HOW I SURVIVED THE 1968 PIEDMONT AIRLINE CRASH

Piedmont Crash

The terrible air disaster stunned the whole Mountain State as the worst on record here.

The Piedmont Airlines twin-engine propjet, groping through thick morning fog, slammed into the hillside overlooking Coonskin Park. The shattered airliner bounced and burned off the side of the main runway.

Thirty-two passengers and crew members were killed outright. The survivors were rushed to Charleston hospitals by a howling stream of ambulances along with seven others pronounced dead on arrival. About 20 bodies were trapped in the burning plane and had to be pried from the crumpled wreckage with cranes. Debris, luggage, mail bags and personal effects were strewn in a grisly 100-yard long path from the edge of the Coonskin ravine.

The airliner hit short and to the right of the main runway. Another 50 yards of altitude and it would have landed on the level, grassy strip adjoining the 150-yard wide concrete strip. An airport official said that from the appearance of the bodies, most of the victims died from the impact and not from the fire.

The plane, a Fairchild-Hiller 227 en route from Cincinnati to Roanoke, crashed at 8:56 a. m. Piedmont officials said the airliner was making an instrument approach in the thick fog. Airport tower personnel said the radio-controlled glide slope, which is normally used in such landings, was inoperative.
Kanawha Airport manager Calvin Wilson said visibility at the time of the crash was one mile, above the permissible landing limit.

The plane struck the steep slope to the right of the approach light bridge at the north end of Runway 23. Shredding debris, it wheeled up onto the grassy plain about 300 feet past the end of the runway. About a half-dozen passengers were thrown clear of the wreckage.

Eyewitnesses to the crash said the plane was burning as it skidded to a halt. Air National Guard fire trucks arrived within minutes and quenched the blaze, leaving a foam-shrouded hulk of wreckage except for the plane's tail, which remained intact.

Most of the victims were trapped inside the burning fuselage. The injured were pulled away from the blaze by passengers of a private plane waiting at the north end taxiway for the Piedmont flight to land.
Col. Ralph Cowgill of the West Virginia ANG said the plane burned for "less than 15 minutes."
A temporary morgue was quickly established in the cavernous National Guard hanger less than half-mile from the wreckage. FBI and state police personnel started the grim business of identification of the bodies shortly after noon.

Investigators for the National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration officials arrived in Charleston late Saturday to begin probing the cause of the crash. Piedmont Vice President W. G. McGee arrived from the airline's Winston-Salem, N. C., headquarters Saturday afternoon. He identified the pilot as Gene Sugg, a 15-year veteran with the airline, and copilot John F. Messick, both of Winston-Salem. Airline stewardess Anna Pearl, 20, of Walkertown, N. C., also died in the crash. McGee said identification of the other victims "may take a while because some of the passengers came from points off our lines." The flight originated at Louisville, Ky., stopped at Cincinnati, and would have continued on to Roanoke and Norfolk, Va.

The toll in the ghastly Kanawha Airport crash remained at 32 dead and five injured Saturday night, although three of the injured hovered near death in Charleston hospitals, and only 2 would survive.

PLANE CRASH TOLL INCLUDES 4 FROM STATE.

Of the dead, four were West Virginians -- and all four were young servicemen coming home on leave.

They were:

Marine Pfc. JAMES MICHAEL "MIKE" IZZO, 20, son of Mrs. Ila Williams of 740 1/2 Madison St., Charleston. A Charleston native and Stonewall Jackson High School graduate, he enlisted in May and was coming home from Camp Pendleton, Calif., on his first furlough.

Army Pfc. MARK EDWARD DICKINSON, 19, son of Mrs. Freda Dickinson of 1406 Bridge Rd., Charleston. A native of Prenter, Boone County, and a 1967 graduate of Sherman High School at Seth, he was coming home on emergency leave from Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo., to see his mother who is ill in Charleston Memorial Hospital.

