• U.S.

Transport: Crash Reunion

2 minute read

One bleak night last December eight men flying north from Charleston, S. C. were strapped in their seats in an Eastern Air Lines transport, undisturbed by the rough air because their pilot was famed Henry Tindall (“Dick”) Merrill, whose exploits, besides flying U. S. mail in a bathing suit (see cut, p. 74), have included twice hopping the Atlantic (TIME, Sept. 14, 1936). Suddenly a thudding shiver ran through the plane as a wingtip sliced a treetop. Recalled Passenger W. T. Critchfield: “It sounded at first like a heavy truck running on gravel very fast. I looked at Saggio [a passenger across the aisle] and saw him still strapped in and then suddenly he was flying through the air.”

At this point Mr. Critchfield’s observations halted because he was knocked out. When he revived, the Douglas transport was wedged between two trees, minus its wings and considerably messed up. But only Pilot Merrill was badly hurt, with a broken jaw, a broken ankle. Overconfident, as he readily admitted, he had been led astray by bad weather-reporting and rain static on the radio, had come down through the overcast thinking he was at Newark, had found a hillside instead. By extraordinary luck and skill he managed to make a forced landing.

The two passengers presently encountered an aged recluse named Thomas Lyman who revealed that they were near Port Jervis, N. Y., 60 miles from Newark. He helped them to town, where a rescue safari promptly organized, found the rest of the plane’s company gathered around a fire rather enjoying their lark.

Last week, in appreciation of the spirit of the eight passengers, none of whom brought damage suits, and of the help given by Port Jervis, Eastern Air Lines held the world’s first air crash reunion,* invited all concerned to the company’s annual dinner in Manhattan. Six passengers showed up, as did 36 citizens of Port Jervis, including the mayor, police chief, forest ranger and county treasurer. Only one rescuer failed to appear—recluse Thomas Lyman. Found at his lonely cabin tending his only cow, he disconsolately refused because “She’s a good cow and I can’t leave her. She’s awful sick.”

*Year-and-a-half ago the Morgan Line held a shipwreck reunion in Manhattan aboard the repaired S. S. Dixie (TIME, Dec. 23, 1935).

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