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by John Kremer

Hot Times, Cool Places

Celebrities Air Deaths: December

December 4, 1950: Jesse Leroy Brown, the first black American naval aviator, became the first black naval officer to die in combat. He was shot down over Korea.

December 4, 1978: Ann Stevens, wife of Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, was killed when a private Learjet 25C plane crashed at Anchorage International Airport in Alaska. Her husband, the senator, was one of two survivors. Five people were killed in the crash.

December 4, 1980: Portuguese prime minister Francisco Sá Carneiro (45), was among those who died in an airplane crash.

December 7, 1936: French aviator Jean Mermoz (35), veteran of 23 transatlantic flights including the first from France to South America, was killed along with five others when the Latécoère 300 Croix du Sud disappeared without a trace four hours out of Dakar after Mermoz radioed that he was cutting one of the four engines.

December 7, 1941: Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. They sunk 21 American vessels and killed 2,338 military personnel and civilians. This attack precipitated America's entrance into the World War II fighting.

December 8, 1967: The first black astronaut, Maj. Robert Lawrence Jr., was killed in the crash of his F-104 fighter during a training exercise six months after he had been selected for astronaut training. The other pilot on board the fighter survived the crash.

December 8, 1972: U.S. representative George Collins of Illinois, TV anchorwoman Michele Clarke, and Dorothy Hunt, the wife of Howard Hunt of Watergate fame, were among 43 passengers (out of 61 aboard) killed when their United Airlines Boeing 737 crashed in a residential area when it stalled out on approaching Midway Airport in Chicago, Illinois. Two people on the ground were also killed in the incident. Clarke was the first black female anchorwoman on any network station in the U.S. As a child, her family was the first black family to move to Cicero, Illinois, sparking days of riots by whites, necessitating the call-up of the National Guard.

December 8, 1987: 17 players of the Alianza Peruvian first-division soccer team died in the crash of a Fokker F-27 plane near Lima, Peru.

December 9, 1936: Juan de la Cierva, the inventor and developer of the autogiro died in a crash of a KLM flight, soon after take-off near London, England. A tragic irony to the story is that de la Cierva’s invention (in normal circumstances) is an aircraft that cannot stall, and can only land gently.

December 9, 2012: Jenni Rivera, singer and reality TV star (I Love Jenni on Mun2), was killed when the Learjet she was flying in crashed about ten minutes after taking off from the Monterrey, Mexico airport. Her lawyer, makeup artist, and publicist were among the other people killed in the crash.

December 10, 1967: Rock 'n roll singer Otis Redding (26) and four members of his Bar-Kays band were killed when their Beechcraft H18 plane crashed in icy Lake Mendota inside Madison, Wisconsin, on a foggy night. Redding is best known for his hit, “Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay,” which was released after his death. Redding had recorded the song just three days earlier.

December 11, 1941: John Gillespie Magee, Jr. (19), American pilot and poet, was killed when his VZ-H Spitfire V collided with an Oxford Trainer from Cranwell Airfield during World War II. The mid-air collision occurred over the village of Roxholm, England. Earlier that year on September 3rd, Magee flew to 30,000 feet during a test flight in a newer model of the Spitfire V. As he orbited and climbed upward, he was struck with the inspiration of his famous poem “High Flight” where he wrote of touching the face of God.

December 12, 1965: NASA doctor Randolph Lovelace and his wife were killed when their Beechcraft B95 plane crashed near Aspen, Colorado.

December 12, 1999: Optical inventor Peter La Haye Sr. (59) and his two pilots were killed when their Westwind 24 corporate turbo jet crashed near Gouldsboro in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. La Haye, developer of replacement lenses for cataract patients, was owner of La Haye Laboratories and Neoptx in Redmond, Washington.

December 12, 2001: Donald Weidner, former executive director of the Republican Party in Florida, and three others were killed when their Piper Cherokee crashed in a wooded, swampy area near the Jacksonville International Airport. The crash occurred after the plane was diverted from Craig Municipal Airport 15 miles away because of dense fog.

