Newton H. (Newt) Crumley was born February 3, 1911, in Tonopah, Nevada. He entered the University of Nevada at the age of sixteen and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics in 1932. On July 1, 1932, he reported to Randolph Field TX where he completed primary flight training, and then completed basic flight training at Kelly Field TX. He graduated as a pursuit pilot with the rank of second lieutenant.
Crumley’s first assignment was with the 27th Squadron, First Pursuit Group based at Selfridge Field MI. In February 1934, he was assigned to fly the U.S. Mail, and on April 3, while “deadheading” from Cleveland to New York, was forced to bail out of an airmail plane when one of its two engines failed. The following evening, he was seriously injured in an automobile accident and spent the next 14 days in a hospital before going to his parent’s home in Elko NV to recuperate. Thirty days later, he returned to active duty and was honorably discharged on August 8, 1934. He continued to serve as a lieutenant in the reserve after leaving active duty.
After leaving the military, Crumley returned to Elko NV where he began working in his father’s hotel business, eventually becoming his partner, and then ultimately assuming control of the business upon his father’s death. Crumley continued to fly at every opportunity. On March 31, 1936, he was forced down sixty miles north of Elko when the aircraft he was flying lost power, forcing him to land on a snow covered meadow. He and two passengers onboard were unhurt but remained in the aircraft overnight since it was snowing quite heavily. All three were able to walk through deep snows and freezing temperatures the next day to reach help. On April 26, 1941, he opened Nevada’s first big name showroom at the Commercial Hotel with popular bandleader Ted Lewis.
In July 1941, now Captain Crumley returned to active duty as the Commander of the Tenth Air Base Squadron at Moffett Field CA. In 1942, he was promoted to major and then to lieutenant colonel two weeks later before being assigned as Director of Training and Operations at Marana Field in Arizona. He then became inspector for the 35th Wing, where he was responsible for all basic flying schools in the Western Flying Command.
In March 1944, Crumley assumed command of Minter Field CA, the largest training field of its kind on the West Coast. Pilots utilized BT-13, UC-78, AT-6, B-25, and P-38 aircraft. On October 7, 1944, Crumley was promoted to full colonel. On March 10, 1945, while Crumley was returning to Minter Field after a routine flight in a P-38, the airplane’s right engine blew up, and the plane caught on fire. Crumley was forced to bail out and suffered minor injuries when he hit the ground. As a result, he earned double membership in the Caterpillar Club, an honor given to pilots forced to jump from their aircraft to save their lives. Crumley left active duty at the end of the war, but continued to serve in the Air Force Reserve where he became deputy wing commander of the 92nd Bomb Wing at Castle Air Force Base in California. He also was active in the Nevada Wing of the Civil Air Patrol where he became wing commander.
The winter of 1952 had a major impact on Northern Nevada. Tens of thousands of cattle, and hundreds of thousands of sheep were stranded in snowdrifts, unable to reach food. Ranchers were also snowed in, unable to take feed to their livestock. President Truman declared Elko and five other Nevada counties a disaster area. The federal government mounted efforts to grade roads and transport hay to the rural areas of the West, but after a storm in late March, Crumley, who was serving as an emergency director for Elko County, flew over northern Elko County to evaluate and report on the conditions. He summed it up by saying he “saw cattle so weak, they couldn’t shake off flocks of magpies.”
With this information, it was obvious that the livestock would not survive long enough to benefit from feed being delivered via land routes. The decision was made to drop hay to livestock by the use of Fourth Air Force planes from Hamilton Field CA. “Operation Haylift” began on March 23, and Crumley coordinated all flight operations between the Air Force, emergency management personnel, and local ranchers. By March 27, operations had expanded to include navy aircraft. On March 28, aircraft completed a total of twelve flights and dropped an estimated 50 tons of hay to starving livestock. By the time the operation was over, it was estimated that it had brought relief to “200,000 cattle and about 400,000 sheep, all starving in outlying areas where access roads were clogged by deep snow.”
On February 10, 1962, Crumley was flying his twin-engine Shrike Aero Commander from Palm Springs CA to Elko when he ran into freezing rain and heavy icing north of Tonopah. In his last transmission, he indicated that he was descending in an attempt to land at the Tonopah airport. No further transmissions were received. The airplane was found the next day with no survivors on board.