Be There When Lightning Strikes

News

Set your text size: A A A

Even after 50 years, ‘no one forgets’

 Fire and ambulance workers search through the wreckage for bodies after a Piedmont Airlines jet and a Cessna 310 collided in mid-air and crashed in woods near Hendersonville on July 19, 1967. (ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTO) Fire and ambulance workers search through the wreckage for bodies after a Piedmont Airlines jet and a Cessna 310 collided in mid-air and crashed in woods near Hendersonville on July 19, 1967. (ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTO)

The early morning fog had lifted. In the Western North Carolina mountains, Wednesday, July 19, 1967, was going to be a beautiful day, with temperatures in the 60s, a light breeze and clear skies.

Related Stories


At two minutes before noon, a Boeing 727 jet raced down the runway at Asheville Municipal Airport and took off. Booked as Piedmont Airlines Flight 22, the jet was on its way to Roanoke, Virginia, with three officers in the cockpit, two flight attendants and 74 passengers, including one U.S. government official.
At that same moment, a twin-propeller Cessna 310 was over the mountains, making its final approach to the Asheville airport from the south. The small plane, with a pilot and two businessmen from Missouri, had left Charlotte that morning.
The two aircraft were on a collision course, and they were completely unaware.
At 12:01 p.m., a fireball lit up the sky, followed by a loud bang. The Cessna had slammed into the left forward side of the Boeing 727 at an elevation of 6,132 feet. Both planes plummeted to the ground, crashing near Camp Pinewood, a mile east of Hendersonville’s city limits. Camp was in full swing but miraculously, the planes fell into the woods, away from any campers.
The Cessna 310 was severely fragmented. Parts fell north of U.S. 64. Traffic halted on newly opened Interstate 26. Motorists jumped from their cars to watch the jet in flames just yards away.
In all, 82 lives were lost, all of them passengers on the two planes. The aviation disaster 50 years ago was among the worst of its time, and it had an impact that extended well beyond Henderson County.

