Tony Thompson vividly remembers the day in 1951 that his uncle, Jimmy Filor, died in a plane crash.
“I remember coming home from swimming at the Bronxville Field Club to find my mother in tears after having learned that Pop’s cousin, who they were very fond of, had crashed, along with his wife and two boys, in his private plane.”
Jimmy Filor (1919-1951), who was a trained pilot and had worked for American Airlines, was the son of Mabel Thompson Filor, the sister of J.E. and William Boyce Thompson. He married his college sweetheart, Elizabeth Jane Nichols, shortly after they both graduated from Stanford.
The Filors lived on the 127,000-acre Yolo Ranch near Prescott, Arizona. Tony’s brothers, Boyce and Bill, used to visit Jimmy there during their high school summers. The property is for sale for $12 million today.
The couple had two children, James Nicholas, and Ross Litton. The entire family, along with their dog, was on the plane when it reportedly lost a wing and crashed in Vandalia, Illinois, on August 27, 1951. Jimmy was 32, Elizabeth 31, James Nicholas 6, and Ross Lintern 4.
The Filors were on their way to visit friends on the east coast. They had spent the previous night in St. Louis, about 70 miles west of Vandalia. They were were on route to Pittsburgh, where they planned to refuel, before heading to Connecticut, according to their flight plan.
Some Vandalia residents also vividly remember the day of the crash. According to eyewitness reports, the Beechcraft Bonanza wirled around and around, lost a wing, crashed through trees, then plunged into an unoccupied car on Sixth Street in the business district near the cemetery. Part of the plane fell on a house, though no one was injured.
Several residents told the Vandalia Leader that they heard the plane circle over the city that morning. Witnesses said that plane spiralled three or more times through the clouds. Then it descended rapidly, its throttle wide open, skimming the treetops. The plane dove nose-first into a car that belonged to Carl Boggs, who worked at the nearby Old Capitol Monument Works.
Two firetrucks rushed to the wreckage. They sat idly by while rescue workers extracted bodies from the plane, which didn’t catch fire. Police put up a barricade as nearly 2,000 people converged on the scene.
The Filors, it was later learned, were on their way to visit their old friends, the Ross Litton Sibley family, in Haddam, Conn. Their youngest son was named for this family. The Sibley’s 3-year-old son was named James Filor Sibley.
The cause of the crash remains a mystery, though circumstantial evidence points to a likely cause. A local Civil Aeronautics Authority investigation revealed that Filor had flipped off the ignition, a sign that he knew the plane would crash. The organization also reported that Filor never radioed the ground to let authorities know the plane was in distress.
That may have been because the plane lost communication. At least that’s what Filor’s friend, Ely W. Moore of Bridgeport, Conn., speculated in a letter to The Vandalia Leader, a week after the crash. Moore also noted that Filor didn’t like to fly by instruments in a single-engine aircraft, even though he know how to do so.
Moore, who was a pilot and had flown Filor’s plane, suspected that Filor dipped below a 1,000-foot cloud bank to get his bearings then discovered that he was only 500 feet above the ground. When Filor tried to climb the plane, Moore speculated, a wing probably buckled from the pressure. Witnesses said there were indications the wings disintegrated–large sheet metal fragments fell to the ground over a wide expanse, littering rooftops and lawns.
Moore also said that he had been in touch with the Filors the night before the crash. The family apparently had enjoyed their stay in St. Louis. The children had fun riding the hotel elevators. The family was looking forward to continuing the trip east.
According to the Vandalia Leader account, “Relatives from Paris arrived to take possession of a Swiss watch from Tiffany’s, a diamond bracelet with 44 diamonds, rings, necklaces and a small amount of cash.”