rodeheaver away, but it was some time before she could be persuaded to leave. She was almost in a complete state of collapse when she was assisted away and conveyed back to Winona Lake.
Saw Machine Overturn
Glen G. Smith, 405 South Detroit street, was one of those who witnessed the fatal accident. In relating what he had seen, immediately after Rodeheaver and Merrill had met death, Smith said that he was on the golf links and that he had noticed the airplane soaring about, apparently at a height of about 3,000 feet. Suddenly the engine stopped and Smith realize that something had gone wrong.
He said that the motor did not start again and that a few seconds after it had stopped the airplane turned on its side and that Merrill arose in the rear seat, reaching forward, and apparently lost his hold on the machine and plunged to the earth. Smith said that at the time the controller wings and sails appeared to be rigid. He discredited the statement of some persons that the machine looped the loop. When it finally alighted it was upside down.
Thought Body was Bird.
William Patterson, who was some distance away, chanced to look up at the airplane just a moment after Merrill had fallen from it. He said that he noticed a black object falling toward the earth and that his first impression was that the machine had come in contact with and had killed a bird, which was falling to the ground. His attention was then attracted to something else and he did not see the machine crash to the ground and did not know of the fatal accident until sometime later.
The airplane was an old-style Curtiss machine, which was brought to Winona Lake by Lieut. Merrill from Cincinnati, Ohio, six weeks ago last Tuesday. It had been given the name "Rainbow Records," and was used as an advertisement for "Rainbow" phonograph records, in which Homer Rodeheaver is interested. Since the arrival of the airplane, scores of Warsawans and summer residents of Winona Lake have taken air trips in it soaring over Warsaw and Winona Lake.
Merrill always had the reputation of being an extremely careful pilot. He attempted no stunts during his stay at Winona Lake. For sometime he had been teaching Jack Rodeheaver in the mechanism of the machine and apparently figured that the young man was capable of piloting the machine.
Many Visit Scene
News of the fatal accident quickly spread over Warsaw and Winona Lake. Within twenty minutes no less than seventy-five automobiles were at the scene and between the time of the accident and 8 o'clock it is estimated that no less than 2000 persons visited the point where Rodeheaver and Merrill met death.
Many souvenir hunters were in the crowd. They carried off small pieces of metal, parts of the canvas wings and splinters of wood from the demolished machine.
Officer Earl Burwell was one of the first to arrive on the scene and he was kept busy warning smokers to remain at a distance from the airplane to prevent possible ignition of leaking gasoline, fumes of which were very pronounced. Many persons who viewed the wreckage marveled over the fact that the airplane did not take fire immediately after the crash to the earth. This probably would have been the result have the motor been running.
Soon after the accident coroner Charles Kelly was notified and began an investigation. At about six o'clock the bodies of the two victims were conveyed to the Dukes undertaking establishment in Warsaw to be prepared for burial.
Billy Sunday Notified
Billy Sunday, who has been engaged in an evangelical campaign at Hood River, Oregon, was notified by telegraph of the fatal accident. Mrs. Merrill, who with her husband had been staying at the Westminster, Winona Lake, when notified of the fatal accident, collapsed. Mrs. Betty Rodeheaver, mother of Jack Rodeheaver, also was in a state of virtual collapse following the accident and had recovered but little Friday.
Body Terribly Mangled
The body of Lieut. Merrill was mangled almost to a pulp and presented a horrible sight as it lay face down upon the ground. After the body had been removed to the undertaking establishment it was found that his legs were broken in many places, the bones protruding from the flesh. His left ankle was broken and crushed in such a manner that his foot was turned towards the calf of his leg. The right side of his face was crushed, one eye being sunken far into his head. From the base of the right ear to a point below his chin the flesh was burst open as a melon might be. The force of the fall jarred loose every tooth and the impact was so great that two of them had fallen from his mouth to the ground. The seams in his trousers were burst apart by the fall.
