Monday, February 23, 2015

Flashback: Bert Zimmerly reported missing; pilots poised for search at dawn

This story was published in the February 18, 1949, edition of the Lewiston Tribune.

An intense aerial search was organized early this morning for a Clarkston pilot believed forced down on the rolling Palouse prairie somewhere between Spokane and Clarkston.

Bert Zimmerly, veteran northwest flier and manager of Zimmerly Air Transport at Clarkston, was missing on a flight from Felts field at Spokane to the Asotin County airport in a yellow, single-engine Cessna Airmaster.

Zimmerly flying alone, left Felts field at 5:50 p.m. on a flight which would normally take about an hour. At 3 a.m. he was still unreported. His plane carried fuel for about five hours' flying time when he left Clarkston for Spokane at 1:30 p.m. and he reportedly did not refuel at Felts field for the return trip.

He was last heard from six minutes after take off from Spokane, when he radioed routine clearance from the field, asked for a Lewiston valley weather report and announced he was some 15 miles of Felts field.

Personnel at the Clarkston field spread a wide information net between the two cities last night. They alerted all sheriff's offices and state police, issued a radio appeal for information regarding the yellow airplane and asked telephone operators to call farmers throughout the Palouse area where Zimmerly may have been forced down.

Tom Cronson, of Lewiston, veteran air search coordinator in charge of the hunt, said 14 planes from Lewiston and Clarkston and three from McChord field, Wash., will criss-cross the Palouse hills in search of the downed aircraft.

Weather last night during the time Zimmerly should have been in the air was reported good from Spokane to Pullman but bad from Pullman to the top of the Lewiston hill. Harland Stewart, Empire Air Lines pilot and a former Zimmerly flyer, piloted an Empire DC-3 from Spokane to Lewiston about half and hour behind Zimmerly.

Stewart reported that a storm was blowing up from the southwest near Pullman at about 35 miles per hour with light icing conditions, but said there were holes in the clouds over Lewiston.

One individual called the Clarkston airport last night, reporting that he had heard a plane flying low near Pullman at about 6:30, evidently following the highway south. This was about the time Zimmerly should normally have arrived over that area.

Although he did not file a flight plan at Felts field, Zimmerly was presumed to have headed directly for Clarkston. He had dinner engagements with his wife early in the evening, and two men who saw yesterday afternoon at Spokane reported last night that he has planned to return home.

He had flown to Spokane on business.

Flight personnel at the Clarkston field doubted that the experienced pilot had been forced down by bad weather, and expressed the opinion that his plane had suffered mechanical trouble.

Flyers familiar with that airplane however, said it was apparently in perfect condition when it left Clarkston.

Story and photo:

1 comment:

  1. Obit for Albert L. (Bert) Zimmerly, famed northwest pilot, was killed when his plane crashed on a ridge near Pullman, Wash. on a flight from Spokane to Clarkston.

    Salt-Lake Tribune 2/22/1949