On January 15, 1962, Navy Lt. Charles Hodgate took off on a routine training mission in his A3D Skywarrior out of Naval Air Station, Sanford, FL. Shortly after take off the plane experienced engine failure and began to loose power and altitude. Lt. Hodgate attempted to return the plane to Sanford. He was just over Oviedo barely above tree top level when suddenly the Oviedo School came into his view only 600 yards directly ahead.
The school was a traditional two-story brick structure (now demolished) with about 400 students in grades 1 to 12 (no K at that time) mostly under one roof. He realized that in only seconds he would hit the school and it was reported that he could see the students on the ground. There was no way to clear the two story school and crashing short was impossible as the playground was also directly in his path and full of children. Without hesitation and ignoring orders to bail out Lt. Hodgate somehow veered the plane sharply causing the plane to cartwheel and crash less than 100 yards from the school property in what was known as the Ward grove (SW corner of Lake Jessup and Clark St).
If it were not for his heroic action and sacrifice of his own life, it is likely that hundreds of school children would have died in an inferno of blazing jet fuel. Two of his crew members AO3 John Bush and ATR3 Horace Marks also died in the crash. PH1 Delton Wilson had successfully bailed out at the last second.
Oviedo honored the sacrafice with a memorial that is placed at the site of the crash near what is now T. W. Lawton Elementary School. Without this marker the incident would fade away into history and go without the recognition it deserves. I hope they hurry while some of us who witnessed this will be here to appreciate it. The picture is of a Navy A3D Skywarrior and crew as printed in the school yearbook.
Lt. Hodgate’s children were present at the ceremony and overwhelmed with the outpouring of support to their father who never lived to raise them. Charles Hodgate, Lt. Hodgate's son lives in Massachusetts and daughter Tracy Hodgate Montour lives in North Carolina. Lt. Hodgate did not know she was on the way at the time of the crash. His wife passed a few years ago. Tracy told me she never got over the loss of her father. They cherish the memorabilia they were presented at the time including the school yearbook and flight log. Another interesting fact they pointed out to me is that this was not his scheduled flight. He was filling in for a friend on leave.
-As told by James M. Jones -
Sanford Herald: Plane Crash Marker Installed in Oviedo with Dedication & Ceremony