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First Name: John

Last Name: Thornell


Gender: Male

Branch: Air Service, U.S. Army (1918 - 1926)

Middle Name: G.

Date of Birth: 08 May 1886

Date of Death: 21 February 1922

Rank: Major

Years Served:
John G. Thornell


John G. Thornell
Major, U.S. Army Air Service

John G. Thornell was born on 8 May 1886.

Thornell was Commander of the dirigible USS Roma. In 1920, the U.S. Air Service bought a semi-rigid dirigible from Italy. Named the Roma, it was 410' long and its first flight in the U.S. was on 15 November 1921. Numerous other flights were made afterwards, but on almost all of them, its Ansaldo engines encountered difficulty.

In February 1922, Major John Thornell, the original commanding officer of the Roma, was busy preparing for his new assignment to Washington, DC, but chose to fly one more time. During a flight at Norfolk, VA, the Roma's nose structure collapsed, jamming its controls. Descending toward the ground, the Roma settled on wires which instantly ignited its flammable hydrogen gas in a tremendous explosion. At the time, it was the worst air disaster in the U.S., and the tragedy revealed more than one twist of fate. Just before the airship took off with its crew of 34, Captain Dale Mabry, the ship's commanding officer decided 11 more passengers could also come on board. These additional passengers were the only survivors - all 34 of the crew perished.

Death and Burial

John G. Thornell died on 21 February 1922. He is buried at the Sidney Cemetery in Sidney, IA.

Honoree ID: 3147   Created by: MHOH




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