FROM THE ARCHIVES
Seventy-six years ago today, on July 7, 1946, Howard Hughes was nearly killed in the spectacular crash of a plane he was test-piloting. The Times’ headline the following morning read, “Howard Hughes Near Death After Plane Hits Four Houses.”
Heading over Beverly Hills in the Army’s XF-11 photo reconnaissance plane, he was aiming to crash-land at the Los Angeles Country Club but came up short. A 2004 story in The Times recounted: “The landing gear and right wing smashed through the roof of dentist Jules Zimmerman’s home. No one was hurt, and the plane kept going. A wing sliced through the upstairs bedroom of the house next door, narrowly missing the owners: actress Rosemary DeCamp and her husband, Superior Court Judge John A. Shidler. The plane demolished the DeCamp-Shidler garage, mowed down a row of trees and crashed through the rear wall of another home before exploding into flames. One of the engines, which had been thrown 60 feet, hit the corner of a house owned by Swedish industrialist Gosta B. Guston, then embedded itself in the frontyard. The Gustons’ Pomeranian, Tido, was hurt by flying debris.” The plane burst a gas line, and the Fire Department arrived just as a gas main exploded in the home of Lt. Col. Charles A. Meyer. The house was destroyed.
Hughes suffered second- and third-degree burns over most of his body. The July 8, 1946, Times report said a doctor had given Hughes a 50-50 chance of survival: “Hughes was reported to have been conscious upon arrival at the hospital and to have almost laconically remarked, ‘I’m Howard Hughes.’” Later, the Army blamed the billionaire aviator-moviemaker-businessman for the crash. An official report said that, although the craft had propeller trouble, Hughes had overloaded the fuel tanks and remained in the air almost an hour longer than the Army’s time limit.
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