Francesville, IN Two Private Planes Collide, Oct 1977



Francesville, Ind. (AP) - Four persons - including a prominent South Bend physician, a state trooper and two Illinois residents - were killed Sunday when two small airplanes collided over northwestern Indiana, authorities said.
The crash, which occurred in clear skies, scattered debris over a three-mile area, leading investigators to believe it happened at about 3,000 feet.
The victims were identified as:
DR. DONALD G. WHITE, 47, South Bend, the pilot of one of the planes, a single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza.
ROBERT B. MORTENSEN, 51, South Bend, a passenger in WHITE'S aircraft and a 22-year state police veteran assigned to the Indiana Toll Road.
MELODY J. HAMERLA, 30, Joliet, Ill.
JOHN HERR, 29, Joliet, Ill.
The Illinois residents were in the other airplane, a single-engine Cessna leased from Hult Enterprises Inc. at Joliet. Officials said it was not know when the plane was rented, but the couple was reported returning to Joliet from Xenia, Ohio, where they had visited friends.
"It's kind of a gory mess," said Sgt. Russell Traphagen of the Pulaski County police department, who said parts of the victims' bodies were found three miles from where the main wreckage fell.
Investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration said neither plane had filed a flight plan. They added they had no idea why the planes collided in such clear weather.
The accident happened about 1:45 p.m., EST, police said.
Relatives of WHITE reported that he and MORTENSEN were enroute from South Bend in the Purdue University airport at West Lafayette. From there, the two men planned to continue to Alabama for a fishing trip, family members said.
Most of the wreckage fell on the small farm of Emmett Lowry near the community of Francesville, in southwestern Pulaski County.
Lowry, 52, told police he watched one wing fall through the roof of a tool shed 100 feet from his house. State police spent much of the day combing Lowry's cornfields for other wreckage and evidence that might point to a cause for the crash.
Officials theorized the crash occurred at about 3,000 feet since the wreckage was spread over such a wide area. Small planes generally fly at altitudes of 2,000-3,000 feet, police said.
DR. WHITE, who had practiced at South Bend since 1960, was chairman of the board of trustees of the St. Joseph County Medical Society and had taken up flying in 1965. Friends told authorities that WHITE normally logged 150-200 flying hours annually.

Mt. Vernon Register-News Illinois 1977-10-31