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County remembers crash of Flight 22

Heritage Museum Chair Carolyn Justus introduces the program commemorating the 50th anniversary of the crash of Piedmont Flight 22. Heritage Museum Chair Carolyn Justus introduces the program commemorating the 50th anniversary of the crash of Piedmont Flight 22.

At one minute after noon on Monday, bells rang at the Historic Courthouse, commemorating the 82 people who perished in the crash of Flight 22 and a Cessna at 12:01:18 in the blue sky over Hendersonville 50 years ago.

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Heritage Museum Chair Carolyn Justus introduces the program commemorating the 50th anniversary of the crash of Piedmont Flight 22.

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Just under 200 people turned out under a hot summer sun on Wednesday morning to listen to accounts of the tragedy in the skies over a Hendersonville summer camp, to remember the victims and to thank, a half century later, the rescue squad members, law officers, Boy Scouts, medical personnel and average citizens who rose up to do what they could. There were no lives to save, noted Rescue Squad member Mark Shepherd, and so the task on the ground was a grim one — finding and identifying bodies, rounding up pieces of the small plane and the jetliner, comforting survivors who arrived in a small town in the Blue Ridge Mountains to hear the worst news confirmed.

For all the sadness, Piedmont Flight 22 turned out to be significant in several ways, said Paul Houle, the author the most authoritative account of the crash. It was the first crash investigated by the newly formed National Transportation Safety Board. It led to a congressional inquiry into inadequate air traffic control systems. And it resulted in a requirement — 10 years later — that every commercial aircraft be equipped with a crash avoidance system.

Shepherd said the air disaster, which attracted more than 400 rescue squad volunteers from communities from as far away as Salisbury, N.C., and Belton, S.C., became a model of mutual aid.

Houle told the people gathered that although most survivors of victims could not attend the ones he had been in contact with wanted to thank the people of Hendersonville for all they did to comfort and to console the families. The survivors would be impressed, Houle said, at the Heritage Museum exhibit coordinated by Terry Robinson and at the magnitude of this week's memorial to the crash victims.