Indianapolis, IN Airplane Mid Air Collision, Sept 1969
Small Plane Not Seen On Radar, Report Says.
Indiana Crash Takes 83 Lives.
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (AP) - An air traffic controller said today a small plane that sheared off the tail of an Allegheny Airlines DC9 jetliner Tuesday, plunging 83 persons to their deaths, was invisible to the radar at Weir Cook Municipal Airport where the big aircraft was preparing to land.
"The big plane showed on the screen, but not the small plane," said JACK H. FRETS, public affairs officer for the Indianapolis Air Route Control Center.
"This is not uncommon when a plane does not have a transponder or beacon, a device which reflects the radar beams," FRETS said. "Those with transponders, like the commercial planes, bounce back a brilliant blip on the screen."
He added, however, that the radar reflectivity of aircraft also is affected by such things as weather, altitude and the attitude of highly streamlined planes.
Both planes tumbled to earth after the collision, and the collection of fragments of bodies and debris from a soybean field continued today.
The wreckage of the DC-9 landed 100 yards from a mobile home park where many of the 150 residents watched the tragedy in the clouds above them with increasing terror as the severed fuselage of the huge jet whistled toward them.
Bodies, wreckage and luggage fell from the sky.
Some 500 police and a 16-man team of federal investigators stepped through the field early today and searched by spotlights for bits of debris and bodies from Flight 853 which began in Boston and stopped in Baltimore and Cincinnati.
The collision was in partly cloudy skies 20 miles southeast of Weir Cook Airport where Federal Aviation Administration controllers said the jet disappeared from a radar screen, as it dropped from 8,000 feet to 2,500 feet in its landing approach.
ROBERT W. CAREY, 35, of Indianapolis, pilot of the single-engine Piper Cherokee, took off from nearby McCordsville. He filed a flight plan for Columbus, a distance of 50 miles.
CAREY, a plumber, was the father of six children. His wife, sobbing as she spoke to newsmen, said, "He loved flying. He had been doing it for years just for his own pleasure. This past year he was working to get his license. He didn't plan to buy a plane right away, but maybe sometime."
The crew members who perished with 78 passengers were identified by Allegheny as Capt. JAMES M. ELROD, 47, Plainfield, Ind., First Officer WILLIAM E. HECKENDORN, 26, of Pittsburgh, and two stewardesses, PATRICIA PERRY of Lynn, Mass., and BARBARA PETRUCICK of Boston.
The list of the passengers was not released.
Searchers found parts of bodies in a wide area, some in the mobile homes and others hidden in the four-foot soybean stalks turned brown by the jet fuel that spilled over the field and hung in a mist over the trailer park.
A witness to the disaster, NORMAN W. BENNETT, 23, said he looked up at the time of the collision. "The back end fell off the passenger plane, and it turned over nose-down and dropped to the ground."
FRED SPITZER, a farmer, was talking to his brother when he noticed the two planes closing on each other. "They're going to hit!" he said.
"The smaller plane hit the tail section of the large one. The was nothing left of the small one," SPITZER said.
The Piper Cherokee wreckage and the tail section were found a mile north of the main crash scene.
JAMES R. DeHONEY, 25, heard a "low echoing boom" and looked up.
"A large piece of flame came floating to the ground. Then a big wing, the fuselage and part of the tail came floating down. There were strange looking objects, like bodies, falling through the air. The front half of the plane was afire and was going down real fast. The back half came floating down real slow. It seemed like it took them an hour to hit."
CRAIG BLACK, 21, of Indianapolis, was working on a trailer roof when the collision occurred.
"It was coming in real low. It was going down, and we thought it would hit us. We didn't know what to do. We went to see what we could do, and then we saw there was nothing anyone could do."
GARY MEYER, 19, of Indianapolis, was with BLACK. "There was no sense in running," he said.
No one in the mobile home park was injured, but many windows were shattered.
Jetliner debris was buried in the soil. FFA officials said as much as 50 per cent might be imbedded[sic] in the earth.
JOHN SHAFFER, an FFA investigator from Washington, said only one plane appeared on the radar scope before the crash and that the jet pilot made no radio transmission indicating other aircraft in the area.
"All transmissions were normal and it was near perfect weather," he said. "It's almost inconceivable that the two planes were at the same spot at the same time."
The worst disaster in American aviation involving two planes was the 1960 collision over New York City which killed 134 persons, six on the ground.
Tuesday's crash was the worst in Indiana history.
Continued on page 2