Family searches for clues about Navy pilot’s disappearance in 1953 flight
A Navy pilot from Coventry Township disappeared on a flight that left Akron a few days after Christmas 1953.
What happened to Lt. Vernon H. King and his companions has been an unsolved mystery ever since.
King’s granddaughter is looking for clues that will tell her more about the man she never knew — a man even her mother has no memory of as well.
Crystal Kennerly, 31, of Plano, Texas, had been searching for any information about King for half of her life.
“I remember as a little girl my mom showing me a picture of her father and telling me the story that his plane disappeared on a routine flight from Akron, Ohio, to Florida,” Kennerly said. “I used to stare at his picture and wonder what he was like.”
Last September, she finally found something: an article in the Panama City News in Florida about the plane’s disappearance. Then she found some articles in the Akron Beacon Journal that told her more.
A Dec. 29, 1953, article in the Beacon Journal quoted a Navy official as saying King, 31, flew a twin-engine Beechcraft Navy plane carrying at least three (and possibly five) that left Akron the day before, Dec. 28, on a flight to Jacksonville. The plane never reached its final destination.
The plane left Akron Municipal Airport, now Akron Fulton International Airport, at 12:42 p.m. for Norfolk, Va. King landed in Norfolk at 3:03 p.m., and took off for Florida at 4:51 p.m.
After 6 p.m., the pilot spoke to someone at the control tower at Wilmington, N.C., to cancel the instrument flight plans under which the paper had been flying. The newspaper reported that a plane bearing the same identification number as King’s radioed a “mayday” distress signal.
The Navy official in the article said King was not cleared to fly over the ocean, and the story pointed out the Navy weather bureau reported that a 45 mph wind was blowing from the west at the time the plane went missing.
The article said the wind “could possibly have pushed the ship off course out over the water.”
A follow-up article on Jan. 3, 1954, reported the three-state search over 70,000 square miles had been called off. Also on the flight with King were co-pilot Capt. Alex Dutkin of Franklin, Pa.; J.M. Paschall, an aviation machinist’s mate who joined the Navy in Detroit; and Eugene L. Renshaw, a radioman from Oakland, Calif., the Beacon Journal reported.
Kennerly said she also learned that W.C. Jacobs boarded the plane in Akron and exited in Norfolk. He had visited his father, William Jacobs, in Akron.
Kennerly’s mother, Debra King Newton, 58, of Denton, Texas, was born March 4, 1953, nearly 10 months before her father disappeared.
“It’s like nothing is out there,” Newton said. “Sometimes it seems like my dad was not even real.”
She said it has been frustrating over the years to learn so little about her father and the crash.
“It is a haunting mystery,” she said. “I wonder what happened. There is no closure.”
There was no wreckage found, no bodies discovered, no cemetery or headstone for her father, she said.
“They never found anything, and his family was left with unanswered question,” said Kennerly, 31, a full-time student and a school bus driver.
Documents from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis indicate King was a Navy Reservist who was called up to active duty from March 1943 to December 1945 during World War II and served in the Pacific theater. He also served active duty from October 1951 until his death. He was awarded several medals.
Since September, Kennerly’s search has put her in touch with Dutkin’s daughter.
Donna Shea, who is Kennerly’s aunt and Newton’s sister, was nearly 6 years old when her father disappeared. She said the family lived in Akron for only about three years.
“He was tall and handsome,” Shea, 63, of Phelan, Calif., said of her father. “I remember him putting my first bicycle together and teaching me to ride without training wheels.”
She said her dad taught her how to swim in the Portage Lakes.
“The last Christmas before he disappeared, I woke up in the middle of the night because I needed to go to the bathroom,” she said. “He carried me on his shoulders to the bathroom, but on the way, I saw the presents. He woke up my mother and we had Christmas in the middle of the night that year.”
Shea said memories of her father are intermittent because she was so young when he disappeared.
“I remember him reading to me a lot and helping him in the garden, playing with our dog, riding in our car,” she said.
She doubts there are many people who remember her father in Akron because they were here for such a short time.
Kennerly hopes to find family members of the other men on the plane, as well as anyone who might have information, pictures or stories about them. She says her grandfather was born Aug. 30, 1922, in St. Louis. He met his wife, Mindalyn Ester Ervin King, in Kentucky.
“I hope that there are people in Akron who may remember my grandfather and share their stories with us,” she said.
She said she hopes to bring her mother to Akron next year on the 60th anniversary of her grandfather’s flight.
“These men deserve to be found and remembered, not lost forever,” she said.
To contact Kennerly, email searchingforvernonking@ya hoo.com or call 940-300-5671.
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or at jcarney@thebeaconjournal. com.
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