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Johnstown, PA Commuter Plane Crashes On Landing, Jan 1974


Johnstown, Pa. (AP) -- Authorities say they're at a loss to explain what caused a commuter plane crash here Sunday night that killed 11 and left six others injured.
The aircraft, a twin-engine Air East turboprop, clipped an elevated bank of approach lights on its landing glide to the Johnstown-Cambria County Airport, soared over a highway and then slammed into the top of a steep embankment 100 yards short of its assigned runway, officials said.
"It was a matter of five feet, and he would have been clear," WARREN
KRISE, an Air East official, said afterward in reference to the approach lights. "Right now, we have no idea what happened."
The plane, a Beechcraft 99 on a scheduled commuter flight from Pittsburgh, carried 15 passengers and a two-man crew.
The pilot, DAVID BRANNAN, 40, a retired Air Force pilot from nearby Galitzin, was thrown nearly 50 yards from the point of impact still strapped in his seat and was killed outright, authorities said. Copilot GERALD KNOUFF, 24, of Johnstown, was hospitalized in critical condition.
Others killed included MRS. RICHARD H. MAYER, wife of the publisher of the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat; their 11-year-old son RICHARD; and a niece of the MAYERS, SUSAN IMHOFF, 13. SUSAN'S twin sister CINDY was critically injured, officials said.
Newsmen said relatives and friends of some of the victims, awaiting the plane's arrival at the terminal, ran across the airfield after learning of the crash and tried to help pull the dead and injured from the wreckage. Some were so overcome they collapsed and were taken to hospitals for treatment of shock.
The crash occurred shortly after dark in 20-degree weather, and visibility at the time was two miles, KRISE said.
There was no hint from the pilot of anything wrong with the aircraft, KRISE added, nor was there any immediate indication of a malfunction with the approach lights.
Newsmen at the scene said the plane hit the last bank of lights before the runway and knocked them out, but added that all the other lights in the approach pattern were on when they arrived.
There was no fire, but the plane practically disintegrated on impact and aviation fuel soaked many of the victims, rescuers said. The nose was thrown 50-75 yards from impact, the wings were nearly shorn from the fuselage and the tail section was severed completely.
The airport sits astride a plateau, and had been the site of two previous crash-landings in recent months, one involving a delegation of congressional dignitaries. There were no deaths or injuries in either of those incidents, however.
Last Thursday, a charter executive jet carrying five Connecticut businessmen nearly plunged off the end of an icy runway at the airport while landing, but the pilot managed to swing the craft onto a grassy area and bring it to a stop.
It was on the same runway two months ago that a U.S. Air Force turboprop crash-landed as it was bringing a number of congressional officials here from Washington, D. C., for the funeral of U.S. Rep. JOHN SAYLOR. A strong cross-current whipped the plane sideways as it was landing, but again the pilot managed to bring the craft under control before any serious damage occurred.
Of the six injured in Sunday night's crash, five were reported in critical condition early today, and some underwent immediate surgery.
One of those hurt, MRS. JENNIFER MOODY of Las Vegas, Nev., was to have attended her mother's funeral here today, officials said.
Four young men on their way home from bowling were first to reach the crash scene. They saw the tail section hanging over the edge of the embankment, 75 feet above the highway they were on, and they scrambled up the embankment to see what was wrong.
The youths said that besides the pilot, at least six others were thrown from the wreckage still strapped in their seats. It was so cold that some of the dead already seemed partially frozen, they added.
They said they found the bottom of the plane ripped out, both engines torn away and the snow soaked with aviation fuel. Some of the victims were pleading for help, and the red beacon atop the tail section still was blinking, they said.
"I thought I was having a dream," said NICHOLAS MAYDAK, on of the four. "I couldn't even scream. I tried to scream, but nothing came out."
Three of the boys began pulling victims clear of the wreckage and covering those alive with jackets and whatever else they could find. The fourth went for help.
DAVID HAMULA said he pulled CINDY IMHOFF from the plane and packed snow around her face to stop some bleeding, then covered her with his own jacket. Then, he said, he huddled against her after everyone else was out to keep her warm until the ambulances arrived.
The National Transportation Board, Civil Aeronautics Board and state police began an investigation, but said it might be weeks before they would have a report.

