Tag Archives: flight 214

Additional Plans Announced for Remembrance Program on 50th Anniversary of Elkton Plane Crash

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Memorial for Flight 214

Many in Cecil sighed with relief when 1963, an eventful year full of ups and downs, came to an end.  As people reflected on that November nearly fifty years ago, they recalled the opening of the modern expressway, President John F. Kennedy’s visit, and the unbelievable news flashes eight days later.  An assassin’s bullet had struck the youthful president down in Dallas.  So, as the county grieved and the calendar turned on that troubling month, people thought it couldn’t get any worse.

There were wrong.  On a terrible December night Pan-American World Airways Flight 214 exploded, plunging into a cornfield at the edge of Elkton.  On that cold, rainy Sunday, as lightning periodically illuminated the town, eighty-one people perished when the big plane broke apart in flight and debris rained down on a cornfield.  Hours later, while rescuers combed the wreckage, a county firefighter, Steward W. Godwin of the North East Volunteer Fire Company, suddenly collapsed and died.

This horrifying disaster, the worst airplane crash in Maryland history, is something that is seared into the collective memory of the community, as well as friends and relatives of victims.  People involved in this tragedy will never forget the unusual December thunderstorm and how the fiery blast in the stormy sky suddenly illuminated the town, momentarily turning December darkness into daylight.  Fear, anxiety, and concern swept across the unnerved community as sirens filled the night air with emergency units rushing toward Delancy Road to provide aid to the injured.  It was soon obvious to first responders that the accident wasn’t survivable.

On Sunday, afternoon Dec., 8, 2013, the Historical Society of Cecil County will hold a remembrance program to honor the memory of those who lost their lives on a day we will never forget, as well as those who were touched in other ways by the tragedy.  On this date, fifty years after the tragedy altered so many lives, families, emergency responders, and the public are invited to gather and remember the victims and those who answered the call to help.  A complete schedule will be released as the date nears, but since many family members will be traveling a distance, the society is providing this preliminary information.

The Rev. Hubert Jicha and retired school superintendent Henry Schaffer will facilitate the program.  Henry, a 16-year old at the time of the crash, was one of the first responders.  The afternoon will include the sharing of memories, outtakes from the oral history collection, and displays of materials from the Society library.

As part of our mission to chronicle Cecil’s past, our volunteers have been busy creating a remembrance archive.  A major part of this involves interviewing witnesses, residents of the area and family members and it also involves collecting research materials.  We have already done a lot of work and have found that with the greatest clarity, this searing incident is clearly imprinted on a generation of Cecil County residents.

On Saturday, Dec. 7th, we will open up the Flight 214 listening station.  During half-hour appointments, people will be invited to privately share their stories about the tragedy.  Our oral historians will be at the recording booths, listening to people, asking a few questions, and recording the conversation.  We will add these stories — whatever people want to share — to the archives, as a half-century is passed.  We are still working on the details so watch the Society’s blog for updates.

For family members, seeking additional details, we have established a special email address where we will keep you informed as plans progress.  The email is remembrance@cecilhistory.org.  Also since we are planning a private reception for the families, we ask you to contact us by email so we can share some additional information.  But also keep an eye on the blog as we will post routine, regular updates for everyone.

Remembrance Program Planned to Mark Fiftieth Anniversary of Elkton Plane Crash.

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Singerly Fire Company crews work on recovery the next morning. Rooke firefighter Henry Schaffer is on the right and Chief Spec Slaughter is on the left.

Many in Cecil sighed with relief as 1963, an eventful year full of ups and downs, came to an end.  As people reflected on those events of nearly fifty years ago, they recalled the opening of the modern expressway, President John F. Kennedy’s visit, and the unbelievable news a few days later.  An assassin’s bullet had struck the youthful president down in Dallas.  So as the county grieved and the calendar turned on that unforgettable November they surely thought it couldn’t get any worse.

They were wrong for on a terrible December night Pan-American World Airways Flight 214 exploded, plunging into a field at the edge of Elkton.  On that cold, rainy Sunday, as lightning periodically illuminated the cornfield eighty-one people perished when the big plane broke apart in flight and debris rained down on mostly open land.  Hours later, as rescuers started the grim task of combing the wreckage zone, a county firefighter suddenly collapsed and died.

This horrifying disaster, the worst in Cecil County history, is something that is seared into the collective memory of the community and friends and relatives of victims.  People involved in this tragedy will never forget the unusual December thunderstorm and how the fiery blast in the stormy sky suddenly illuminated the town, momentarily turning December darkness into daylight.  Fear, anxiety, and concern swept across the unnerved community as sirens filled the night air with emergency units rushing toward Delancy Road to provide aid to the injured.  It was soon obvious to first responders that the accident wasn’t survivable.

Next year on Sunday, Dec 8th, 2013, the Historical Society of Cecil County will hold a remembrance program, as it will be fifty years since that tragedy changed so many lives.  To help with the program our volunteers have been busy creating a remembrance archive to add to our holdings.  A major part of this involves interviewing people, and we recently taped Chief Thomas N. McIntire, Jr (retired).  The Elkton police chief and assistant fire chief vividly recalled answering the alarm, as he drove the first fire engine out toward the state line. Riding in the command seat Chief Spec Slaughter had his hands full direting the mobilization of the massive, county-wide emergency response that included units from Delaware.  We have also interviewed Lt. Don Hash (MSP retired), the first police officer to arrive on the scene and will continue with  recordings throughout 2013.

The remembrance program will take place at the Historical Society on Sunday, Afternoon, Dec. 8th, 2013.  The Rev. Hubert Jicha and retired school superintendent Henry Schaffer will facilitate the program.  Henry, a 16-year-old at the time of the crash, was one of the first responders.  The afternoon will include the sharing of memories, outtakes from the oral history collection and displays of material from our Cecil County history and genealogy library.  We have newspapers, the emergency radio communication tape created as Rosemary Culley dispatched the emergency, many photographs, and television news broadcasts.

Chief McIntire twice met with the pilot’s son, Chris Knuth.  His father George F. Knuth piloted the airliner circling in a holding pattern. waiting for clearance to land in Philadelphia, while a storm front passed over the Delaware Valley.   Chris first called the Society back in 1996, saying he wanted to visit the area so we were pleased to help him while he was here.  At the time, the Society arranged for Chris to meet with the chief and Rosemary Culley, the dispatcher.  He met with this duo once again in 2006 as we helped a British video firm produce a documentary about the subject.

We are still working on plans but watch our newsletter, The Inkwell, and our blog for details as we put together this remembrance.  We will keep readers informed as details develop.

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Chief McIntire (retired), center and Chris Knuth, right, son of the Pan American pilot look over the scene of the crash on Delancy Road while documentarians record the scene.