Army enlisted man CHARLES L. DOBSON of Camden-on-Gauley, Webster County, coming home from San Diego, Calif. He had called an uncle in Webster County and asked him to pick him up at the Charleston airport so he might surprise his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Arnet Dobson, who didn't know he was coming home.

Army serviceman DENZIL WARNER of Parkersburg, also coming home on leave.

Among other victims, two of the dead and one of the injured were Preiser Scientific Co. officials who were flying here for a sales meeting.
They were:
NORMAN J. KLEIN, 38, of Louisville, Ky., a Charleston resident from 1953 to 1958 who had become Preiser branch manager in Louisville.
HARRY PHAROW, 32, of Cincinnati, Ohio, Preiser sales manager in Cincinnati.
THOMAS VOIGNIER, 27, of Cincinnati, Preisler purchasing agent in Cincinnati.
KLEIN and PHAROW were killed, and VEIGNIER was badly hurt. The Charleston sales meeting was canceled when word of the crash was heard.


THE DEAD:
Here, in alphabetical order, are the dead and injured of the tragic Kanawha Airport airliner crash:


WILLIS C. ANDREWS, 47, of Covington, Ky., an insurance supervisor flying to Roanoke, Va., for the baptism of his first grandchild.
ROBERT BREWER of Springfield, Tenn., an Army serviceman who boarded at Louisville, Ky.
MRS. EDWIN CHAMBLIN of Cincinnati, who boarded at Cincinnati.
MRS. AL DEER of Louisville, Ky., flying to Newport News, Va.
MRS. CAROL DEER of Louisville, her daughter-in-law.
KIMMIE DEER, six-year-old daughter of MRS. CAROL DEER.
MARK EDWARD DICKINSON, 19, of 1406 Bridge Rd., Charleston, formerly of Prenter, Boone County, an Army private coming home on leave from Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo.
CHARLES L. DOBSON of Camden-on-Gauley, Webster County, an Army serviceman en route home from San Diego, Calif., for a surprise visit to his parents.
R. E. DOYLE of Fort Wayne, Ind., who boarded the plane in Cincinnati.
Sister FRANCES ECCLES of Nazareth, Ky., a Catholic nun who boarded at Louisville.
MRS. SHEILA HELLER of Indianola, Ind., who boarded in Cincinnati, bound for Roanoke, Va.
MISS MARY GIBSON of Cincinnati, who was flying to Richmond, Va., to visit a sister.
THOMAS R. GUILLION of Roanoke, Va., an Army serviceman who boarded at Louisville.
JAMES MICHAEL "MIKE" IZZO, 20, of 740 1/2 Madison St., Charleston, a Marine coming home on his first leave from Camp Pendleton, Calif.
NORMAN J. KLEIN, 38, of Louisville, formerly of Charleston, a Preiser Scientific Co. official en route to Charleston for a sales meeting.
JOHN F. MESSICK, 34, of Winston-Salem, N. C., copilot of the airliner.
STEVEN W. MINES, an Army serviceman who boarded in Louisville, bound for Roanoke.
FLOYD PATTERSON of CIncinnati, an uncle of MISS GIBSON, who boarded with her.
MISS DIANE LOIS PFIRRMANS, 19, of Cincinnati, who boarded in Cincinnati.
HARRY PHAROW, 32, of Cincinnati, another Preiser official en route to the Charleston sales meeting.
MISS SHARON SEARP of Covington, Ky., who boarded in Cincinnati, bound for Norfolk.
GLENN S. SHEETS, 20, of Salem, Va., an Air Force airman flying home from Chanute AFB, Ill., to see his parents. He would have been 21 Tuesday.
MISS ANNA P. STEWART, 20, of Winston-Salem, N. C., stewardess on the airliner.
GENE A SUGG of Winston-Salem, pilot of the airliner.
MISS BARBARA SWIGGETT of Hampton, Va., who boarded in Cincinnati for Newport News, Va.
MISS CARLA TRENTMAN of Covington, Ky., who boarded in Cincinnati.
DENZIL WARNER of Perkersburg, a serviceman coming home on leave.
MRS. HELEN WHEELER of Reading, Ohio, who boarded in Cincinnati.
MRS. THERESA ROWE WIDMER of Cincinnati, flying to Richmond, Va., to see her parents. She would have been 29 years old today.
DIANE LYNN WIDMER, MRS. WIDMER'S five-year-old daughter.
ROBERT KEITH WIDMER, her four-year-old son.