Johnstown, Pa. (AP) -- Following is a list of those killed or injured in Sunday night's crash of an Air East commuter plane at the Johnstown-Cambria Conuty Airport:
JOACHIM F. BERLINGER, about 60, of New York City.
DANIEL BRANNAN, 40, of Galitzin, Pa., the pilot.
JAMES CREIGHTON, 44, of Mansfield, Ohio, another Air East pilot apparently hitching a ride on the flight.
PAUL FREIDHOFF, 19, of Johnstown.
CHRISTOPHER HARRINGTON, 18, of Philadelphia.
SUSAN IMHOFF, 13, of Johnstown.
ESTHER KIRSCHMANN, no age available, of Johnstown.
MRS. RICHARD H. MAYER, 42, of Johnstown.
RICHARD MAYER, 11, MRS. MAYER'S son, of Johnstown.
JANE SHIKES, 23, of New York State (hometown unspecified).
MRS. LYNN STRAMP, 28, of Ebensburg, Pa.
CAROL BROWN, 18, of Lansdowne, Pa., serious condition at Lee Hospital.
DR. ABRAHAM J. EDELSTEIN, no age available, of Johnstown, in critical condition at Memorial Hospital.
CINDY IMHOFF, 13, of Johnstown, twin sister of SUSAN, in critical condition at Lee Hospital.
JENNIFER MOODY, no age available, of Las Vegas, Nev., in critical condition at Mercy Hospital.
LOUIS J. TESTONI, no age available, of Aston, Pa., in critical condition at Mercy Hospital.

The Evening Standard Uniontown Pennsylvania 1974-01-07



I tried your e-mail but you didn't respond I'd like to meet your dad someday.

Plane Crash 1974

I was just doing a little research on the plane crash you were involved in, in January of 1974. I was reading the comment you posted here, and there is one part that I wanted to give you a little more insight on. My dad (John D. Wainwright) was one of the four young men who stumbled upon the crash that night. I was sitting here listening to him recall this heroic event to me and my brother and then took to the internet to try and find some articles. He was telling us about them climbing up over the hill and finding this plane wreckage and passengers laying everywhere. He told us how as soon as he saw this tragic mess, he knew exactly what to do. The first person he ran up to, was the co-pilot (who I believe was YOU), and how the man told him that his feet were cold. My dad took off his jacket and covered the man up.
My eyes were tearing up as I was reading your comment. When I read the part about you not knowing who the men were who saved your life, I knew I had to let you know that one of those men, is my dad!!!
If you have any questions, or want to contact him, please feel free to e-mail me...

Oh, and with today being Memorial Day, I wanted to take another minute and say "Thank You" for your service!!

1974 Johnstown plane crash

Paul Freidhoff and I were engaged. That day was my first taste of widowhood. We were young and incredibly filled with love for each other. I am glad that you were able to heal and go on to a wonderful life. God alone knows His plans for all of us and I have long since ceased asking why this particular tragedy had to happen. I was blessed to have loved Paul for over a year before he was taken from us. I have always prayed that he never knew what happened. God bless you and your family. Sunny

I have missed you every day

I have missed you every day of my life, Paul. I loved you so very much! It was because of the love you gave me that I was able to go on and eventually marry a marvelous man. Without what you taught me, I never could have been ready for a man such as my husband. I will see you again one day in heaven, along with our child. Your Santy

I was there.

This story is from my point of view and has been shared many times. I have included it in many talks to various aviation groups and military pilots over the years. I'm retired now. My wife and two kids helped me get through this over the years; Heidi and I will be married 40 years this summer. I spent the rest of my career in aviation and currently am a pilot examiner for civilian and military aircraft. I spent 22 years with the FBI and its aviation unit.