The body of young Rodeheaver, who rode the plane to the ground, fared a little better. Despite the fact that his chest was crushed almost to a jelly, the remainder of his body was mangled but little. His right leg was broken in several places and his right arm broken just below the shoulder. His head was crushed so that his brains and blood oozed from his ears. Owing to the fact that his chest and head were so badly crushed it was the belief that the lad was hanging head down from the plane when it struck the ground. This is further substantiated by the fact that the body was lying near the tail of the ship and was entirely free from the wreckage. Where the body rested upon the ground was a large spot of blood which flowed from the head of the dying lad.
Sees Fall Through Glass
Without a doubt Frederick Widmann aged 12, and a messenger boy at Winona, is able to give the best version of what took place in the ill-fated machine. Widmann was standing at the Pennsylvania station at Winona and was watching the flight of the plane through a powerful field glass.
"The machine was flying along to the south and was very high. Suddenly I saw it slip and Mr. Merrill rise in his seat. He either reach over Jack's shoulder or struck at him. I can't tell which. For an instant the plane righted itself, then it tipped again and turned over. It was then that Mr. Merrill fell out. It looked as if two men had fallen, but the other was his coat. (Later it was found that the other object was the seat of the plane.) The machine, then upside down, glided nose first to the ground."
Homer Rodeheaver a Witness
The once jovial Homer Rodeheaver, a man who has witnessed all the horrors of war, yet made soldiers laugh in the face of these, is today broken in spirit and almost frantic with grief. While seated on the front porch of his cottage on Dewart Point, he saw the plane on its dip of death. Jumping into his automobile he rushed to the scene of the accident and was one of the first to reach the side of his dying brother.
Niece Tells Mrs. Merrill
The nine-year-old niece of Mrs. Merrill, who has been spending several days at Winona informed the wife of the aviator of the tragedy. An effort was made to keep the news from Mrs. Merrill, but the child heard persons on the pergola talking of the tragedy and rushed to the room of her aunt and told her the plane had fallen. It was then that Mrs. Merrill rushed down to the lobby, frantically crying: "Oh Jack, Jack, why did you do it?" Winona residents stated today that the woman had been at the souvenir stand just a short time before, buying yarn. Last evening a message was sent to Charles Merrill, of Auburn, Me., father of the young aviator, informing him of the tragedy.
Jack to Buy Plane
It is said that just as soon as Jack had learned to pilot the plane his mother intended to buy it for him. He had been with Mr. Merrill on many trips, but this was the first time that he had attempted to pilot the ship. It is said that the plane belonged to Lieut. Merrill. Last winter, after the lieutenant had rescued a drowning man at Daytona Beach, Fla., and wrecked his plane in the act, Homer Rodeheaver took up a collection for the young flyer and then made up the rest of the money from his own pocket, purchasing the machine for Merrill. By his trips, and advertising the Rainbow Records, the aviator was reimbursing Mr. Rodeheaver. Jack was very enthusiastic over the prospect of having the plane for his own use.
Winona Women Ride
It was on Wednesday afternoon that Lieut. Merrill took Miss Catherine Carmichael and Mrs. Lincoln Dickey for a ride. Both women had expressed a desire to ride. On the same afternoon Donald Slutz and John D. Larkin, clerks at the Westminster hotel, where Mr. Merrill made his home, were given a ride. Despite the fact that many state the aviator never did stunts in his plane, the boys insist that they were given the thrill of a tailspin, dropping for more than 1000 feet.
One person watching the plane from the golf links stated today that a loud report, resembling that of an explosion, was heard above the hum of the motor. The engine then stopped and the plane began to slip out of its course. Today several others were found who had heard the same noise.
Heard crash of plane
Ira Makemson and Ernest Nine, who reside just a short distance north of where the plane struck, stated that the crash resembled the sound of a stump being blown up by dynamite. In an instant a dense cloud of dust arose, completely hiding the wreckage. Both men rushed to the field and were among the first to arrive.
Hunt Other Body
The wife of Mr. Makemson had told him she had seen a body fall from the ship. After arriving at the wreck Mr. Makemson and two other men started out through the cornfield to hunt the body of the missing pilot. Unsuccessful in their search they returned a short time later and assisted in caring for the fatally injured boy.
Plane Complete Wreck
The plane was completely wrecked, all that remained being a tangled mass of iron, wires and badly-torn wings. The tail was damaged but little. Former service men, members of the aviation branch during the war, stated that the plane was as badly wrecked as any they had ever seen. Several instances were cited where the nose was buried deeper in the ground. Yet, even in these cases, the ships were damaged no more than the "Rainbow."
