What Happened To TWA Flight #3 – Carole Lombard

Carole Lombard, the famous Hollywood starlet of the 1930’s, is probably best remembered as the wife of the legendary Clark Gable. She, like many others, was an active participant in the sale of war bonds shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Accompanied by her mother and a press agent, she returned to her hometown of Indianapolis in January 1942. The sale’s success of over $2 million in bonds was not surprising, but the circumstances surrounding the event were puzzling. Rather than returning to California by train, Lombard changed her plans at the last minute to TWA Flight #3. Her mother, an avid numerologist, was hesitant from the beginning and superstitious about the number 3, the letters and flight number of the airline. In addition, there were 3 people in their group, and Carole’s age at the time was 33.

The first hint of something amiss was the unscheduled stop at Lambert Field in St Louis, Missouri. Grounded for inclement weather is not an unusual occurrence; however, the weather had been perfect for the flight up to this time. For no apparent reason, a dense smoke screen arose unexpectedly in front of the aircraft, and visibility dropped quickly from 12 miles to 2 in about an hour. After a 2-hour layover at Lambert, the ill-fated flight continued on to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where another strange incident took place. Four people on the flight were asked by TWA to release their seats to a group of Army pilots. Not only was this an odd request at the time, but also the airport’s close proximity to the secret Area 51 military facility in Roswell aroused even more curiosity as time went by.

Normally, the flight to Los Angeles would have been non stop, but the layover delay and strong headwinds meant refueling was necessary. The next logical stop at Boulder, Colorado was considered; however, the runway there was unlighted, so the plane continued on to Las Vegas. After refueling in Las Vegas, the plane departed for California at 7 pm in clear, cold weather. Only one runway light was left on as ordered by the war department, which might have increased the glare from the lights in the cockpit. It is doubtful, however, that this interfered to any great extent with the pilot’s capability, as the radio beam and other equipment were functioning correctly. Although Captain Williams, an experienced pilot, and the co-pilot had not flown together on this particular segment of the flight, this seemed to be irrelevant. No reasonable explanation could be given why the plane veered some 6.7 miles off course shortly after takeoff. All pilot bulletins for 6 months previous had directed a flying altitude of 8,000 feet, yet the aircraft was several hundred feet below that when it crashed on Table Mountain, the eastern slope of Death Valley about 30 miles southwest of Vegas.

Workers from the Blue Diamond Mine in nearby Arden, Nevada, reported hearing an explosion and seeing fire on the mountainside. They were able to assist a group of soldiers, Indians, and riders on horseback led by Major Anderson from the gunnery school at McCarran Field in searching the trails on the Potosi mountain range. The wreckage, however, was eventually sighted by Western Airlines pilot Art Cheney, enroute to Vegas from California. Unfortunately, the tremendous impact and fire had destroyed all the evidence including the flight plan and navigational log that might have been helpful in explaining the crash.

Adding to the mystery surrounding the flight were 100 highly classified documents, which were released many years later by the FBI in 1985. These included reports of UFO sightings in the same area just hours before the untimely disaster. This might explain why the group of military pilots requested immediate space on the flight, perhaps on an urgent mission to investigate these sightings. We probably will never know if numerology or aliens from outer space had anything to do with the crash of TWA Flt #3 – perhaps it was nothing more than an unfortunate twist of fate.

(Note: Carole Lombard’s remains were interred at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California, at her request. The Army’s offer of a military funeral for her war bond support was refused, but a WWII Liberty ship was given her name.)

Sharon Slayton

Filed Under: Travel mysteries

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Comments (2)

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  1. Edward Rankin says:

    Them pesky little green men from mars.

  2. Vicky Nelson says:

    Hi Sharon,

    Do you know how I would find out values of a piece of mail that was on TWA Flight#3. I am in possesion of this piece. It was found at an estates sale and I am trying to find out the value of such a document. Any help you can lend would be appreciated.


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