‘That don’t look right …
They’re gonna hit’
Certain events sear themselves into your memory … Sept. 11 … the day Neil Armstrong walked on the moon … the day President John F. Kennedy was shot.
Eyewitnesses to the plane crash remember exactly where they were and what they were doing on that July morning.
Alden Conner was 10 years old. He and his dad were working in the front yard of their home on Sugarloaf Road when they heard the jet and looked up. It seemed to be flying low, Conner said by phone from his home in North Pole, Alaska. Then he saw another plane, a smaller one, coming up over the Interstate. As the two converged, Conner said to his dad, "That don't look right…They're gonna hit."
He described the impact sequence: "First there was a huge fireball and the small plane disappeared from view. Then the jet went nose up and looked suspended in the air, then turned nose down and fell to the ground." Then all he could see was a cloud of smoke.
Conner left the plumbing business in Hendersonville during the recent recession to find work in Alaska. Now 60, he finds life there more peaceful but says he will never forget the events of that day the planes crashed.
Ronald Stepp was a new city firefighter in 1967. "I was on my way to the Hot Spot on Main Street to get a hot dog for lunch when I heard a bang and saw the fireball in the sky. I raced back to the firehouse and they put me on phone duty. The phones never stopped ringing. Fortunately, we had an unlisted phone that we used to call out. It was nighttime before I got to see the crash site, which was still smoldering." He recalled going to the temporary morgue at the N.C. Armory on Spartanburg Highway. “It was a sobering experience.” Now retired, Stepp still lives in Hendersonville.
Jerry Moore, who was 13 then, offered a reason why so many people witnessed the collision.
“Jets coming out of the Asheville airport were new and loud and we would always look up to see them fly by,” Moore said. “Our family had a Massey Ferguson tractor business on Sixth Avenue not far from the crash site. We heard the big noise. I didn’t see the crash but I saw the debris fall. We all jumped into the back of a pick-up truck and headed to the crash site. It was a mess.”
Looking back on that day, Moore put it this way: “Everybody that was here has a story. It just affected so many people and no one forgets something as big as this.” What he experienced did not deter his interest in flying and he would eventually get his pilot’s license. Moore is involved locally with the WNC Air Museum in Henderson County.
Flaughn Lamb, owner of Orchard Trace golf course in Dana, was 30 then. He remembers looking up toward the sound of an aircraft overhead. "I thought the two planes would cross each other but then I saw them hit," Lamb said. "The jet started making some lazy turns, then fell to the ground. Debris was falling down like confetti. I drove to Roscoe Green's store on U.S. 64 (where Krispy Kreme is now) and saw clothes all around. I saw a man's watch lying on the ground. I picked it up and I remember the time was 12:17 p.m. I laid it back down and decided not to follow the big rush to the crash site. Stuff like that you can't forget."
Matthew Hudgins, who works at Kimberly-Clark, was 9. “My grandparents lived where Aldi's grocery store is now. I was outside in their yard and heard the jet. I saw the two planes collide. Little pieces from the plane fell to the ground. Stuff like luggage was caught on fences. I was scared the debris would fall on me so I ran. Then there was a line of emergency vehicles on Highway 64, one right after the other. We kids jumped in my grandfather's truck and rode to the site. I didn't sleep well for a long time afterwards."
Forest "Bud" Hendricks, long since retired, was a Hendersonville firefighter in 1967 and would later become fire chief. He was on vacation in Myrtle Beach, lying on a towel on the sand, when he heard the news on the radio. "I called in to see what I could do but they told me they had it covered," Hendricks said. Nevertheless, he packed up and headed back home for duty.
Bub Hyder was at his mother's house on Hyder Street (near Home Depot). "I heard a loud explosion and I first thought an oil truck blew up on Tracy Grove Road. Then I saw airplane seats lying in the road and I knew it was a plane crash," recalled Hyder, a local businessman. "Behind the house I found a briefcase still intact. I opened it and saw a business card for the same insurance company that I had for my truck. That crash was a terrible thing. I've never seen anything like it."
Larry Rhodes, a retired teacher who lives in Flat Rock, was sitting on the lifeguard stand at a pool in Fruitland when he heard the boom. His girlfriend lived on Orr's Camp Road near the crash site.
"I drove out there as fast as I could to see if they were all right," he said. "After a couple of hours at her house I left to drive home but they had set up roadblocks. Some men in uniform yanked me out of my car. They scared the fool out of me." Rhodes said it's funny how everything comes flashing back after that much time passes.
In 1967, there was no Four Seasons Boulevard. The city limit ended on Seventh Avenue at the Mud Creek bridge. The crash site was a mile away. Jurisdiction lines meant nothing – every able-bodied firefighter, police officer or sheriff's deputy responded to the disaster. A throng of curious onlookers gathered too. Before sunset, the crash site was secured by a military police unit from Fort Bragg. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials descended upon Hendersonville. Particular
attention was given to one passenger on the Piedmont flight list – John T. McNaughton, who had just been confirmed by the U.S. Senate to become Secretary of the Navy.

Report from the scene:
no survivors
The late Dr. William Lampley, known to all as "Doc Lampley," was performing surgery at Pardee Hospital at the moment of impact. The emergency room staff was told of the crash but before they could prepare for the onslaught of casualties, in came the chilling report that there were no survivors. Lampley was head of Pardee’s emergency room operations and was summoned to the crash site.
“The first body I saw was a Piedmont stewardess lying prone in the grassy median of the Interstate," recalled Lampley, 96, in an interview shortly before his death on June 1. "When we got to the impact site, the fuselage was torn in half and still burning with bodies inside."
FAA officials would not let the Pardee Hospital doctors move the deceased for five or six hours. An emergency morgue was set up in the Armory. Lampley marveled at how fast the medical and dental files of the deceased were delivered to Hendersonville to speed the identification process. He said he made the gruesome trip many times to the Armory where the remains were kept in refrigerated trucks. The identification process was grueling.
"The government sent down a team of pathologists and the FAA took over the whole operation," Lampley said. “It would have been my job to direct the identification of the deceased except for one passenger – Secretary of the Navy-designate John McNaughton." Lampley said that as soon as McNaughton was identified, the job would be turned back to him. As it turned out, McNaughton's was the last body identified.
As soon as all the deceased were removed from the crash site, several hundred Boy Scouts were summoned to aid in the debris search. John Todd was 13 and a member of Troop 601. “We showed up in our scout uniforms. They said not to touch anything but only to flag passenger material,” said Todd, who works for GE. “I remember walking by the fuselage which was still hissing. We thought it might explode. The Red Cross was there and fed us lunch.”
Local hotels were booked solid with government officials. It took until July 24 for all the bodies to be identified. The next step was to turn the remains over to their families for burial. This job was handled largely by Thomas Shepherd & Sons Funeral Home in Hendersonville, which was selected by Piedmont Airlines over larger funeral homes in Asheville.
There were no pleasant tasks associated with the crash. Bob Reed, now living in Winston-Salem, was Piedmont's director of cargo services in 1967. He got the call to drive up to Hendersonville and coordinate shipping the remains.
"I arrived at the scene the morning after to see smoldering debris and white sheets covering bodies. I cried," he said. Reed, 30 at the time, had the daunting task of talking to the family members. He knew the captain and two others on the flight. Piedmont was a small but growing airline back then and the employees were like family. "It was a time I'll never forget," Reed said.

