New Orleans, LA Plane Crashes Into Motel, Mar 1967


New Orleans, La. (AP) -- A DC8 jet flying a practice landing pattern cut a swath of destruction through a residential area near New Orleans International Airport early Thursday and exploded in a fiery crash into the rear of the Hilton Inn, killing 18 persons.
Nine of the dead were high school girls from Juda, Wis. All but one burned to death in their rooms as flames fed by jet fuel engulfed a portion of the motel. The ninth girl was blown out of the building.
The tragedy occurred only hours before the girls were scheduled to leave with their classmates for some fun on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. They were on a senior class vacation outing.
On board the Delta Air Line jet were five pilots and an inspector for the Federal Aviation Agency. All were killed when the plane fell sharply during a banking turn, sliced through two homes and cartwheeled into the multimillion-dollar motel.
Spewing fuel from the exploding craft set off an inferno near the section where the Wisconsin pupils were quartered.
"It spouted a sea of fuel right in those rooms where those eight kids were staying," said Capt. Marvin Leonard of the New Orleans Police Department.
"That's what killed them, not the impact from the wreckage. You could see where they took refuge in the shower stalls. One girl even took her purse with her. They turned on the water but it didn't do them any good."
A Catholic priest said last rites over the huddled, charred bodies. A mass memorial burial was planned in Juda.
The remaining 23 students and their advisors arranged to leave by train Thursday for home.
"The students are taking it fine," said JEROME KALK, superintendent of the school district in Juda, a town of 300 in the dairyland of Wisconsin.
"They are a very close knit group, a mature level-headed group. The children have been fed and clothed. We will escort the bodies back on the train."
The uninjured pupils, and most of the other guests at the motel, ran in panic from their rooms when the jet struck about 1 a.m. Many were in night clothes. At least 11 were injured.
"As it hit, it exploded and one huge ball of flame seemed to roll right into the back of the motel along with the flying pieces from the airplane," said Stan Olson, an advisor to the touring pupils. "As the plane exploded, doors of rooms opened and students streamed out screaming, petrified by fear."
In addition to the pupils and the six on board the plane killed, a mother and her son living in one of the houses demolished by the careening plane lost their lives. A maintenance man at the motel was killed also.
Officials said as many as 30 or 40 guest units were destroyed or damaged.
No financial estimate of the destruction was available.
A Civil Aeronautics Board team arrived from Washington to investigate the crash, the first air tragedy here since February 1964 when 58 persons died in the crash of an Eastern Air Lines jet into Lake Pontchartrain.
The Delta plane's flight recorder, which registers all panel instruments, was found intact among the wreckage strewn for about 100 yards around the scene. A voice recorder was recovered from the tail assembly, which ended up inside the motel structure.
The DC8 was the oldest such plane in use by Delta Air Lines. It made the first scheduled passenger DC8 flight in 1959, from New York to Atlanta. The craft had been airborne only nine minutes before the crash. It had been used on a regular passenger run from Chicago shortly before the training flight.
Another group of pupils from Olympia Fields, Ill., was staying at the motel. Their rooms were not in the destroyed area.
"We all looked up and it looked like the plane was coming right at us," said JANE BENNETT, 17, senior from Rich Central High School. She was returning to the inn from the airport across the highway.
"I started running toward the flames. Some of the guys began chasing me but they couldn't catch me. A couple of us girls fell to the ground and began crying. I've got grass stains on my trousers. I had never seen anything like it in my life."
Another witness said the impact "sounded like a giant whoof. The plane was covered in flames like a ball of fire."
Part of the airport and surrounding area was blacked out by the crash. All available fire-fighting equipment was rushed to the scene, about 15 miles from downtown New Orleans.
Chief pilot MAURICE EDWARD WATSON, of Harahan, La., was qualifying J. W. MORTON, of Covington, La., to fly the big jet liner. It was not known who was at the controls when the craft went down.
One of the pilots on board was GEORGE PIAZZA II, an attorney for a keg figure in Dist. Atty. Jim Garrison's John F. Kennedy assassination probe. PIAZZA was counsel for James Lewallen, a former roommate of David W. Ferrie, the man Garrison alleges was part of an assassination conspiricy here. PIAZZA was both a lawyer and a pilot.
There were no signs or calls of distress from the plane before the crash.
The night was balmy with a nearly full moon.

