Elizabeth, class 44-6, and Mary Howson , class 44-4, were both training on this final day of their lives. Elizabeth is just about to complete her first solo in an AT-6 and is also planing to land. Mary had been on a long cross-country flight in a AT-6 and was preparing to land at Avenger Field. They are approaching Avenger Field from different directions and they are on a collision course. Elizabeth is busy getting ready to do practice landing. Mary is looking into the Sun. They collide. Elizabeth fell to the ground in her plane. Mary bailed out but was too low for her parachute to open.
Elizabeth was born in Seattle and the eldest of three. The family moved to Preston, Washington, where she completed high school with honors and as a class officer. She was outgoing, became a cheerleader, edited the school yearbook, made the honor roll, participated in band and choir, and was a class officer.
She attended the University of Washington where she majored in art. She was in the tri deltas and worked full time in the summer and part time during school at a bank. At the bank she met Don Smith and the became ingaged. When war broke out, she moved to Yakima, Washington, learned to fly, and joined the WASP.
Jayne Elizabeth Erickson and Mary Holmes Howson,KIS - 4/16/1944, Sweetwater, Texas
It was a Sunday afternoon in Sweetwater, Texas. The air was clear, visibility unlimited, and winds were out of the S. E. at 15 miles per hour. Elizabeth was in basic training with class 44-6, was only 8 days from her 23rd birthday, and had accumulated over 71 hours of flying with just over eleven in her AT-6. Mary was in the advanced training phase with class 44-4 and was also flying an AT-6. Mary had just over 48 hours in this type of plane and a total flying time of 163 hours. With the graduation of 44-3 on April 15, 44-4 were now the seniors at Sweetwater.
It was about 13:15 and Elizabeth was practicing touch and go landings as part of her basic training requirements and was on her 8th attempt. Her first three were with her instructor, the last 5 were solo. There was a lot to do and Elizabeth was busy, getting the landing gear down, watching her speed, setting the flaps, and other things. She was also in radio contact with the tower. Mary, in the advanced phase of her training, was on the return leg of a solo cross-country flight to San Antonio, had a more time to get ready, and was more comfortable with her plane. She was looking to the tower for visual directions.
Elizabeth was entereing traffic over Avenger field on a 45 degree leg to the downwind leg from an easterly direction. Mary was also entering traffic on a 45 degree leg to the downwind leg from a westerly direction. They were both at about 800 feet altitude had turned into their base leg, perpendicular to the runway, and were now headed right at each other. It was now 13:20. Mary, having more flying experience was looking around for other aircraft. She spotted Elizabeth's plane and turned to avoid the collision. However, it was too late and Elizabeth's plane rammed into Mary's. Elizabeth was pinned in and could not eject. Mary jumped, but she was too close to the ground and her parachute didn't have a chance to open. Mary was 25 years old.
On April 17, 1944, a forty-five minute memorial service was held. Many were in attendance including all the new trainees for class 44-9 which had just started their first week of training the day after the crash.
Mary's closest friend in training was Dorothy Herthneck. Dorothy believed the fault rested with the tower. After the accident the overhead approach was changed to 4,000 feet before entering to land.