Aircraft Wrecks in the Mountains and Deserts of the American West
This Story Appeared on the Ventura
County Star Web Site
Ventura County Star
Midair crash could not clip the wings of two Air Corps fliers
Howard H. Dale and Andrew Kmonk got a royal chewing-out from their commanding officer after they escaped certain death on May 4, 1944, in the skies over Camarillo.
The young second lieutenants had walked away from their midair collision. As their crumpled P-38s hurtled toward earth, they were strong enough to pull open their cockpit canopies, lift themselves out of their planes, pull their ripcords and parachute safely to the ground.
"When they found Kmonk, he was terrified," aviation archeologist G. Pat Macha said. "He had his D-ring, which you pull to open your parachute, locked in his hand. He was pretty shook up. They had to pull it from his hands."
Macha said it was a miracle that both pilots were able to escape.
The men were flying a training mission — practicing dogfights — out of the Army air base at Metropolitan Airport in Van Nuys, now Van Nuys Airport.
Kmonk's widow, Mary Jean Kmonk, said her husband and Dale were in deep trouble when they got back to Van Nuys because their actions had ruined their unit's perfect record.
Four days after the midair collision, Army investigators filed their report and concluded that the accident was primarily due to pilot error on the part of Dale, with mistakes by Kmonk also contributing.
Nonetheless, the two went on to distinguish themselves in Europe, providing fighter escort protection for bombers over German targets, said Mary Jean Kmonk, a resident of Lebanon, Ore.
At the end of the war, Kmonk went back to civilian life. He graduated from Pasadena City College and worked for Giannini Corp., an aircraft parts manufacturer in Pasadena, before taking a longtime position as a counselor with the California Youth Authority.
For most of his life, Kmonk held a private pilot's license and loved to fly his Piper aircraft. About 24 years ago, the couple moved to Oregon, where Kmonk died in 1995 at the age of 70.
Dale tested civilian life after World War II, but didn't much care for it and joined the Air Force. The Kmonks remained in touch with Dale and his wife kept in touch with the Kmonks for many years, but have since lost contact.
Copyright 2006 Ventura County Star