Snowden, Jr., Lonnie L. (P2, C4, L17)
First Lieutenant Lonnie Lawrence Snowden Jr., 25, of Louisville, Jefferson County, died on 5 October 1945 when the B-29A Superfortress he was co-piloting crashed in a strong cross-wind while attempting an emergency landing on Saipan. Snowden was serving on Saipan with the Army Air Corps 20th Air Force, 73rd Wing, 497th Group, 869th Squadron.
Captain Dick Fate was the pilot of the B-29 - No. 44-61663, tail number A-16, Named “Fickle Finger of Fate”. It took off from Isley Field, Mariana Islands (M.I.) at 2205, 4 October 1945 heading for Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands and then the United States. In addition to the crew of six, it was also ferrying 14 passengers home to the U.S. At approximately 0100, 5 October, some 350 miles from Saipan, the number 1 engine caught fire. The prop was feathered and the fire extinguished. The aircraft notified the base that it had feathered one engine and was returning to its Saipan Base.
At approximately 0220 the aircraft called for landing instructions. At 0235 aircraft called to report it was turning on long final approach. Aircraft was cleared to land and advised that wind was from the east at 30 to 40 miles per hour, with strong gusts which the aircraft acknowledged. Tower personnel reported after the accident that the aircraft seemed to be lined up perfectly and making a normal approach. The landing gear and flaps were down.
At an altitude estimated to have been 200 feet above runway level, and at a point short of the runway, the aircraft was reported to momentarily rock and begin banking to the left. As the turn continued the bank increased to near vertical and the ship lost altitude. After turning approximately 135 degrees from approach heading, ship crashed and exploded on west end of Kobler Naval Air Field on Saipan. Kobler was approximately one half mile away and parallel to Isley Field.
According to the Missing Air Crew Report number 14946, the visibility at time of crash was good but with a strong South-East wind. No cause for the left turn off the runway could be determined.
Survivor statements said that turbulence got heavier as they got closer to Saipan. One witness statement said that the feathered engine propeller began wind milling at about 0220 (turning in the wind and creating drag on the forward motion of the aircraft on that side). The aircraft stalled in the steep turn with some witnesses reporting that the wings were nearly vertical when the left wing tip contacted the ground and plane slid into ground as the wings lost lift due to the rate of turn and exploded. Witness reports suggest the crew seemed to be trying to gain control of the ship as it struck the ground and exploded. There had been no radio communication after clearance for final approach.
There was a tropical depression over the area and at the time of the crash there was moderate rain with a sustained wind speed of 22 mph and gust to 40 mph. One witness suggested that the other engine on the same side as the engine already out may have failed causing the ship to go out of control. The crash was likely caused by a combination of weather and mechanical issues but no definitive conclusion was ever reached.
All of the aircraft crew and most of the passengers were killed. Of the twenty men on the aircraft, only four survived the crash: 1st Lt. Nelson A. Locke; CWO John J. Hill; PFC William O. Elliott; and SGT Herman L. F. Fissel.
In addition to Snowden, the others who perished in the crash were: Capt Richard Elliott Fate (crew member), Wahoo, Neb.; 1st Lt Jay. J. Elliott, Carlsbad, NM; 1st Lt. Robert F. Hayes (crew member), Windsor, CT; 1st Lt. Clifford M. Klein, Gladwin, Mich.; 1st Lt. William H. Norton, Devon, CT; 1st Lt. Ernest T. Rogers, Asheboro, NC; 1st. Lt. Wilbur Adam Kessler (crew member), Newton Square PA; Capt. William J. McMillian, Jr., Houston, TX; Capt. Martin M. O'Keefe, Kansas City, MO; Cpl. Benjamin B. Witten, New Haven, CT; M/Sgt. John T. Novak (crew member), Glen Lyon, PA; PFC Harold F. Murray, Newark, NJ; PFC Donald P. Reynolds, Wallingford, CT; S/Sgt. John S. Pennman (crew member) (also found spelled Penman), Detroit, MI; and Sgt. Peter P. Baudine, Collinsville IL.
Snowden enlisted in the Kentucky National Guard in July 1940 joining Headquarters Company of the 149th Infantry. His records show that he had attended one year of college.
Snowden was laid to rest at Cave Hill Cemetery, Louisville on 12 June 1948 in Section 17, Lot 8-SE1/2, grave 1. So far no records have been found detailing his service while on active duty during World War II.
“One of the most technologically advanced airplanes of World War II, the B-29 had many new features, including guns that could be fired by remote control. Two crew areas, fore and aft, were pressurized and connected by a long tube over the bomb bays, allowing crew members to crawl between them. The tail gunner had a separate pressurized area that could only be entered or left at altitudes that did not require pressurization.
“The B-29 was also the world's heaviest production plane because of increases in range, bomb load and defensive requirements.
“B-29s were primarily used in the Pacific theater during World War II. As many as 1,000 Superfortresses at a time bombed Tokyo, destroying large parts of the city. Finally, on Aug. 6, 1945, the B-29 Enola Gay dropped the world's first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. Three days later a second B-29, Bockscar, dropped another atomic bomb on Nagasaki. Shortly thereafter, Japan surrendered. The last B-29 in squadron use retired from service in September 1960.”