Charleston, WV Turboprop Plane Crashes Short of Runway, Aug 1968
After the initial crash impact the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) notified local authorities and about 100 emergency vehicles were dispatched to the scene. The National Transportation Safety Board dispatched a 52-man inquiry team from Washington to investigate the accident.
The F-227 is a twin engined craft capable of carrying 44 persons. Normally it carries a crew of three.
Col. RALPH COWGILL of the West Virginia Air National Guard said the plane burned for "less than 15 minutes" after the crash. Two big National Guard pump trucks stationed less than a half mile away from the crash site quickly brought the fire under control.
"There wasn't any warning .. nothing .. nobody sensed anything," cried 19 year old BARBARA SCHILLER -- one of the survivors -- from her hospital bed. MISS SCHILLER, a resident of Cincinnati, said she was flying to Virginia Beach, Va., on a holiday weekend with two friends.
"I thought it was all a bad dream, just a bad dream," she sobbed. "I wasn't even looking out the window when it happened, I blacked out and when I woke up they were throwing foam all over us."
MISS SCHILLER said she wasn't anxious to make the flight because her sister-in-law's parents were killed in a plane crash last year.
A cavernous National Guard hanger was quickly utilized for the grim task of identifying the victims, Piedmont officials said the dead included the pilot, GENE SUGG, and copilot JOHN F. MESSICK, both of Winston-Salem, N. C.
Piedmont Vice President W. G. McGEE, who arrived here shortly after the crash, said identification of the other victims "may take a while because some of the passengers came from points off our line."
The crash was the first fatal accident involving a commercial airliner at the airport since May 12, 1959 when a Capital Airlines Constellation plunged into a ravine, killing two persons.
A Roman Catholic priest arrived at the temporary morgue shortly after the first bodies were brought in to administer last rites of the church.
COWGILL said that from the appearance of the bodies, most of the victims died from the impact and not from the fire. Several children were among the victims.
Charleston policeman L. C. THAXTON said he was one of the first persons to reach the scene.
"I picked up a little girl's body ... she was holding a doll in her lap ... the doll's head rolled off onto the ground," THAXTON said.
Luggage, clothing, papers and other personal possessions littered the ground where the big plane gouged its destructive path.
One of the wings was torn off, apparently as the plane bounced over the top of the embankment at the threshold of the runway. Other parts, including a propellor and what appeared to be an engine, lay down the hillside where the plane first contacted the ground.
The airport was built more than 20 years ago by scraping off the tops of three small mountains to form a plateau surrounded by tree-lined ridges and ravines.
Steep dropoffs are located at the thresholds of both runways.
Most pilots consider the field safe, providing diligence is used for landing and takeoffs, particularly in poor weather conditions.
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