Monday, December 6, 2021

1953: Crash Kils Four Ga. ANG Pilots

 By Major William Carraway

Historian, Georgia Army National Guard


Left to right: Capt. Idon Hodge Jr., 1st Lt. Samuel Dixon Jr., 1st Lt. Elwood Kent, 2nd Lt. William Tennent. Georgia National Guard Archives.

At 10:20 p.m. Dec. 5, 1953 four F-84 Thunderjets of the Georgia Air National Guard took off from Miami airport bound for Dobbins Air Force Base. At the controls of the lead jet was Capt. Idon Hodge Jr., a veteran of World War II and Korea. Following him in formation were 1st Lt. Samuel Dixon Jr., 1st Lt. Elwood Kent and 2nd Lt. William Tennent.[1] One hour prior to take off the pilots had received a weather advisory from Dobbins indicating a ceiling of 12,000 feet, but by 10:30, the ceiling had dropped to 600 feet. Just before midnight, Hodge radioed the Atlanta Naval Air Station to advise that the pilots were starting their descent from 27,000 feet. The aircraft began a gradual descent through fog and rain. Atlanta Naval Air Station, monitoring radio traffic heard the pilots discussing the worsening weather.[2]

A flight of four F-84D Thunderjets flies in tight formation circa 1950. Georgia National Guard Archives.

At twelve minutes after midnight December 6, several eyewitnesses reported a flash of light followed by a loud explosion. A local hunter was the closest eyewitness. After seeing the flash from a Gwinnett County Farm, Grady Johnson rushed to a neighbor’s house and notified the Naval Air Station of the explosion. He then rushed in the direction of the explosion. Reaching the crash site he discovered burning wreckage and one body. Johnson returned to the neighbor’s house to report the discovery then waited at a nearby crossroads for responders. Johnson flagged down Deputy Sheriff Lamar Crowe and directed him to the crash site. The men reached a burning farmhouse which had been struck by the aircraft flying in tight formation. The family who lived in the farmhouse were fortunately visiting family in Suwanee at the time of the accident.[3]

Air Force and National Guard officials rushed to the crash site. Among the first to reach the scene was Maj. Gen. Ernest Vandiver, Georgia’s Adjutant General. On order of Governor Herman Talmadge, a 45 Soldiers of the Atlanta-based 122nd Infantry Regiment under command of Capt. Robert Hickman was detailed to guard the crash site. By dawn, officials began the grim task of searching through the crash site. Surveying the scene, Vandiver beheld an impact area perhaps 100 feet wide leading the general to surmise that the aircraft were flying in tight formation when the pilots became disoriented. Vandiver remained on site for nearly six hours until all four pilots had been positively identified. Vandiver directed notification of family members, many of whom had already gathered at Dobbins awaiting updates with fellow pilots of the 128th Fighter Squadron. Capt. Charles Allen recalled all four as personal friends and excellent pilots. First Lt. Willis Carmichael recalled his friend Lt. Tennent as an excellent pilot from their days together in preliminary pilot training.[4]

A United States Air Force investigation recommended a redesign of cockpit altimeters concluding that leading cause of the accident was a misreading of altitude under instrument flight conditions. Altimeters recovered from wreckage appeared to read 11,000 feet instead of the actual 1,100 feet above sea level. Joel Paris, future Adjutant General of Georgia was a captain in the 128th FS at the time of the accident and recalled "The lighting was not real good in those jets and the altimeters were hard to read… it had a short, skinny needle that only moved one-fourth inch for every 10,000 feet. It could hide behind the other needle."[5]

In 2003, Ben Cole, a Suwanee resident organized an effort to dedicate a monument on the 50th-anniversary of the crash and in 2006 completed Four Down on Old Peachtree Road, which examines the crash and subsequent investigation.

Plaque in Suwannee honoring the fallen Ga. ANG aviators.

In Memoria

Idon Marion Hodge Jr. was born May 16, 1923 to Idon and Ruby Hodge of Charleston West Virginia. Hodge’s father was an accountant. Hodge enlisted in the U.S. Army Medical Administration Corps May 20, 1942. He ended the war as a captain assigned as operations officer to the 39th Fighter Squadron, 35th Fighter Group in the Pacific Theater where he shot down three enemy aircraft. After the war he studied chemical engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology. On March 26, 1949, Hodge married Quincy Alexander of Pineville, N.C. at the Duke University Chapel in Durham, N.C. On Oct. 5, 1950, Hodge was activated with the Georgia National Guard’s 128th Fighter Squadron for service in Korea. Following his tour of duty he accepted assignment in France. In June 1953, the Hodges returned to the United States. He was survived by his wife and children Nancy and Bill. He is buried in Arlington, Va.


Samuel Peyton Dixon Jr. was born August 29, 1922 in Florida to Samuel and Nancy Edwards. By 1930 he lived at the Georgia Military Academy Married Mary Bunch. He enlisted in the U.S. Army May 7, 1942. During the war he was awarded the Air Medal with oak leaf cluster. Dixon was to have graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1954 with a degree in aeronautical engineering. He is buried in Marietta National Cemetery.


Elwood Campbell Kent was born in Memphis, Tenn. in 1925 and graduated from Memphis Tech High School. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps Sept 18, 1943 in Miami, Fla. Completing pilot training Kent was assigned to the 2510th Army Air Force Base Unit in Texas. After World War II, Kent joined the Georgia Air National Guard and served with the 128th Fighter Squadron from 1947 to 1949 while employed with the Virginia State Highway Department. He graduated from Georgia Institute of Technology in 1949 with a degree in civil engineering and married June McDaniel later that year. The family lived in Atlanta where Kent was employed as a civil engineer. He rejoined the unit in 1952. He is buried in Westview Cemetery in Atlanta. He was survived by his wife June.


William Alston Tennent was born in Augusta, Ga. 1928 to Henry and Attie Tennent. In 1932, Tennent’s father, an optician, died and the family moved to Atlanta. He graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1951 with a degree in industrial management.


[1] “In Memorium.” Georgia Guardsman. December 1953, 2.


[2] “Four Atlanta Pilots Are Hurled to Fiery Death as Jets Crash During Gwinnett Rainstorm.” Atlanta Constitution. Dec 7, 1953, 1.

[3] “Hunters Rushed to Pyre of Jets After Explosion.” Atlanta Constitution. Dec 7, 1953, 10.


[4] “Fliers’ Pals Carried Tragic News to Kin.” Atlanta Constitution. Dec 7, 1953, 10.


[5] “Book recounts 1953 Suwanee Plane Crash.” Gwinnett Daily Post. Dec 6, 2006.

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