December 13, 1977: A National Jet Services DC-3 crashed as it was taking off from Evansville, Indiana. 29 people died, including the entire University of Evansville basketball team and their coach Bobby Watson. Also killed was radio broadcaster Marv Bates, three crew members, and two Air Indianapolis officials. The aileron on one of the wings remained locked making it difficult for the plane to bank in the rain and fog. Also, the luggage had been improperly loaded thus causing a rearward center of gravity that pulled the plane's nose too high on take off.

December 13, 1994: The 1994 winner of the BASS Masters Classic, Bryan Kerchal (23) of Newtown, Connecticut, was among those killed when an American Eagle commuter plane crashed in Morrisville, North Carolina.

December 14, 1958: Blaine Staats, a sophomore tackle for West Virginia, died in a plane crash near Waynesburg, Pennsylvania.

December 15, 1944: Bandleader Glenn Miller (40), flight officer John Morgan, and Lt Colonel Baessell were killed when their Norseman UC-64 plane disappeared in a fog over the English Channel. At the time, Miller was serving in the army entertaining the troops during World War II. It is possible the plane was hit by bombs jettisoned over the Channel by returning RAF bombers. As a band leader, Miller was best known for such hits as “Moonlight Serenade.”

December 19, 1997: David Schramm, a world-famous astrophysicist died when his twin-engine Swearingen SW-3 plane stalled in mid-flight and then crashed into a field near Byars, Colorado. He had been on his way from Chicago to Aspen.

December 19, 2008: Michael Connell, an IT security expert and owner of GovTech and New Media Communications, died when his Piper Saratoga plane crashed near Lake Township, Ohio. Conspiracy theories suggested that Connell was killed because he knew too much about a Republican Party attempt to steal the Ohio vote in 2004 (and thus the presidential election).

December 20, 1929: U.S. representative William Kaynor (45) of Massachusetts was killed in a private plane crash near Washington, D.C.

December 20, 1998: Ocean rowing champion Phil Stubbs (36) was killed when his Piper PA-18 turned to the right and nose-dived into Karekare Beach just after taking off from Auckland, New Zealand. His passenger survived the crash.

December 21, 1988: A terrorist bomb exploded on board a Pan Am Boeing 747 flying over Lockerbie, Scotland. As a result, 270 people were killed, including 11 on the ground. It was one of the ten deadliest crashes in aviation history. Among those killed was Bernt Carlsson, the United Nations Commissioner for Namibia; Paul Avron Jeffreys, the original bassist with Cockney Rebel; and Ian Parkin, guitarist of the Be Bop Deluxe rock band.

December 23, 2002: A Ukrainian AN-140 airplane flew into a mountainside while getting ready to land at an airport near Isfahan, Iran. 46 important scientists were killed in the incident.

December 23, 2007: Prominent California businessman Michael Klein (37), chief executive officer of hedge fund company Pacificor, was killed in a plane crash in a remote mountain area of Panama. His 13-year-old daughter Talia as well as the plane's pilot were also killed. His daughter's friend Francesca Lewis was rescued after being carried out of the jungle by rescue workers who had walked five hours to reach her. Klein, former CEO of eGroups, and the two girls were on vacation when the crash occurred.

December 26, 1946: Dr. Raymond Banister and Harold Roth disappeared in an airplane crash after flying from Seward, Alaska.

December 26, 1975: Actress Myrna Ross, famous for appearing in many beach movies, was killed in an airplane crash outside of Granby, Colorado. In the beach movies, she played Boots, a member of a motorcycle gang, who saved Sugar Kane (Linda Evans) from being sawed in half in Beach Blanket Bingo.

December 31, 1972: Baseball great Roberto Clemente (38) and three others were killed when their overloaded Douglas DC-7CF plane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off San Juan, Puerto Rico, on its way to providing relief supplies to the victims of a Nicaraguan earthquake.

December 31, 1985: Rock 'n roll singer Ricky Nelson (45), five members of his Stone Canyon band, and his fiancée were killed when a fire broke out on board a DC-3 taking them to a New Year's Eve performance in Dallas, Texas. Two people survived the crash landing near DeKalb, Texas. The fire was caused by a malfunctioning heater. Nelson was first known as the son of Ozzie and Harriet in their TV show of the late 1950s. He later became famous as the singer of such hits as “Travelin' Man” and “Garden Party.”

Miscellaneous Celebrity Air Deaths

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