Chicago, IL Shuttle Helicopter Crash Kills 13, July 1960


A Millbrae businessman was one of 13 persons killed in a flaming, grinding crash of a big helicopter in a shuttle flight between Midway and O'Hare International airports in Chicago last night.
Dead is RONALD GEHRKE, 43-year-old district manager for the F. W. D. truck building corporation, who lived at 837 Hawthorne Way, Millbrae.
He was aboard the shuttle flight en route home from a business meeting at the F. W. D. factory in Clintonville, Wis., according to his wife, JUNE, contacted today at home by The Times.
Wire service dispatches indicated the helicopter shuttle flight left Midway airport at 11:30 p.m. on its scheduled 11 minute, 18-mile flight to O'Hare. Some six miles and five minutes later it lay shattered and flaming amid the tombstones of a suburban cemetery.
Since jet aircraft do not land at Midway, the shuttle is necessary to make intercontinental flight connections at O'Hare.
The crash was the first for a regularly-scheduled U.S. passenger service, and the worst helicopter crash on record.
Witnesses said the craft seemed to suddenly stop in the air, zig-zagged a moment, and then plummeted to the ground shooting flames.
Wreckage and bodies were scattered over several blocks in the suburban Maywood and Forest Park section. The crash was in Forest Home cemetery north of Roosevelt road near the Des Plaines River.
Flames from the jumble of twisted steel were so hot fire-fighters were unable to get near it for more than an hour.
The Sikorsky S-58, a 12-passenger ship with two crewmen, was owned by Chicago Helicopter Airways, Inc., and had ferried hundreds of Republican convention visitors between the two airports and the downtown area throughout the week.
Quick Probe.
Civil Aeronautics board officials said today a structural defect may have caused the crash.
Federal and local authorities began an immediate investigation of the mysterious crash, which occurred in clear weather.
CAB officials said the exact cause of the tragedy was not yet known but that it may have been caused by a structural defect -- either in the mechanism controling movement of the giant rotar blades or in the tail section.
The tail section was found about 300 yards from the main body of the wreckage.
The Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) also noted that it recently warned all S-58 helicopter operators of potential metal fatigue in the mechism controling the rotor blades. An FAA directive July 23 ordered daily inspection of the mechanism.
MRS. GERHKE said she was just packing at their Millbrae home, where they have lived four years, for a return to Burlingame, where they previously lived.
Off Course.
GEHRKE, had been with the F. W. D. corporation, which manufactures heavy-duty trucks, since 1937. He was born in Manawa, Wis., and was survived by his wife, a daughter, MRS. Jo ANN SHERRIN, 22, and two grandchildren, RONALD, 18-months, and DIANE, 3 1/2, all of whom lived at the Millbrae address.
Officials of the helicopter airline said the craft was a mile off course. Had it stayed on its usual route, it would have crashed in the midst of a residential area.
Big Flash.
"It was a big red flash," said ED GAUGER, who from his back porch watched the helicopter sweep in close over the trees and crash four blocks away. State Trooper HENRY PILOTTO said the craft was afire before it crashed.
The fuselage containing at least five bodies ripped into a cluster of tombstones and erupted in white-hot fury. The tail section with three bodies, was more than two blocks away.
All the victims were men, who came from a half dozen states in the Midwest and West Coast. The helicopter shuttle service is used primarily by air travelers who must go from one airport to the other to change flights.
Some of the bodies were burned black; others were twisted in grotesque shapes.
GAUGER said he was certain the pilot veered from his regular course to avoid hitting the populated residential area.
"The plane was backfiring and definitely losing altitude," he said.
"My wife shouted, 'it's going down.' I think the pilot knew something was wrong and was trying to get away from the houses."
An official of the company, Chicago Helicopter Airways, Inc., said it appeared the tail section of the helicopter, similar to one used Wednesday by President Eisenhower on a visit to the Republican National convention, apparently fell off in flight.
A 600-foot slash in the tree tops approaching the crash scene indicated the pilot, ROBERT MEYER, 37, of Worth, Ill., fought desperately to gain altitude until the final moment. MEYER had flown for the line for 10 years.

