Lt Col Willam A Lanford was the pilot on 42-102406 (MACR 4924) which was a B-17G from the 483rd BG, 817 BS flying out of Sterparone, Italy. He was shot down by flak at 12:00 on 7 May 44 over Belgarde. The mission was to bomb a particular R.R. bridge in the city. In his statement in the MACR, he says he was bombing from 20,000 feet. There were 4 survivors from the crew of 10. The ship received a direct hit by flak while just leaving the target.
There are two eyewitness statements in the MACR. One says "I saw the plane slip off and spiral down. It was in a steep dive. I saw it till just before it hit the ground. I saw two parachutes come out of either the tail or the waist."
The other statement says "I was at the right waist and saw the plane slide under us and circle. I saw a solid mass of fire in the cockpit."
In the Air Force Chronology for 7 May, is the following:
MTO - STRATEGIC OPERATIONS (15AF): 420+ B-17s and B-24s bomb targets in Rumania and Yugoslavia; the B-17s and B-24s hit marshalling yards at Bucharest, Rumania and 38 B-17s also hit a railroad bridge at Belgrade, Yugoslavia
; 62 P-51s escort heavy bombers to the target and 53 provide withdrawal escort; 84 P-38s fly target cover.
Here is a little info on Sgt Beach, who was on the plane that day and was killed. http://en.allexperts.com/q/Military-History-669/2009/7/603-Bombardment-Squadron-WWII.htm http://forum.armyairforces.com/Foggia-Italy-Air-Base-1944-m175292.aspx
Another link with a little info about this plane: http://s362974870.onlinehome.us/forums/air/index.php?showtopic=225220
You can look at the old 483rd website (www.483rd.com), which you can find on the Internet Archives.
(Go to http://archive.org/index.php
and enter www.483rd.com
after the " http:// " prompt and select the last capture date).
The mission list is located (in the archives) at:   www.483rd.com/combat2.html
The 483rd dispatched 35 planes on the mission, 3 returned early and 105 tons of bomb were dropped on the target. Only one plane was lost.
As regards the family "myth" of bombing at 500 feet. As a Lt Col, I would think Lanford was either the squadron or group leader for the mission, so "IF" he was flying at 500 feet so were a lot of other planes. The plane was seen to "spiral down" and chutes were seen. 4 men managed to make it to the escape hatches, parachuted out and survived. You can't do that very easily if at all from 500 feet. These chutes open by pulling the rip cord. You have to fall free from the plane before you can even pull it. For a free fall jump that is just too low.
The plane was hit just after the target but crashed about 5 miles away. A plane hit at 20,000 feet could do that, but a plane hit at 500 feet (and a mass of flames in the cockpit), probably not.
post edited by RSwank -