Avalanche Journal Lubbock Texas 1967-03-31



Kenner, La. (UPI) -- Another body was found near the Hilton Inn Motel Friday, bringing the death toll from Thursday's Delta DC8 crash to 19.
The body discovered late Friday afternoon and tentatively identified as that of CLARENCE JOHNSON, an 18 year-old dishwasher at the motel. He had been missing since leaving work shortly before the crash.
Civil Aeronautics Board investigators learned Friday that the pilot of the airliner gave no sign he was in trouble. His last words to the control tower was "fine."
The huge plane slashed through three homes Thursday and exploded into a ball of fire against the Hilton Motel Inn.
Killed were the six occupants of the plane, a hotel employe, two persons in one of the houses, and nine Juda, Wisconsin high school girls, eight huddled in a running shower water in the motel, trying vainly to escape the flames.
The bodies of the girls were to be flown to O'Hare Field in Chicago Saturday on a special Delta plane.
But they were harder to identify than expected and it was mid-morning Friday before they were taken to a funeral home.
The girls were:
DOREEN K. WILLIAMS, 17, Monroe, Wis.
ELVA JEAN SMITH, 17, Juda, Wis.
LINDA KAE MOE, 18, Juda.
CHARLES IMHOFF, JR., 36, assistant engineer at the Hilton Inn, died in his boiler room.
MRS. SHELLY WHITTINGTON and her 13-year-old son, SHELLY CLARENCE WHITTINGTON, JR., were killed when the plane sliced through their home.
Killed on board the plane were:
All Delta fliers, and,
WILLIAM G. SNOW, a Federal Aviation Agency Inspector from Houston.
Eleven other persons were injured. Two remained hospitalized Friday.
FRANK WILSON, a training officer in the airport tower, had the following radio conversation with MORTON, presumably at the controls of the DC8 two and one half minutes before the plane crashed:
Tower -- "Delta 9877 clear touch and go (landing) or cleared to land Runway 1."
Plane -- "Okay. You want to take off south?"
Plane -- "Be fine."
The conversation was recorded on magnetic tape in the tower. The plane's flight recorder was also being checked in Washington. It may be able to tell investigators what happened in the seconds before the crash.
Edward E. Slattery, Jr., a CAB spokesman, said information from the flight recorder and voice recorder in the plane could not be released until a formal CAB hearing, in about two months.
CAB investigators looked through the wreckage and talked to witnesses Thursday night and Friday.
McKEE said that the airport tower, after clearing the DC8 for landing, was not concerned longer with the plane.

Argus Fremont California 1967-04-01


New Orleans, LA Plane Crashes Into Motel, Mar 1967

In 2 weeks the Rich Central Class of 1967 (Olympia Fields, Illinois) will hold it's 50th reunion. There were about 65 of us in the hotel with the Juda Wisconsin senior class. The Hilton arranged a dance for all of us just prior to the crash. We didn't mingle much, but I do remember how nice and kind those students were. It is with a heavy heart and a prayer that we will remember Juda's high school class and the tragedy that took so many loved ones.

1967 Plane Crash NOLA

50 years ago as an 18 year old high school student I, witnessed this tragedy from beginning to end. But for the grace of God and a quick prayer, I'd probably would have been one of the victims.
An hour or so; before the crash took place, I had just gotten home from work and retired for the evening. Living close to an airport does have its drawbacks. Pilot's training flights at night just happened to be one of them. That Thursday night in March 1967, was no different than many others. Half asleep and half awake, the sound of jet engines overhead startled me; as they sounded closer than normal. Opening my eyes; it appeared that everything outside was lit up from a bright light. Looking out my bedroom window, it appeared to be flames from jet exhaust. Not fully awake I, yelled and woke everyone up, thinking everything outside was on fire. Running out the front door and looking up the plane was just gaining altitude. Everyone figured it was a false alarm and they all went back to bed. Not I.
Wary and unable to sleep, I sat down on the front steps and watched the plane fly out towards the Mississippi River. It didn't take long and it was on the way back to the airport. As it approached, the plane appeared to be getting lower and lower than usual. In fact, the plane seemed to be coming straight at our house. For some odd reason as it got closer the headlights appeared to be flickering. As I watched I heard myself audibly say, "Dear Lord please, don't let that plane hit our house?" It was then that I realized, the flickering wasn't the head lights, it was Flames coming from the engine. Surely the pilot must have known something was wrong. The engines revved, made a loud popping sound, the nose of the plane arched upward and miss the large oak tree in our front yard. You could feel the heat from the ground.
Turning to watch the descent, it was obvious the plane was not going to make it to the runway at the airport. As it passed overhead it rolled to its left and crashed on the street behind ours. It hit three houses, exploded, cart wheeled over a railroad track and spewed jet fuel and Flames into the back of the motel.
At the first house it hit, there was a school bus parked in the driveway. The left-wing split the bus open like a can of sardines and continued through the corner of the house. A young girl who was sleeping there, was cut from her left shoulder to her right hip by the tip of the wing. The quick-thinking of her brother brother saved her life . He tied her up in the sheets and used a baseball bat to make a tourniquet.
The second house was demolished by the fuselage. Taking the lives of a mother and her son. The father, was blown out the living room plate glass window, into the middle of the street and wearing only his underwear. When help arrived he was hysterically screaming and searching for them in the rubble.
The third house didn't fare much better. One wall and the back corner of the house we're gone. Along with the black couple who lived in the house, who apparently were never found. They must have been playing penny-ante poker on their bed. The only things found, was a bunch of change on the bed and cards strewn everywhere.
The Juda Girls never had a chance. Even though none of them were ours, the people in Kenner & New Orleans, prayed and grieved for them. Just like they were their own children. Emergency medical personnel, fireman, police officers and all who responded were affected by this tragedy. Even us teenagers who helped.
Nobody from the Airport, Delta Airlines, the FAA or CAB, ever talked to any of us in the neighborhood. They only spoke to the people in and around the motel and the airport.
Remember back in those days, "Children were to be seen and not heard." Still, I was the first to report the crash, but no one questioned me on what I heard or saw. Oh well, more fool them!