Now for my side of the story: From the onset of the incident to the present time, and in my deposition to the FAA, I have always believed the captain was flying the aircraft too slow for conditions, ending in this tragic result. The last thing I recall was the aircraft was below 96 knots, and I continued to read out the airspeed. I know today, that under those conditions, we should have been flying at 110 to 120 knots. I don't remember anything about the crash other than waking up in the snow and wondering why I was there. Actually, I thought I was home in bed sleeping. I rolled over to get warm, and that's when I realized I'd lost my front teeth and it was snowing. One way to understand this feeling would be if you unplug your computer and then plug it back in without shutting it down - it has no idea where it last was. I began looking around and realized I was at the end of the runway, because I was beside one of the threshold lights, one of the engines was off to my right, and there was somebody else off to my left, but I was still strapped to my seat. Once I realized I was in a crash, I tried to move but was unable to get up, but I could move my legs and arms so I knew I wasn't paralyzed. I somehow came out of my shoes from the crash. I could see the toes of my right foot were pointing to the right direction but on my left foot, my toes had folded over going the wrong way and my left foot had broken at the arch. One thing I've learned is that if you get hurt really bad, you're not in pain. At this point I could not hear anyone else talking. No one would answer my calls. This went on for 30 minutes or so. What I couldn't understand is why no one found us sooner. I could see the tower. Why couldn't they see us? They had to know we were down. When you're in this condition, and there is no one answering your calls, and shock is beginning to set in, after a while, you wonder if you survived or not. Then finally, one of the IMHOFF girls that was to the left of me came to and began crying and calling for her mother. What I didn't realize until I read this article was that that girl was not Cindy, but was her sister Susan. I had always thought Cindy was the one who survived and was the one in the snow next to me. But I now know it was her sister Susan who survived. It was about another half hour or so before those four guys found us, as was mentioned in the article above. I was one of the ones they covered with a coat. To this day, I've never known who they were. Hopefully, they will read this and know that I am very grateful. Something else that nobody knows is that in August 1973, Heidi and I were married and then sometime in October, Heidi got pregnant. The crash happened in January 1974 and she lost the baby full term on Mother's Day of that year. So we went through all this in our first year of marriage. Like I said, we will be together 40 years this summer. I don't know how long it was after those guys found the two of us who survived the crash. We got picked up by the ambulances, but I remember when I got to the hospital, there was a news team with cameras filming, maybe of us being taken out of the ambulance and into the hospital. Twenty years later, the TV station dug up those films and converted them to tape; I have those copies. My blood pressure was 60/40 and they told my wife that if I got thru the first three days, there was a chance of survival. I had massive internal injuries, including broken vertebrae in my neck, and even my heart was bruised, but I recovered fully. I've spent the rest of my career sharing this story with the aviation communities, figuring that if the story could prevent another crash, then it would be worth telling it. I'll never know if my outreach prevented anything, but I'm sure you have.


It seems ironic that I survived a year in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot, but almost died a few years later on a commercial flight in the US.

airport crash

I was a student at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown when this happened. Lost a dear friend in the plane's not something you can forget.

In 1986 I was a 19yo flight

In 1986 I was a 19yo flight instructor in Manassas VA. Jerry Knouff was our general manager. He showed me photos of this accident and told the story of how as a 24yo he had been the first officer on this flight.
I can tell you that this accident was never never far from his mind and he would have done anything to go back to 1974 and make things right.

He went on the fly for a Gov't organization and is now a flight examiner who gives pilot checkrides. He lives in the Fredericksburg, VA area.

I went on to fly commuter aircraft in the Northeast U.S. and I can say with first hand experience what a difficult job is was to fly turboprop commuter aircraft in this environment.
May God keep all involved!

1974 Jamestown PA. Plane crash

I lived next door to Susie and Cindy Imhoff in Lakeshore. These girls were my friends. The Imhoffs moved away. It wasn't long after they moved that this horrible accident happened. I have often wondered how Cindy recovered and how she was able to get through that tragedy! My parents were grief stricken and so was I at the news of this crash.
I have looked for a follow up article and have not found one. I do hope that Cindy made a full recovery.

My heart goes out to all of the victims, survivors and the families of all effected by this crash. What a terrible tragedy!

airport crash

I was drifting through the Johnstown history and run across this story that I will never forget. I just hope those who survived had great lives and those who didn't sit at the right hand of God. No one ever told this story right but my other three friends who where there were that night and would have given there lives to save those poor people. Imagine looking at such a sight and seeing your class ring on someones finger. See you some day Paul.

article | by Dr. Radut