The San Mateo Times California 1960-07-28


Crash Site Today

Today there is no evidence of this crash in Forest Home Cemetery. The site is in the section east of the big mausoleum of Adolph Sabbath, long-time Chicago Bohemian Jewish Congressman, about 2 blocks east of First Ave.


To the families of the pilots of this crash, I just want to say thank you. I was with three of my friends in a convertible at an outside restaurant having ice cream when we heard a strange noise and looked up and saw the helicopter going over us. The helicopter made a strange noise and that is when my friend said something is wrong with it. We watched and saw it crash into the cemetery. Bob said he thought the pilot new he was in trouble and was trying to make it to the cemetery. As I remember, there were many people just like us in the area. The pilots did an excellent job getting away from the area and we all felt very lucky to be alive. I always considered the pilot to be a hero!

helicopter crash

Susan, a day never goes by when I don't think about that turning point in my life. Charlie went to Chicago to identify the body. All he said was that he wished he hadn't seen it, but I wish now I had asked about some other aspects of the crash, e.g. where he was sitting.

Your Dad and my Dad were similar in their kindness and magnetic personalities. I miss them both.

Jeptha Clauss

My parents were good friends with "Jeff" and Mattie (sp) until his death in 1960. Mom worked part time at their restaurant/truckstop on highway 30 near Ohio state line. I used to ride school bus with daughter Connie and remember her mentally handicapped brothers Doug and Kenny. Would enjoy a reply from you to talk about your Clauss lineage. I still reside in Monroeville approximately 1 mile from the old truckstop on Highway 30.

Kevin Sipe

1960 crash

I am the daughter of the co-pilot killed in the crash. I was 11 months old at the time. My father learned to fly helicopters in the Marine Corps. He had taken the job in IL just one month prior to the crash. He was 25. He left my mother, my sister (age 2 1/2) and me.

The pilot was my beloved

The pilot was my beloved uncle.

helicopter crash

I was aprx 5 yrs old when i started having these nightmares about an aircraft crashing across the street from 1st Ave, Maywood, Il. I told my mom. She even had me tell doctors about them. We moved in 1959 and came back in 1960 to 3rd ave. I heard the strange sounds (like my dreams) and told my mom it was my dream coming true. I begged her to call the police. She asked me what do i tell them? I said an aircraft is going to crash. I asked my grandpa to get me a lantern and told him where i was going. I yelled in the street to the neighbors who had a 2 story home to get out. I went to neighbor and banged on his door. I remember he had his underwear shorts on. I ran to 1st Ave and ran across that street to the cemetery. I was the ONLY PERSON THERE. I saw people in window of the aircraft then I heard and saw an explosion. Then I witnessed what seemed like 3 people coming out of the aircraft - each on fire. One person, i believe to be a man in a uniform ran towards me. He only made it to a gravestone where it appeared his arms went around it Then another explosion . I yelled and yelled for help.... Finally what seemed like forever, the police and firetruck came. The smells were terrible. I remember my grandmother cooked a goose and it was like that. PS my mom had a friend who i believe was a fireman or policeman - said she called her first cause she didnt think anyone would believe her. Also no one would talk to me they yelled at me to get back. I am 65 now and have never forgotten it. I now just read that story it is not correct like first it says tail section 300 yards from craft and then says 2 blocks away. Aircraft was NOT ON fire til over cemetary. that trooper and man are definetely wrong and it took a VERY LONG time for them to get to cemetary because for one thin they first parked about a block to my left and they started blocking off the streets. I was standing there trying to climb over chain link fence yelling for them to come down where i was.

Chicago helicoptor crash

My great uncle, Jeptha Clauss, was killed in this shuttle helicopter crash. He left behind a wife and four children. He was on a business trip for his family's business, and was flying from Fort Wayne, Indiana to Salt Lake City, Utah. I was 15 at the time, and I remember being appalled that he was so badly burned he was identified by his teeth. Thank you for making this article available.

Survivors grandchildren were

Survivors grandchildren were Ronald F Sherrin (3 1/2 years) and Diana M Sherrin (18 months)...just thought you should have that correct...