Ruth Stewart (L) & Jean LaRene, Pre-1932, Location Unknown (Source: Freeman)
Ruth Stewart landed at Davis-Monthan Airfield twice flying
a Curtiss Robin, registry NC75H. Reportedly, her airplane
is probably orange and cream.
Based in St. Louis, for her first visit on August 16, 1930, she arrived
from Douglas, AZ and was on her way to San Diego. On that
day, she was probably on her way to Long Beach for the beginning
of the 1930 Women's Class A Pacific Derby, which started on
August 17th. She placed 4th, out of the money, in the Derby, Long Beach, CA to Chicago, IL.
Her second visit was on August 24, 1931. She was inbound
from Phoenix enroute southeastward to Douglas, AZ. She could
not know that she had 133 days left to live.
Ruth Stewart, 26, was a St. Louis socialite, and wife of
Alcee Stewart, a wealthy lumberman. Photograph, right, of Ruth,
on the left, with Jean
LaRene, courtesy of Roger
According to newspapers of the day, Ruth, and fellow pilot
Debie Stanford, 28, planned to fly a white Lockheed Vega (NC7973, left sidebar)
from New York City to Buenos Aires in an attempt to break
the standing 5.5-day elapsed time record. Ruth held a transport
license and had three years of piloting experience. She participated
in the 1930 and 1931 Women’s Air Derbies.
Anticipating their Buenos Aires trip, news articles from the
first week of January 1932 followed their moves from St. Louis
to Pittsburgh, via Terre Haute and Indianapolis, on their
way to New York. From Pittsburgh they departed for Harrisburg,
PA in foul weather. They flew abreast another airplane flown
by a pilot experienced with the Pennsylvania mountains. Yet,
their aircraft lost contact with that plane, it, “…disappeared
in a cloud bank and was not seen again.”
of The Washington Herald of January 6, 1932 was, “2 Society Women Lost on Plane Hop”. The Evening Star of Washington, DC reported, “Searchers Comb Blue Ridge
For 2 Missing Woman Flyers”. The plane was found near
the rim of Bowers Mountain, about 40 miles west of Harrisburg,
in the Tuscarora State Forest 30 miles north of the Pennsylvania
border. The Washington Post of Friday, January 8, 1932 quoted
a State aviation inspector as saying the plane either had
gone into a spin in the thick fog, or had nose-dived into
the soft earth at the end of a glide.
The Titusville Herald (PA) of January 8, 1932 published the following. It is almost word-for-word the article below, right, which is difficult to read.
BODIES OF TWO SOCIETY WOMEN FLIERS FOUND.
PLANE HAD CRASHED IN MOUNTAIN FOREST 40 MILES FROM HARRISBURG.
HAD BEEN SOUGHT SINCE LAST TUESDAY.
NOSE OF MACHINE BURIED IN GROUND, BUT SHIP IS NOT BURNED.
Harrisburg, Jan. 7. -- (AP) -- Pennsylvania's mountains, grave yard of aviation, today yielded the crushed and broken bodies of two young women on the eve of their projected flight from New York to Buenos Aires.
Near the wing-stripped, splintered wreckage of their plane, Pennsylvania national guardsmen and forest rangers found the bodies of MRS. RUTH STEWART, 26, St. Louis, and MRS. DEBBIE STANFORD, 28, Indianapolis.
Lost in the rain and fog which separated it from a companion plane early Tuesday afternoon, the ship had crashed in the heart of the Tuscarora state forest, 40 miles west of this city and 30 miles north of the southern state line.
The bodies, which authorities had difficulty in identifying, were soaked with gasoline, but the ignition of the plane had been cut off by MRS. STEWART. There was no fire in the latest of the mountain crashes which have taken the lives of 12 air mail pilots as well as of less experienced aviators.
MRS. STANFORD, in the rear seat, was trapped by the telescoped frame work, which had to be sawed away by cavalrymen removing the bodies. Both legs were broken and she suffered a deep gash in the forehead. Unlike the pilot, who was killed instantly, MRS. STANFORD had survived the crash only to die while fog obscured the wreckage yesterday.
In the mist which hid her from the view of GENTRY SHELTON and her parents, travelling in an accompanying plane, MRS. STEWART lost her bearings after crossing all but one ridge. As she circled about in the low-hanging clouds, the plane was headed westward into the mountain and crashed.
