US Stamps

Plane crash covers and the ambulance covers that carried them

Jun 26, 2023, 12 PM

U.S. Stamp Notes by John M. Hotchner

Plane crash covers often are so badly damaged that they can’t be delivered as is. Instead, they have to be inserted into Post Office Department “Official Business” envelopes. When used for this purpose, the Official business covers are often termed “ambulance covers” as they transported a wounded patient, so to speak.

Our first example, shown in Figure 1, is from 1948. It was damaged when the plane it was on crashed in Lovettsville, Va., at 2:41 p.m. on Aug. 31. Addressed to Detroit, the cover was sent Aug. 30 from Spartanburg, S.C.

According to the American Air Mail Catalogue published by the American Airmail Society, the pilot was killed when a severe rain squall caused the plane to crash at full speed, completely demolishing it.

The catalog said, “All 68 pounds of mail was salvaged in undamaged and damaged condition and forwarded from Washington, D.C. on September 1, without special markings.”

The latter is not quite true. As can be seen in Figure 1, the cover is water-damaged and torn. It also bears a “Damaged by Cancelling Machine” handstamp that has been modified to “Damaged by Plane Crash.”

Because the backflap is nearly detached, the cover could not be forwarded as is, so the Washington, D.C., post office tucked it inside an Official business envelope marked to indicate the enclosure was damaged in a plane crash, and sent it onward to the addressee in Detroit.

The cover in Figure 2 is another kettle of fish. Mailed Sept. 12, 1929, in New York City, it is badly burned, signifying some sort of accident, but there is no marking on the cover front or back to say where or how. There is a “Vis Air Mail” marking and postage for that service, and these are vital clues.

The cover is addressed to San Antonio, Texas, and it is in a San Antonio Official business ambulance cover that bears the inscription “Mail damaged in plane wreck.” The problem is that there is no indication of a plane crash anywhere near San Antonio — or even in Texas — on dates matching this cover.

Normally, the closest major post office to the crash will process the salvageable mail. But it appears that did not happen for this flight. A search of the American Air Mail Catalogue shows there was …

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