Saw Body Bounce
A minister residing on the golf links said that he saw the body of Lieut. Merrill bounce about six feet into the air as a result of the impact with the ground. He was sitting on his front porch, just a short distance away, at the time. In the ground where the body fell is an imprint about six inches deep. The body was lying to the side of the imprint.
Wing Crumpled, Says Woman
One-woman residing on the golf links said she saw a wing crumple and the machine turn over. After the ship had turned over she claims it righted itself and maintained a rigid position until it had struck the ground.
Worked All Day on Plane
Lieut. Merrill and Jack Rodeheaver worked all day on the plane and it was not until evening that they had it in shape for the trial flight. All day long Jack rushed to and from the plane in his automobile carrying parts to make repairs. Mechanics at Winona stated that when the two "took off" the engine was in fine working order. During the time Lieut. Merrill was carrying passengers he had removed the control from the front seat in order that he might not be endangered by some curious passenger who might grab a control. During the day the control in the front seat had been put in so that young Rodeheaver might be taught to pilot the ship.
Hundreds Witness Fall
Owing to the fact that the accident came at a time when many persons were on their way home from work, it was witnessed by hundreds of Warsaw residents. Practically all of the employees of the powerhouse saw the fall while "the gallery" on the golf links, where the tournament was in progress, watched until it had struck the ground. Many persons at Winona, knowing that young Rodeheaver was to drive, watched the ship from the time it started. Among those from this city who witnessed the fatality were: Walter Cook, Frank Swihart, Marshal Douglass, William O'Connell, "Mack" McGennon and many others whose names could not be learned.
Merrill an Experienced Pilot
Lieut. Merrill was an experienced pilot and had been flying since 1917. He spent considerable time at Oxford and Cambridge colleges in England and later went to the front where it is said he was a leader in many attacks upon enemy planes. Lieut. Merrill seldom talked about his war experiences, as he was of a quiet disposition. Since returning from the war zone he had been engaged in commercial flying.
At the Bible Conference last evening Dr. G. Campbell Morgan offered prayer for the dead boys. As the big crowd gathered in the tabernacle there was a spirit of depression. However after the prayer there was a decided change as the great minister pictured the boys, not as dead, but gone to meet their God face-to-face.
Local Aviator Gives Opinion
One Warsaw former army aviator today stated that he believed the accident occurred when young Rodeheaver fainted, at the unusual altitude at which the plane was flying, either from heart trouble or from the purified air or perhaps from breathing carbon dioxide from the motor exhaust. He then fell forward on the control stick. Merrill then stood up, reached over the seat-back to pull the fainted lad off the control lever, against which his body was jammed. At this moment the plane slipped off into the first turn of a tailspin, throwing Merrill free. It is probable that Rodeheaver never regained consciousness.
Fisherman Tells Story
"Bill" O'Connell, Warsaw printer and well-known fisherman, was on Winona Lake at the time. He saw Merrill fall from the plane and at first thought his body was a bag of tools. As it approached the ground his arms and legs spread out and the body turned slowly in the fashion of a wheel. Mr. O'Connell heard the body strike the ground. This story is substantiated by Walter Kintzel, who was also fishing near to Mr. O'Connell at the time.
Today workmen were busily engaged in salvaging the ship. It was placed on a truck and brought to the Conrad garage in this city. Mechanics closely examined the engine but could not find any trace of an explosion, as claimed by several persons.
Harold Shepler, taxi driver, was one of the first to reach the body of young Rodeheaver. He took hold of his wrist and found his pulse to be still beating feebly. He assisted in carrying young Rodeheaver from his position near the plane.
Today Winona bears an appearance of depression as a result of the tragedy which befell two of her leading boys. Both young men were very popular and the shock of their untimely death was more than the citizens could stand.
A reception was to have been given last night at the First Presbyterian Church for ten young people of the church, who will this fall go away to college, was postponed because of the fatal accident to Jack Rodeheaver and Lieut. Merrill.
Warsaw Daily Times and the Northern Indianian Friday August 26, 1921
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