Sheldon Bristol Yoder – Survivor of Plane Crash

Sheldon Bristol Yoder was born May 8, 1906 in Almont, Michigan to Commodore Vanderbilt Yoder (1879-1957) and Mabel Emily Bristol Yoder (1880-1962).  He grew up on the family fruit farm located on the west side of Van Dyke Road about one-and-three-quarter miles south of Almont.  He was the eldest of seven children – four boys and three girls.

At a young age, Sheldon’s father took him for an airplane ride at a nearby fair.  As a result, Sheldon developed a love of flying.  He graduated from Almont High School in 1924 and then attended Michigan State college.  He then enlisted in the Army Air Service on October 20, 1927 and was sent to Riverside, California for preliminary training.

On June 28, 1928 he graduated from March Field, California.  He was one of 29 who graduated out of a class of 84 cadets.  He was then sent to Kelly Field near San Antonio, Texas for advanced training.

On September 14, 1928, during a training exercise, Sheldon was flying solo at about 8,500 feet in a DeHaviland plane in the “observation” section.  He was to the rear and left side of the “observation” formation.  A second group, the “pursuit” section, was flying about 2,000 feet higher (10,500 feet).  In this exercise, the “pursuit” section was to practice attacking (diving) the “observation” section.  Once the planes had passed below the “observation” section, the “pursuit” section planes were to climb back to their originally starting attitude and do the exercise again.

Cadet Gaynor Tostevin, 23, of Racine, Wisconsin was flying an AT-4 pursuit plane in the “pursuit” section.  Tostevin was leading a group of three pursuit planes in the simulated attack.  He dove on the “observation” section and then pulled up once he had gone below them.  Unfortunately, he misjudged the distances and flew his plane into the landing gear of Yoder’s plane and the two planes stuck together.  Sheldon’s buddy, Cadet Tostevin, was killed and the planes initially increased their altitude before beginning to fall.

Cadet Yoder was covered with oil from his engine but immediately tried to climb out of the cockpit so he could jump from his plane.  However, the wind rushing past the plane forced him head-first into the rear cockpit.  He struggled to right himself and then was able to jump clear of the plane.  At about 8,000 feet, he pulled his “rip cord” and floated for about ten minutes before touching down about a half mile from the crash site.  He pulled on the control cords of his parachute so that he avoided landing in a patch of cactus and mosquito brush.  The planes did not burn and Cadet Tostevin’s body was found about 200 yards from the crash site. 

As Sheldon left the plane, he remembered a bet he had made with a friend.  Most aviators when they parachute from a damaged plane pull the rip cord and discard it.  He bet his friend that he would keep his, which he did and collected a $5 wager from the friend.  He supposedly sent the rip cord home to his father.

By successfully parachuting from a damaged plane, Sheldon qualified to be a member of the “Caterpillar Club” – plane crash survivors.

On August 16, 1930 he married Maybelle Rowlett.  Maybelle was born on September 12, 1910 in Jefferson, Kentucky.  They would have three sons, Charles Rowlett Yoder (1932), Jerrold Bristol Yoder (1936) and Barry G. Yoder (about 1938).  Sheldon died on November 6, 1948 in Montgomery, Alabama.  Maybelle died April 7, 1977 in Clinton Township, Michigan.  They are buried in the Hough Cemetery, Almont, Michigan. Sheldon continued in military service until his own death, when he was “killed in action”.  He rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force.

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