As it neared its close last week, 1936 had been marred by four major crashes of scheduled U. S. passenger airliners.* Last week one more was added to the list as a twin-motored Boeing of Western Air Express vanished on its regular run from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City. No Knute Rockne or Senator Bronson Cutting was among the plane's four passengers, but newspapers found memorial material in Stewardess Gladys Witt.
In the course of her work, pretty Gladys Witt met Pilot James H. Roe, and a shipping executive named Erich K. Balzer who often flew on WAE planes. One day last month Passenger Balzer stepped out of a WAE Boeing at Los Angeles carrying giggling Gladys Witt in his arms, declared they were to marry. But Hostess Witt left him literally at the altar, headed for Kansas City to marry Pilot Roe. Suitor Balzer managed to catch the same plane. When they reached Kansas City after arguing all night, Hostess Witt declared that she would not marry Pilot Roe, but neither would she marry Passenger Balzer. She returned to work with Western Air Express.
One night last week Hostess Witt took off from Los Angeles as usual. Presently the airliner passed over little Milford, Nev. At 3:27 a. m. one of the two pilots radioed Salt Lake City that the big trans port was hitting 199 m.p.h. at 10,000 ft., under a "high overcast." That was the last word from the plane. When it did not appear at Salt Lake City, Western Air frantically marshaled planes for a search. But at dawn, low clouds and a blizzard prevented flying. Calling out CCC boys, the airline set them combing the desolate, craggy, snow-laden Utah mountains on foot. They found nothing. Two days later, when the snow abated, 25 planes took up the hunt. At week's end they too had found nothing.*
Officials theorized that the transport had gone far off its course, had fallen into Utah Lake, or was hidden in some wrinkle of the tortured Wasatch Mountains. Said one: "Snowfall there is normally heavy . . . and the bodies might be buried and never found till spring." Added WAE's pioneer pilot, Vice President Charles N. ("Jimmie") James: "If they have not died from the crash, they have died from exposure." Hostess Witt's jilted Suitor Roe hovered over a radio, muttering: "There's still a chance." Jilted Suitor Balzer remarked: "If we had been married, she would be safe at home now."
* The four: American's Southerner near Goodwin, Ark. in January, killing 17; Transcontinental & Western's Sun Racer at Uniontown, Pa. in April, killing 12; Chicago & Southern's City of Memphis at St. Louis in August, killing eight; a single-motored Lockheed of Varney Air Transport at Rattlesnake Butte, Colo. in October, killing three. * Meanwhile, two more transports met disaster: 1) a Northwest Airlines Boeing with two pilots but no passengers vanished somewhere in Idaho or Washington; 2) an Eastern Air Lines Douglas piloted by Transatlantic Flyer Dick Merrill, who made a forced landing so skillfully on a mountainside near Port Jervis, N. Y. that none of the eight passengers was hurt, though both wings were torn off.