Victims hailed from 17 states
Piedmont Flight 22 originated in Atlanta and 47 of the 74 passengers were from the Southeast. The crew and flight attendants hailed from North Carolina and Virginia. All three aboard the Cessna were from the Springfield, Missouri, area. Altogether, the victims of the crash came from 17 states, including North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Virginia, Mississippi, California and the District of Columbia.
Capt. Raymond Schulte, 49, was not supposed to be on Flight 22. Schulte's daughter Mary, who was 6 at the time, said, "He took the flight to relieve another pilot."
There were many young passengers aboard Flight 22. Ellen Love of Jackson, Mississippi, was with her three children. Stephanie and Amy Moore of nearby Gastonia were 14 and 8, respectively. Cynthia Williamson of Los Altos, California, had her two young sons aboard.
Two Henderson County residents perished on the Piedmont jet. Grant Bubb, a project field manager with DuPont, had 37 years with the company but had been working in Brevard for only a year. The Bubb family lived in Hawthorne Hills. Herbert Kiessling, 77, was from Sarasota, Florida, but kept a summer residence near Laurel Park.
Passenger Ennis Parker, 61, of Griffin, Georgia, was bound for Roanoke, Virginia. Parker was employed by Stokely-Van Camp and was president of the National Canners Association. His son Walter E. Parker Jr., was 25 at the time and serving aboard a destroyer searching for submarines off the coast of Vietnam.
"On board the ship we heard a flash message about the plane crash because the new secretary-designate of the Navy was killed. It took days before I got the word that my dad happened to be on the same flight," Parker said. "They had to fly me off the ship. It was a long trip home."
Parker, 75, teaches architecture at Georgia Tech. "That day in 1967 changed so many lives as I suppose all tragedies do," he said.
Lawrence Philliber, 60, was a Dallas food broker. His daughter Kathy made the trek up from Texas a few years ago to tour the crash site. No tears, she said. She just wanted a measure of closure.
Jo Anna Green, 20, was a legal secretary from Lakeland, Florida. She died with her husband Edward, a machine operator for a citrus company.
Robert E. Anderson, 36, of Springfield, Missouri, was a passenger in the Cessna 310. A Korean War veteran, he was a safety engineer for an insurance company. One of his daughters attended the memorial plaque dedication in Hendersonville in 2004.
Piedmont Airlines employees remain close knit, many staying connected through the Internet. In 2001, Joe Culler, a retired Piedmont employee now deceased, lamented the loss of a friend in an online tribute to the victims of the crash, quoting from James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain”:
"She was still strapped in her seat, every bone in her body was broken. 'Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground' still echo through my mind. She had so much to live for," Culler wrote. "At this time each year I say a little prayer for the flight crew and 74 passengers of Piedmont Flight 22 and remember a girl I once knew."
One of the two Piedmont flight attendants was 22-year old Sandra Cox from High Point. In high school, Cox played basketball, ran track and played in the band. The other was 20-year old Debbie Davis of Yadkinville. Davis's mother Phyllis came to the memorial dedication and brought with her a large framed portrait of her daughter proudly wearing her blue Piedmont Airlines uniform.
Thirty-one Piedmont passengers were headed for the historic Greenbrier Hotel for a conference of food wholesalers that was sponsored by Stokely-Van Camp. The hotel had chartered several small planes to meet the jet in Roanoke, about 75 miles away, the last stop before Washington, D.C. When the shuttle planes returned empty and news of the crash reached the hotel, the conference was canceled.
Despite the crash, Piedmont grew from a regional to a major carrier employing 22,000 people. The company merged with US Air in 1989 and closed its headquarters in Winston-Salem.

