Historical Reflections

A plane crashes on the North Shore

This photo shows the daring Lt. Raymond H. Palon Jr., 23 years old, next to one of the planes he flew. 
Photo courtesy of the family This photo shows the daring Lt. Raymond H. Palon Jr., 23 years old, next to one of the planes he flew. Photo courtesy of the family Sixty years ago, the North Shore was shocked and saddened when a U.S. Air Force F-51 crashed in the Lutsen area. Raelyn “Lyndee” Lapin was only 15 months old when her pilotfather was killed in the crash on February 17, 1953. Although she doesn’t really remember her father, Lapin said his friends made sure she wasn’t afraid of flying and she remembers them getting her up in the air. Lapin said, “I think I got my ‘need for speed’ from my dad.”

Below is the report from the Cook County News-Herald, Feb. 19, 1953:

F51 crashes and explodes at Lutsen; Duluth flyer killed

Horrified Lutsen residents witnessed the crash and explosion of an F51 Mustang fighter plane a short distance from the Albin Jerich home Tuesday afternoon, carrying its pilot, Lt. Raymond H. Palon of Minneapolis, from the Duluth air base, to his death.

The plane had flown in formation with another, a P51, flown by First Lt. Russell Kehn on an “ordered defense mission,” and they were returning to their base when the accident occurred. Lt. Kehn was not aware that his partner had crashed.

Over Lutsen they had broken formation at 18,000 feet and were descending for the return trip. Palon’s ship was ahead, and for a time Kehn lost visual contact. He tried to gain on the plane, but never again found it.

Col. Earl Bates, commanding officer of the air base, said an investigation into the cause of the crash – up to now a mystery – continues.

Eyewitnesses to the crash, Mr. Jerich and his hired hand Blago Nikolass, said the plane roared at a high rate of speed to within 400 feet of the Jerich home, leaving a trail of smoke. Suddenly it nosed downward in a clump of trees half a block from the clearing. There was a blinding flash as the plane exploded. It practically disintegrated as little bits of wreckage were spread over the wooded area.

Several other neighbors said they had seen the plane “rolling” and leaving a trail of smoke before it struck, but this was at a higher altitude.

A crowd of people gathered, and were surprised that there was so little to see! Army personnel were sent up to investigate and to guard the wreckage. They were there until

Wednesday afternoon when they returned with what was left of the body and parts of the wreckage.

Lt. Palon leaves a wife and child.

The crash was also reported in the February 18 Moorhead Daily News, with the headline Lt. Palon was Husband of Moorhead Girl.

That report was slightly different than that of the News-Herald, reporting: "Palon’s plane crashed into dense woods near the farm home of George Jurek, one and one-half miles north of Lutsen. Mrs. Jurek said the plane roared nearly vertically past the house and tore into the woods beyond, blowing up in 'a bright flash.' Wreckage was scattered over a 200-acre area."

Lyndee Lapin contacted the Cook County News-Herald on this sad anniversary, asking if any Cook County residents recall the horrific accident—and if they have found any of her father’s effects. Her mother, Marilyn Jean Gotschall, is still living and has always wished that the young pilot’s wedding ring could be found.

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