U.S. COAST & GEODETIC SURVEY
REPORT 1933 NO. 142
on Location of Sunken Plane, Entrance to Lynn Harbor, Mass.
N. H. HECK
(Chief, Division of Terrestrial Magnetism and Seismology)
Date of Report: January 12, 1933
Plane located by means of Wire Drag.
AND GEODETIC SURVEY
January 12, 1933.
To: The Director,
U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey
From: Chief, Division of Terrestrial Magnetism
Subject: Special report on location of sunken
I submit the following report on the location
of airplane sunk off the entrance to Lynn Harbor, Massachusetts.
On December 29 about 4 p.m. a plane, according
to reports, came down in a tailspin from a height of about 2,000
feet and struck the water at a point about 3/4 mile southwest
of Bass Point, Nahant. The fall of the plane was seen by the dredge
master of the dredging operations of the U.S. Engineers in improving
Lynn Harbor, by persons in Nahant and at Revere Beach. The observation
of the former, who was experienced in using ranges, proved the
best although the others were not bad. The plane contained two
persons -- Edward Mallinckrodt, 3d, of St. Louis and Donald Mackay
Frost, Jr., of Boston. The father of the former is a man of considerable
wealth, and made a very determined effort to recover the plane
in the hopes of finding the body of his son. The parents of the
other boy did not make such an effort, the given reason being
that he belonged to an old New England seafaring family, several
members of whom have lost their lives at sea, and therefore there
was not the same sentiment for recovery of the body.
A search was immediately started using all kinds
of methods primarily by the Coast Guard, whose proper duty it
was to locate the lost plane, and a great many other craft using
various devices induced by a reward offered by Mr. Mallinckrodt.
The Coast Guard had at least four patrol boats on the job at all
times. The weather was quite favorable and accordingly the search
was vigorously prosecuted for a number of days, no attention being
paid to working hours or holidays.
All sorts of devices were used including sweeping
with heavy wire cables between two boats, sweeping devices with
attached grapnels, nets, otter trawls, and various other devices.
Mr. Mallinckrodt, knowing nothing of the sea, was responsive to
every suggestion. He also had at hand during the entire time a
large tow boat with a diver, and he used the lights recently developed
by the General Electric Company at Lynn which made it possible
for the diver to see rather well for a distance of 10 or 12 feet.
It will, therefore be seen that no effort was
spared in the search, making use of all available knowledge.
On Tuesday, January 3, you discussed the matter
with me, and it was agreed that the wire drag afforded the best
opportunity of finding the plane. There being no appropriation
available for this purpose it was understood that Mr. Mallinckrodt
would pay the actual cost involved and no more. Accordingly arrangements
were made with Boston whereby a truck was sent to Stamford, Conn.,
to obtain the necessary wire drag equipment. Lieut. J. C. Partington
proceeded on Wednesday noon to Stamford and completed arrangements
so that the truck left for Lynn on Thursday. With it went two
former wire drag employees who were skilled in the work, especially
in handling the tender, and Mr. Partington went to Boston. In
the meantime I had gotten in touch with Lieut. Commander Adams
[Kenneth T. Adams] with regard to arrangements for boats, additional
I arrived at Boston at 7:20 a.m. on Friday and
found that Mr. Adams had arranged for the use of two Coast Guard
patrol boats, the 242 and 278. They were 75 footers, rather large
for the work but having the very great advantage of an ample supply
of men. The drag equipment was quickly placed aboard, and we started
for the vicinity of the accident. After a brief consultation with
Mr. Mallinckrodt on the tow boat Luna, at which time I particularly
asked him to keep out of the way as we came along and also insisted
on the suspension of all other activities in the region we were
dragging, we started work.
It was the most difficult set out of drag which
I have ever had. The wire drag parties no longer carry wooden
reels with handles as was formerly the case and the permanent
wire reels could not well be removed from the wire drag boats.
Accordingly we had nothing but a spool of wire, a bitt for lowering,
and a hand anchor windlass for raising the big weight. Through
an unavoidable misunderstanding the two men from Stamford did
not get in touch with Mr. Partington in time and we did not take
them for that day. Accordingly, Mr. Partington and myself were
the only members of the entire complement who had ever seen a
wire drag in operation. This included Mr. Adams whose work however
in taking angles and plotting was of very great importance.
It was necessary to set the drag at 23 feet.
Since it was low tide and there was an 18 foot rock south of the
place in which we were interested it was attempted to set out
to the south and then go north. However owing to inexperience
in handling the boats and other troubles we got the drag aground
on the 18 foot rock at the start. Fortunately we were able to
clear it without much difficulty so we then went to the eastward
of the rock, took a long swing around to the westward of it and
then proceeded to the place where the plane was supposed to be.