INJURED:
MISS JUDY BENHASE, 20, of Cincinnati, in critical condition at Charleston Memorial Hospital.
MISS SUE BOSKIN, 19, of Cincinnati, in critical condition at Charleston Memorial Hospital.
MISS BARBARA SCHILLER, 19, of Cincinnati, in satisfactory condition at Memorial Hospital.
DARRELL TRIPPLETT, 20, of Rt. 1, Branchland, Lincoln County, an Army serviceman coming home on leave from Ft. Knox, Ky., in critical condition at General Hospital.
THOMAS VOIGNIER, 27, of Cincinnati, another Priser Scientific Co., official coming to Charleston for the sales meeting in satisfactory condition at Memorial Hospital.


Above you see my discharge paper from the Merchant Marine the day before the Piedmont crash, which would take place only 18 hours after I got off the ship.  What happened next was very strange:

I got to a phone after leaving the ship late in the evening. I was out in the middle of nowhere and wanted to get home as soon as possible.  I called the nearest major airport which was hours away by bus.  I found out that that I could easily book a flight when I arrived at the airport,  but the flight wouldnt leave for some time.  That flight would take me to Cincinnati Ohio, where I would then catch Piedmont flight 230 into Charleston.   I then called my family and told them that I would be arriving on Flight 230 at around 9:30 the following morning.  This complete trip would take about 18 hours including wait time etc. from the time I hung up the phone.



Piedmont crash



I then proceeded to walk a couple of miles of restricted access road until I met up with the main highway.  I was told that there would be a little grungy roadside diner / bus depot near the intersection.  (Remember, I'm still in the middle of nowhere).  As I approach the depot, I see a Greyhound Bus parked in front with "Charleston WV" on it's destination sign.  I really had no intention of taking a bus because I loved to fly.  But when I walked in the diner,  there wasnt a soul there except the bus driver and the ticket seller.  The driver was walking out, and as he passed me by I asked "are you going to Charleston right now?"  He said he was,  and I asked what time he'd arrive in Charleston.  He said "around 9:30 the following morning".   I had a QUICK decision to make:  Wait for a bus to take me to the airport, a wait of who knows how long, then wait overnight for my flight... OR.... grab this bus and relax... sleeping overnight as we headed to Charleston and arriving at about the same time as the flight.



I decided in an instant to take the bus.
  
 
The driver waited as I quickly purchased my ticket.  The following morning we pulled into the Greyhound Bus Station on Summers Street.  I then walked the 6 blocks to where my aunt & uncle had a beer joint.  Normally at that time of morning there would be customers buying snacks and such,  and my grandmother would be preparing all the hot dog fixins for the  day.  But when I walked in,  it was deathly quiet,  except for the sound of someone crying in the back office.  I walked through the office door and there is my mom, and the rest of the family in tears. They looked up at me and thought they'd seen a ghost!  For you see,  the plane I was supposed to be on had crashed just within the last 30 minutes,  and as far as they knew,  I was one of the dead.  Needless to say,  they were very happy and confused to see me!   I explained what happened with the bus and back then with no Cell Phones,  simply didnt inform them of my change of plans.  

They say that many people have near death experiences and are never aware of how close they came to actually dying.  Then there are people like me who realize EXACTLY how close they came, and spend the rest of their lives wondering what FORCE prevented it from happening.  I've always believed that you're not going anywhere until your time comes,  but it's still amazing how life (God) can direct your journey.  Coincidence?  I think not.....



Click below to see the entire official report on the crash

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