Special passenger
John T. McNaughton
John McNaughton, 45, and his wife Sarah, had come to Asheville to pick up their 11-year old son Theodore from Camp Sequoyah in Weaverville. The three were booked on Piedmont Flight 22 to Washington, D.C., where in less than two weeks McNaughton was to take over as secretary of the Navy.
McNaughton hailed from Pekin, Illinois, where his father ran a newspaper. He had served in the Navy and earned the rank of lieutenant, but his career path took him to Harvard where he taught law. In 1961, he joined the Kennedy administration and soon was working for Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. When Paul Nitze resigned as Secretary of the Navy, McNamara picked McNaughton to replace him.
In the end of 1966, the U.S. casualty count in Vietnam had reached 8,702. Increasingly, Americans were having doubts about the war and protests were becoming more frequent. Many in Washington thought McNaughton could influence McNamara in crafting a different military policy. In 1965, the U.S. had launched Operation Rolling Thunder, the systematic bombing of North Vietnamese targets designed to bring an early end to the war. McNaughton led a study that concluded the bombing was having little effect and that U.S. planes were being lost. McNaughton began to believe that the war was unwinnable. Any chance of his advising McNamara and President Lyndon Johnson in the war effort ended in the fiery crash.
Alex McNaughton lost his entire family. He recalled recently that he had just finished high school and was traveling with a friend in Europe in July 1967. It took several days to locate them in Venice, Italy. "I still remember the overseas conference call with the Defense Department and my uncle," McNaughton said. "He was the closest family member I had."
McNaughton is a Connecticut businessman in his late 60s with two grown children. He has chosen not to visit the memorial. "Even after 50 years, it would be painful," he said. "My closure has been at Arlington. … Naturally, my dad's presence on the plane was significant, but I know that every family had losses from the plane crash."
Six days after the crash, after a service at Washington National Cathedral, the McNaughtons were buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full Navy honors.
Crash site at Camp Pinewood
Camp Pinewood is very much as it was in 1967. The 49-acre tract located west of I-26 and behind the Outback Steakhouse, was a hunting camp in the 1920s. Marty and Tina Lavine acquired it in 1968. A family-owned business, it draws most of its 250 campers from Florida.
Today, at what was ground zero, you can hear the steady hum of cars on the interstate. But in 1967, the four-lane highway had just opened and went only a few miles past town. Fifty years of tree growth has eliminated any evidence of the crash.
Camp director Chris Coloson has been with Pinewood for 28 years. Recently, he gave a tour of the camp and crash site, driving his truck down a narrow road that winds past three spring-fed lakes. The Piedmont jet landed next to the rifle range, away from the cabins. Two horses were injured.
Darryl Michelson, then 16, was a dining-hall worker. "I was on break chatting with my brother at the rifle range when we heard this horrendous sound of metal against metal," Michelson said by phone recently from his home in Bellingham, Washington. "We were under a shelter and the plane hit just yards away." Michelson said his family owned the camp before the Lavines. He said he visited the camp a few years ago to "find a little closure."

Memorial on Jack Street
It took 37 years, $6,000 and the efforts of an out-of-towner, but Hendersonville finally dedicated a memorial to the 82 who perished in the crash. The dedication on July 17, 2004, drew perhaps 300 people including many relatives of the deceased. There were prayers, a flag raising and remarks by local officials and Paul Houle of Chesnee, South Carolina, who had conducted extensive research into the crash.
Houle (rhymes with “pool”) began researching the mid-air collision in 2002. During his trips to Hendersonville, he noticed the absence of a permanent marker dedicated to the victims. He took it upon himself to launch a fund drive to establish one.
The memorial features a bronze plaque on a 13-ton granite boulder at 101 Jack Street, 500 yards from the crash site. The names of the 82 passengers are listed in the order that they appeared on the flight manifest. Funding for the memorial came from a variety of sources, including a contribution from Robert McNamara, who died in 2009. The memorial is maintained by the United Federal Credit Union.
The Western North Carolina Air Museum in Flat Rock has an extensive collection of vintage planes and aircraft memorabilia, yet there is no mention of the 1967 crash.
"The absence was not intentional and the museum volunteers are well aware of the event. It is just that
the museum's founders never made
it a priority," said Don Buck, an officer on the museum's board. The same can be said about the paucity of coverage by Henderson County's historians.
In his 479-page book featuring notable people and events, Kermit Edney
allocated just one sentence to
the crash. Perhaps the lack of coverage was because there was no local
connection – just two planes that
fell from the sky on a warm day in July 50 years ago.