The Card Sound Aircraft Mystery
by Steven Danforth Singer
An early B-18 at Barksdale Field. Credit: NASA, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
It was December, 1939. Though the US had not entered WWII as yet, some of our allies were already at war, and Florida was witnessing some of this action right off our shores (see my article, The Strange Tale of the Emmy Friederich).
While doing some online research, I came across some news reports of an airplane crash in Card Sound (at the north end of Key Largo). The first reports I read about this crash were from a United Press report from Tavernier, dated 12/29/1939, in a few Florida papers. They described how a local fishing guide, Hubert Johnson, had come across some aircraft wreckage earlier that week near Card Point. He had shown some of it to Justice of the Peace E.R. Lowe down in Tavernier. Lowe recognized it as coming from an aircraft, and Lowe and the guide then planned to go to the site for further investigation the next day. On Dec. 30th, newspapers across the country were now reporting what the search party had found. Those reports stated that a plane wreck, tentatively identified as an Army B-18-A bomber, had crashed near Card Point. Now both the Army and the local Miami 21st Reconnaissance Squadron at the Opa-Locka Airfield (who used B-18’s) were contacted, and both said that no B-18’s had been reported as missing.
Johnson had found the wreckage “in an almost inaccessible area, 200 feet from shore,” and said he saw a wing, “half buried in the mud”, but when he brought Justice of the Peace E.R. Lowe to the site that week, the wing had disappeared. Justice Lowe stated he recovered fragments of one motor from the muck using grappling hooks, and saw parts of a safety belt and parachute nearby in the mangroves (another report said large pieces of rubber also found). The cockpit was located, and a fuel tank was also reported found there and was marked “Capacity 184 gal.” Gasoline and fuel oil was also observed at the site. A Daytona paper stated that Justice Lowe brought back with him “crumpled pieces of the motor, the controls and fuel pipes.” A metal plate was also recovered (said to have been riveted on the inside of the plane), which read: Douglas Aircraft Co., Inc. (merged into Boeing in 1967) ; A.C. order# 9977; serial No. A151; date built Feb. 17, 1939. Lowe also said from the information that it was likely a B-18-A twin engine bomber, delivered to the Army last Aug, 8 to the Barksdale Field in Shreveport, LA. An inspector from the Civil Aeronautics Authority, W.M. Hutchins, started an investigation and was reported to have said “the markings on the plane indicated it was of the B-18 bomber type.” Lowe also reported that when they arrived at the site, they saw a small white cruiser circling the area, but it quickly sped away when they saw them coming. He also stated “that the fuselage was painted grey on the outside and tan inside. The nose of the plane was imbedded deep in the marl bottom of the sound about 200’ offshore.” They also made a wide search for any bodies, and found none. A B-18 usually had a crew of six.
Now the last reports about the wreckage the next day on the 31st, were also reported locally and across the country. They all stated that the wreckage was only a jettisoned fuel tank from a B-18. I found nothing regarding the incident after the 31st , as this was the final official report. They also stated that they could not even tell what aircraft had jettisoned the tank or why, as they were routinely swapped out.
With the possibility that the US could soon be going to war, the military wasn’t giving out too much information regarding its activities. So, was this a just cover up on what really happened, or was this just a jettisoned fuel tank? From what was stated in the first two reports on the 29-30th, and with most of the reporting coming from very credible witnesses, I am a bit skeptical about it simply being a jettisoned fuel tank. The fuel tank would not have the plate with the serial#, etc. attached to it. That would be in the fuselage of the aircraft. One motor, a wing, a cockpit, parachute equipment, etc. were all reported as found by more than one person, which leads me to believe that some sort of military plane wrecked in Card Sound in 1939, and likely it was a B-18 which likely crashed not long before Mr. Johnson found it. I presume Justice Lowe had that plate with the serial# traced and is what tentatively identified the aircraft as a B-18-A bomber. I’ve contacted a few Aircraft museums, but none could help me research that serial# plate information. A search of the area with a magnetometer could help solve the mystery, and I had hoped to try sometime, but will have to investigate the legalities of any searching in that area first. Source: Most all are from United Press reporting from Tavernier, which numerous newspapers then picked up.
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