Pellston, MI UAW Leader Reuther Killed In Jet Crash, May 1970
UAW CHIEF WALTER REUTHER, 5 OTHERS KILLED IN FIERY JET CRASH.
Pellston, Mich. (AP) -- WALTER P. REUTHER, leader of 1.6 million United Auto Workers and a giant of American labor, and his wife and four other persons died Saturday night when their chartered jet aircraft crashed and burned.
The executive-type jet crashed in the rain on its approach to the airport at Pellston.
Authorities said it broke through scattered clouds at 400 feet, clipped a tree top, and then 271 feet farther along came down in a ball of flame. The wreckage was found in a clump of woods 1 1/2 miles southwest of the airport. All aboard were killed.
REUTHER, 62, one-time AFL-CIO vice president who was chosen last month for a new two-year term as president of the UAW, had planned to drive from Pellston to his union's $15 million family deucation center now nearing completion on Black Lake in northern Lower Michigan. The plane was en route from Detroit.
The liberal-orieated, red-haired REUTHER had led his union to many breakthroughs in industrial contracts, including "a guaranteed annual income" and cost of living wage increases.
Originally a tool and die apprentice, he was a participant in the then sensational sit-down strikes of the 1930s that won auto industry recognition of the fledgling union that was to grow into a giant headed by him.
Killed with REUTHER and his wife, MAY, 59, in the twin-engine six-passenger Lear jet were OSKAR STONEROV, a Philadelphia architect who designed the education center; WILLIAM WOLFMAN, 29, REUTHER'S bodyguard and MRS. REUTHER'S nephew; the pilot, GEORGE EVANS, and the co-pilot, JOSEPH KARAFFA, both of Columbus, Ohio.
CLARENCE TATRO, airport manager, said the pilot was given weather conditions and permission to land in a radio exchange at 9:33 p.m., and there was no subsequent message from the aircraft.
EMANUEL SUAREZ, who lives three-quarters of a mile from the crash scene, said he heard a plane flying low overhead and then -- nothing.
The lull caused suspicion, SUAREZ said, so he went to a window "and saw a tremendous flash." He rushed to the scene but the heat of the burning plane kept him back. When the flames finally were extinguished only a piece of the plane's tail remained uncharred.
REUTHER had survived earlier brushes with death during his sometimes stormy career. A would-be assassin's bullet shattered his right arm on April 20, 1948, and 10 years earlier he had thwarted an attempt to take him on a no-return, gangland-style ride.
His death robs the UAW of its chief bargainer with new contract negotiations with the Big Three automakers -- General Motors, Ford and Chrysler -- only two months away in a year beset by lagging auto sales and a clamor of workers for more money to override inflation.
REUTHER had headed the union since 1946.
Under the UAW's constitution, Secretary-Treasurer EMIL MAZEY, 56, takes over temporary leadership of the UAW.
REUTHER had pulled out of the AFL-CIO in 1968, climaxing his running feud with AFL-CIO President GEORGE MEANY, who REUTHER accused of permitting the labor movement to "vegetate" under what he termed "a stand-pat leadership."
Between them they forged the AFL-CIO 14 1/2 years ago, giving labor its first united front since JOHN L. LEWIS pulled out his United Mine WOrkers in 1937 and founded the Congress of Industrial Organizations as a rival to the American Federation of Labor.
MEANY headed the AFL-CIO and REUTHER was its vice president until his union withdrew.
MEANY was among the first Sunday to issue a statement, saying REUTHER had made "a unique and lasting contribution to the United Auto Workers, the American labor movement and the nation."
"We had disagreements, but we worked together, as well, and this morning," MEANY added, "it is the latter that stands out in my memory."
REUTHER'S death also brought statements from a host of other unions, industry and government officials citing his contribution to the labor movement.
Since its pullout from AFL-CIO, the UAW had joined the two million Teamsters and the smaller United Chemical Workers Union to form the Alliance for Labor Action, with the announced aim of "organizing the unorganized and the working poor."
REUTHER foresaw the Black Lake Educational Training Center where he was going Saturday night as just that, "not a recreation center." He convinced the UAW's 1966 convention to authorize it as "a place to bring the young for leadership training and their families for education in unionism."
The REUTHERS' survivors include two daughters, LINDA, 27, a schoolteacher in San Francisco, and LISA, 22, a student at Oakland University, Rochester, Mich.; his 88-year-old mother, MRS. VALENTINE REUTHER; his two brothers, VICTOR, who oheads the UAW's international affairs department, and THEODORE, Wheeling, W. Va., and his sister, MRS. EUGENE RICHEY, Reading, Mass.
In 1933, REUTHER was fired from Ford for his union activities and together with his brother VICTOR went on a bicycling trip in Europe.
They eventually got to the Soviet Union where they took jobs in an automobile factory built under Ford's supervision.
The brothers returned to the U.S. and WALTER took a job as a tool and die maker in Detroit where he met the former MAY WOLF, a schoolteacher. They were married March 13, 1936. She quit her job to join her husband in helping to organize workers on Detroit's west side for the then small and struggling United Auto Workers.
Under REUTHER'S leadership, West Side Local 174 grew from 78 to 30,000 members within a year. He was elected a UAW vice president in 1942, after participating in the historic sit-down strikes which won union recognition from General Motors in the 1930s.
In March of 1946 he ousted R. J. THOMAS as president and moved quickly to eliminate Communist influence from the union.
REUTHER was challenged only twice since, in 1949 and only last month. In both challenges he defeated the opposition overwhelmingly.
REUTHER'S eventual successor to serve until the 1972 UAW convention will be chosen by the remaining 25 members of the union's international executive board, which he headed.
The bodies were taken to the University of Michigan Hospital at Ann Arbor for positive identification before being turned over to the families for funeral arrangements.
Meanwhile, all UAW International officers met Sunday at Solidarity House, the international headquarters in Detroit, and issued a statement calling for a week of mourning.
"The shock is too sudden and too overwhelming," they said. IRVING BLUESTONE, administrative assistant to REUTHER since 1961, said the question on when the international executive board would choose a successor was not discussed. The next regular meeting of the board is June 2 in Detroit.
"Our immediate problem is the funeral arrangements which lie ahead of us," BLUESTONE said.
Charleston Gazette West Virginia 1970-05-11