Joseph (Joe) Pricket Livermore (1902 – 1936) - His crash led to creation of the Air Safety Board
Joe Livermore signed Oakland’s register on November 14, 1929 returning from New York flying a Curtiss Robin for Curtiss Flying Service. According to the local San Francisco Bay papers, he left the Alameda Airport on October 221 with two Soviet government representatives, (L.G. Gershevich and Andrew W. Petroff, of the Amtorg Corporation2). They accompanied the Russian “Land of the Soviets” airplane that took off from the Oakland Airport for Cheyenne, Wyoming at 6 am, with an ultimate destination of New York.
Earlier in October 1929, Joe Livermore participated in a race sponsored by the Oakland Airport on October 13, taking second place by flying 15 miles in eight minutes. The prize was a $20 coupon book from an oil company. The following week on October 20, he competed in an aerial circus at the Alameda Airport with other Curtiss Flying Service pilots.
Joe Livermore was born on March 10, 1902 in Skagit, Washington. His mother had two children from a previous relationship and his father was a lawyer. The 1930 census indicates that Joe Livermore was single, living in Boise, Idaho, and employed as an air mail pilot, (transport license #2307). In August 1930 he married Lorna Monahan of San Francisco.
In the early 1930s Joe Livermore flew mail for Varney Air Lines, and by 1936 he was employed with Northwest Airlines. At age 35 he was considered an “old” pilot, unfamiliar with and reluctant to use the new rudimentary instrument flight rule technology. In the early hours of December 18, 1936 carrying 16 pouches of mail, Joe Livermore and co-pilot Arthur Haid took off from Missoula, Montana for Spokane, WA. Although the flight was scheduled to leave Missoula at 5:20 pm, due to delays and 80 mile per hour headwinds they did not depart until 12:30 am the next day. As lead pilot, Joe Livermore abandoned the instruments early in the flight due to static and thunderstorms. Mistaking the bright glow of a fire in the overcast sky for the lights of Spokane, the pilots got lost and crashed their Lockhead Electra into Cemetery Ridge, Idaho. Their last radio contact was at 3 am. Co-pilot Arthur Haid had a two-week old baby in Seattle; Joe Livermore had a daughter, Jacqueline, in Spokane.
The airplane wreckage was spotted from the air three days later on December 21; several days after that a fur trapper snowshoed through a foot of snow to an elevation of 4,500 feet. The time on Joe Livermore’s broken watch was 3:25. There were no survivors. Only seven of the 16 mail pouches were recovered.
Joe Livermore’s widow, Lorna, sent a notarized statement to the Department of Commerce, the main federal regulator for aviation, accusing her husband’s employer, Northwest Airlines, of essentially murdering her husband because of the conditions in which he was forced to fly. Due to several recent high-profile accidents, Congress held a public hearing on airline safety in early February 1937. The president of the Air Line Pilots Association, Dave Behncke, used Lorna Livermore’s affidavit, (and an affidavit from pilot Roy P. Warner), to convince the Bureau of Air Commerce, a branch of the Department of Commerce, and Congress that action must be taken to ensure safer air travel. In June 1938, President Roosevelt signed the Civil Aeronautics Act creating a three-member Air Safety Board, and the Civil Aeronautics Authority to regulate air transportation.
As for Lorna Livermore, she sued Northwest Airlines for $75,000 in November 1938 alleging wrongful death under Washington State law. In January 1939 a jury awarded Lorna Livermore $37,500, but there were disputes. Julia Livermore, Joe Livermore’s mother and a widow, also sued Northwest Airlines for $10,000. Lorna and Julia Livermore eventually settled their lawsuits in June 1941 for $25,000.
1Curtiss Flying Service began operations at the Oakland Airport on November 1, 1929.
2Amtorg Corporation (1924-1998) handled exports and imports for Soviet industry; in late 1929 their headquarters occupied five floors at 261 Fifth Avenue.