Cause of Delta DC8 crash March, 1967, New Orleans International

I had read somewhere that the cause of the crash was someone in the cockpit shut off power to engines to test response of the crew. Any truth to that? What was the final determination of the cause of the tragedy?

Juda Nine Angels

I was a sophomore at Juda High in 1967. My father was pastor of the Zion United Methodist Church in Juda and presided over three of the funerals. He died in 2011 and spoke of this tragedy often, especially late in his life. Visits by survivors to the nursing home in Eau Claire, WI in his last years meant the world to him.

Comment to David

We were going through things this past weekend at my deceased mother-in-law's house. When my oldest sister-in-law was little, she did some scrapbooking of this plane crash. We found all of the articles that she cut out still in a little scrapbook that she made. Included were pictures of the 9 Juda, WI girls killed (we live about 15 minutes from Juda). One of the last names was the same last name as my daughter's friend. Turns out she would have been her great aunt. Very sad story.

This is heartbreaking

It's crazy how I ran across this story. I was looking to see if any planes ever crashed from lightning and I found one in 1967 and then a site which listed all crashes in 1967. There were maybe 100 or more. It didn't list much detail on this but for some reason I wanted to look into it. I read a detailed summary then the lengthy NTSB report. Neither mentioned the civilian victims. I was about ready to give up when I ran across this article. How sad, how terrible. I wish news was this thorough today. I now find myself imagining that world, that place and those poor people in 1967. The girls were very smart to do what they did and in such a moment and its sad we don't have them with us today. I've also been concerned with how much the FAA, NTSB etc. care about people on the ground today especially with all the aircraft and now drones that they have less concern about crashing. It looks like they could have had more concern back then too.

Heard This As It Happened

I lived in a house abut 2 1/2 miles from the accident site. I, like the kids from Juda, was a high school senior set to graduate in May of '67. Like a lot of teenagers will do, I was staying up way too late that night, 'cheating' myself on sleep.

At the instant the accident happened (around 1:am) the lights went out in our house. Concurrent with that, I heard a low rumble followed by another, kind of odd sound. It was the sound that a bunch of empty metal garbage cans might make when they are tossed around by a strong wind, bouncing on pavement and banging into each other.

It just so happened that my father was the chief of the volunteer fire department in the area adjacent to the area covered by the fire department where the accident occurred. Because of this, we had a fire department two-way radio. When the power came back on a few minutes later, the first thing I heard was the assistant chief saying. 'We need to stand by to help the Kenner Fire Department in case they request it. Apparently a plane hit the Hilton Inn'. I will never forget that night.

Name correction of second girl listed from Juda, WI

I was 10 years old at the time of the accident but remember it very well. The second girl listed should be Nelva Smith, she was one of our neighbors from Juda. There is a Memorial Park on the west side of Juda in honor of the 9 girls that died. In a community as small as Juda, the impact of losing 9 girls was significant. I remember telegrams from all over the world were filled with condolences for families and friends of those lost. A memorial book was put together after the tragedy.

My mother worked for National

My mother worked for National and was staying at the hotel at the time of the accident. Loud engine wind up, explosions, building shook. Luckily she and the other stewardess were unharmed.

my cousin

I had 2 cousins in that class, one went and one stayed home, because he workded on a cheese factory. But, by other cousin, Donna Lehr, went and she survived and when I saw her a month after it happened, her face was still as red with fear as it probably was when it happened. I couldn't believe it. I'll never forget that look.