RICHARD G. HERBINE, state aviation inspector, said the plane either had gone into a spin in the thick fog or had nose-dived into the soft earth at the end of a glide.
As it struck the ground, soaked by the long rain, the ship was thrown slightly to one side and its nose buried several feet. It was found deep in the second growth and a short distance from one of the old logging roads built to remove virgin timber. The dense underbrush which forced the cavalrymen to abandon their horses, hindered the searchers in reaching the wreckage and removing the bodies.
At the hotel where she and her husband had waited anxiously through two days for word from their daughter, MRS. WILLIAM WOERNER, mother of MRS. STEWART, said her daughter had begun unwillingly the flight from Terre Haute to Pittsburgh and Harrisburg. Enroute to New York from where she and MRS. STANFORD planned to make an attempt to lower the flying time to South America. MRS. STEWART told her mother she "didn't like to take off in this weather." Her query, "Why can't we wait until it clears up," was overruled by the persuasion of other flyers.
Fellow Register pilot W.G. (Gentry) Shelton, Jr., at the link above, was the pilot of the lead airplane that Stewart was following when she lost sight of it in the fog. A lengthy article in the Monroe News-Star (LA) for January 7th elaborated on Shelton's role. He was also part of the search team and made two flights the next day carrying Ruth's father. He said they recognized the crash site by seeing the red coat worn by Ruth. Upon landing and reporting the find to officials in Harrisburg, PA, William Woerner collapsed as he exited Shelton's airplane.
The following information received June 22, 2005 from Paul in Garden City, KS. News article, left, dated October
29,1931, publication unknown.
News of Crash, Newspaper Unknown, January 8, 1932 (Source: Paul)
Paul states, "I know the following things about Ruth Stewart (Maiden
name WOERNER). She was the daughter of William F. Woerner.
She was married to Alcee William Stewart (Son of Alcee William
Stewart and Abigail Sergeant). Ruth apparently grew up in
"She was born about 1906 and died on January 7, 1932
in Tuscarora State Forest, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
She resided with her husband at 5646 Kinsbury Avenue, St.
Louis, Missouri. She apparently had a dog named Wrinkles that
she gave to one of her neighbor's children to keep before
she attempted her flight from New York to Buenos Aires.
"Ruth was the first St. Louis woman licensed by the
Department of Commerce to fly a plane,and the second local
woman to receive a transport license. Ruth had 700 hours in
the air and had participated in two air derbies. She qualified
for a private pilot license in 1920 and a transport license
"In the fall of 1931 she and Debie Stanford (of Toronto
and Indianapolis) planned a trip from New York to Buenos Aires.
The attempt was made but failed in a crash in Pennsylvania.
Apparently her brother (Gabriel Woerner) assisted with planning
News article, right, dated January
8, 1932, publication unknown, describes the circumstances of the accident and the aftermath
News article, below, regarding Ruth's husband, from Paul,
Garden City, KS. Dated February 5, 1935, publication unknown.
Alcee Stewart Obituary, February 5, 1935 (Source: Paul)
Photo, below, of Ruth's childhood home, from Paul, Garden
5261 Washingtion Blvd, St. Louis, MO (Source: Paul)
The following image of the crash and aftermath was called to our attention by a site guest on July 28, 2019. It is a broadside described further below.
Pictorial Broadside Relaying the Fatal Crash of Ruth Stewart and Debbie Stanford, 1932 (Source: Link)
Partial description found at link. Note the location of the accident was Pennsylvania, not New York.
"Title: Pictorial broadside relaying the fatal crash of two female aviators in the mountains of Pennsylvania
Associated News Service
Place: New York
Publisher: Elliott Service Co.
Description: Printed in black on red background, with large halftone illustration reproducing two photographs. 43.5x35.2 cm (17¼13¾").
An "Associated News Service Latest World Events in Pictures" broadside covering briefly the fatal crash of aviators Ruth Stewart and Debbie Stanford, flying from St. Lewis [sic] to New York on their way to South America, with pictures of the downed aircraft next to the two climbing into into the cockpit before takeoff. These breaking news pictorial announcements were issued three times a week..."
UPLOADED: 05/04/05 UPDATED:
06/23/05, 06/19/16, 10/09/19