A few soundings indicated that we were up against a problem of
keeping the wire well off the bottom and yet catching the plane
since the bottom in many places is flat and rocky with small projections
going up from it. As we approached the place I was fearful that
the drag depth was not sufficient, and went out in a small launch
to change the depth of the drag. In attempting to lower a large
weight the buoy got away form me and in trying to get my hand
out of the way of the flying crank a finger of my right hand was
rather badly dislocated. I went aboard the launch and rested until
the first shock was over and in the meantime Mr. Mallinckrodt
arranged with the General Electric Company for medical attention
on my arrival at Lynn. In the meantime I had the boats continue
dragging and in spite of the fact that the near weight was on
bottom, and suddenly it was seen that the second buoy had caught.
This indicated a genuine find. Everything was then left with the
boats hanging on the drag. The tug boat maneuvered up the tide,
anchored, and sent down a diver near the point where it was caught.
In the meantime I proceeded to Lynn and secured
medical attention finding that there were no bones broken but
that the finger was badly bruised and twisted. On return, about
dark, I found that the wire definitely led to some object. It
was then smooth and I proceeded to sound in the vicinity of the
object, and I am now quite sure that I actually put a lead on
the tail of the plane but it was hard to distinguish between the
plane and the wire. In taking up the drag we found that the wire
was partly foul of the tug boat's propeller, but thanks to the
very excellent work of Boatswain G. B. Lok, who was in charge
of all the sweeping operations of the Coast Guard and who throughout
was of the very greatest assistance both in setting out and picking
up the drag and in maneuvering the guide boat, we finally got
everything straightened out about 9:00 p.m., and started for Boston
leaving two sections of the wire and floats on the located object.
It was fortunate that this work was done Friday as there was a
gale the next day.
The patrol boats had remained at Lynn so that
on Sunday Messrs. Adams, Partington and I went to Lynn, went out
from there arriving at the scene about 10:00 a.m. We immediately
set out to drag, to take a sweep on the north part of the suspected
area and with the aid of the regular wire men had things going
in excellent shape in a very short time. Mr. Mallinckrodt in the
meantime had asked whether there was any opposition to having
the diver down at the place where the drag had caught, and I told
him to go ahead, [but to stop diving operations] only if became
necessary to move out of the way of the drag. Just as the nearest
boat came opposite the tow boat its tow line parted. I immediately
went aboard the tow boat and asked Mr. Mallinckrodt whether he
could suspend operations to give us a little chance to examine
the area, but he said that he had just noted some fresh oil. The
same thing had been noted on Friday afternoon, but it was difficult
to be sure as the sewer outlet of the City of Lynn was only about
a quarter of a mile away and the tide was coming from that direction.
However, I decided to wait aboard the tow boat and five minutes
later the diver came up with a piece of canvas from the plane
and the search was ended. He stated that the wire was caught on
the tail of the plane about 8 feet above the sea bottom.
Fortunately no newspaper men were aboard our
boats that day on account of the circumstances that I have mentioned,
though previously there had always been at least two who were
anxious for a scoop. The divers were able to get the one body
that they found out of the plane, get it on deck, make arrangements
for the undertaker, and send the body to Lynn before newspaper
men arrived. Temporary identification was made by means of the
aviator's license which showed that it was Frost's and not Mallinckrodt's
body which had been recovered. The drag was then taken in but
for various reasons it required most of the rest of the day to
get the plane to the surface so that it could be towed in and
so that its wreckage could be thoroughly examined to see whether
the other body was caught in it...."
The above account ended with other administrative
details of Captain Heck's trip. A remarkable fact concerning these
events was that Captain Heck located the plane on his first pass
in spite of the inexperience of the boat crews and the improvised
wire drag equipment. This is a tribute to Captain Heck's long
years of experience in developing and operating the wire drag
system. As noted in the heading of this report, Captain Heck was
at the time of performing this search the Chief of the Division
of Terrestrial Magnetism and Seismology. He made great contributions
to American geophysics in this capacity and helped found the first
Engineering Seismology Laboratory in the United States. He also
was among the first, if not the first, to recognize the correlation
between the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and earthquake activity, a major
step on the road to the Theory of Plate Tectonics. He was later
recognized for his pioneering work in geophysics by being awarded
the prestigious Bowie Medal of the American Geophysical Union.
following article first appeared in NOAA Report for August 1999.