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Home Town Not Specified
Last Address Vincennes, IN
Date of Passing Apr 04, 1933
Location of Interment Not Specified
Wall/Plot Coordinates Not Specified
Last Known Activity On the evening of 3 April 1933, Akron cast off from her moorings to operate along the coast of New England, assisting in the calibration of radio direction finder stations, with Rear Admiral Moffett embarked. Also on board were: Commander Harry B. Cecil, the admiral's aide; Commander Fred T. Berry, the commanding officer of Lakehurst's Naval Air Station; and Lieutenant Colonel Alfred F. Masury, USAR, a guest of the admiral, a vice-president of the Mack Truck Co., and a strong proponent of the potential civilian uses of rigid airships.
As she proceeded on her way, Akron encountered severe weather which did not improve as she passed over Barnegat Light, New Jersey at 2200 (10:00 PM) on 3 April. Wind gusts of terrific force struck the airship unmercifully. The Akron was being flown into an area of lower barometric pressure than had existed at take-off; this caused the actual altitude flown to be lower than that indicated in the control gondola. Around 0030 (12:30 AM) on 4 April, the Akron was driven up by an updraft, and then down by a downdraft. The commander, Commander Frank McCord, ordered full speed ahead, ballast dropped. Lt. Commander Herbert Wiley was handling the ballast and emptied the bow emergency ballast. This coupled with the elevator man holding nose up on the elevators caused the nose to rise. It also caused the tail to rotate down. The descent of the Akron was only temporarily halted, and downdrafts caused a second descent. Wiley activated the 18 'howlers' of the ships telephone system, a signal to landing stations. At this point the almost 800 foot long airship was nose up at between 12 and 25 degrees. The Engineering officer called out "800 feet", which was followed by a 'gust' of intense violence. The rudder man reported there was no response to his wheel. The lower rudder cables had been torn away. While the control gondola was still hundreds of feet high, the lower fin of the Akron had struck the water and was torn off. ZRS-4 rapidly broke up and sank in the stormy Atlantic. Akron had been destroyed by operator error, it was flown into the sea while operating in an intense storm front. The German motorship Phoebus in the vicinity saw lights descending toward the ocean at about 0023 (12:23 AM) and altered course to starboard to investigate, thinking she was witnessing a plane crash. At 0055 (12:55 AM) on 4 April, Phoebus picked up Lieutenant Commander Herbert V. Wiley, Akron's executive officer, unconscious, while a ship's boat picked up three more men: Chief Radioman Robert W. Copeland, Boatswain's Mate Second Class Richard E. Deal, and Aviation Metalsmith Second Class Moody E. Ervin. Despite desperate artificial respiration, Copeland never regained consciousness and died on board Phoebus.
Although the German sailors spotted four or five other men in the stormy seas, they did not know that their ship had chanced upon the crash of Akron until Lieutenant Commander Wiley regained consciousness half an hour after being rescued. Phoebus combed the ocean with her boats for over five hours in a dogged but fruitless search for more survivors of aviation's biggest single tragedy to that date. A Navy blimp, J-3, sent out to join the search, also crashed, with the loss of two men.
The United States Coast Guard cutter Tucker, the first American vessel on the scene, arrived at 0600 (6:00 AM) and took on board the Akron survivors and the body of Copeland, thus releasing the German motor vessel. Among the other ships which relentlessly combed the area for more survivors were the heavy cruiser Portland, the destroyer Cole, Coast Guard cutter Mojave, and the Coast Guard destroyers McDougal and Hunt, as well as two Coast Guard planes. Most, if not all of the casualties had been caused by drowning and hypothermia, as the crew had not been issued life jackets and there had not been time to deploy the single life raft on the ship. The crash left 73 dead, and three survivors, making it the deadliest air crash up to the time.