Carole Lombard was in a hurry to get home. For days the movies' best screwball comedienne had been traveling crosscountry patriotically, plugging defense bonds. In Indianapolis she had lent a hand at flag-raisings, jampacked the city's big Cadle Tabernacle for a rally, where she led The Star-Spangled Banner. The blonde actresswho had often said she was glad she was not beautifulin one day raised $2,000,000. Indianapolis called her Defense Bond Saleslady No. 1. Said plain-spoken Miss Lombard: "I'm like the barker at a carnival."
It was after 4 a.m. when she reached the airport with her mother, Mrs. Elizabeth Peters, and stocky, well-liked Press-agent Otto Winkler. They were tired. There were no sleeping accommodations on T.W.A.'s Flight 3, due shortly on its way to Los Angeles. Winkler wanted to go to a hotel, sleep, take a train. Miss Lombard vetoed the idea, saying "I'll curl up and take a pill and pff I'll be asleep. . . ."
Flight 3 moved on through the night, into a bright Midwestern dawn. At Albuquerque, N.Mex., room had to be found for 15 officers and men of the Army ferry command, returning to their Coast base. Four passengers gave up their seats: one was Violinist Joseph Szigeti.
In twilight the plane reached Las Vegas, took off again at 7:07 p.m. for the last lap. At the controls was 12,000-hour veteran Pilot Wayne C. Williams.
At 7:30 miners in Nevada's mountains, some 30 miles southwest of Las Vegas, heard a terrific explosion, saw a vivid flash near the top of Table Rock Mountain.
Flames shot up from the lonely peak, then faded. Searching parties started out over snow that bogged horses belly-deep. Men toiled up over flinty rock that shredded boots into uselessness, struggled vertically up through some of the most difficult, barren rockland in the U.S.
From Los Angeles flew Husband Clark Gable. He reached Las Vegas, sleepless, waited. Breaking away from friends, he tried to scale the mountain, failed, went back to his hotel, haggard, unshaven, weary. Some 14 hours after their start, climbers reached the wreckage.
Mangled and burned were Miss Lombard, the other three civilian passengers, the 15 Army flyers, the crew of three. The transport had smacked straight into the mountain's steep wall, only 200 feet below the peak, then had slid, broken, into a ravine. For yards around, the scattered pine trees were scarred, the snow melted clean away. Why the plane had crashed, nobody yet knew.