Pittsburgh, PA Plane Crashes Into River, Dec 1954



Pittsburgh (AP) -- An airliner carrying 28 men -- 23 of them Army veterans homeward bound for Christmas -- pancaked into the icy Monongahela River last night.
Early today, 10 men still were missing. Eighteen -- four of them crewmen -- were saved and acts of heroism in the murky midnight waters were many.
The twin-engined DC3 chartered airliner, en route from the Newark, N. J., airport to three West Coast forts, splashed into the river 15 miles south of here shortly before midnight.
A tower operator at Allegheny County Airport -- some two miles from the crash scene -- said the pilot reported he was out of gas and was "going to ditch."
Some Reach Shore.
Pilot HAROLD POE, 33, of Seattle, Wash., one of the missing, skillfully guided the big ship to a crash landing near the shore. It floated for some 15 minutes, while the men scrambled to the wings. Some went back into the ship for their gear.
Then the ship slipped back into midstream -- some 300 feet from shore. It was an icy swin to shore in the 18 degree chill and some of the men apparently couldn't make it.
The liner sank in about 12 feet of oily water.
Help came fast from shore. Rescuers formed human chains to pull the oil-soaked men up the slippery river banks.
Motorists on the river bank turned their lights on the scene, spotlighting the way for the chilled to the bone men.
All 18 were rushed to the McKeesport Hospital. There wasn't a broken bone among them and the hospital said the chief ailment was exposure to the cold.
Many of the soldiers were sleeping when the plane crash-landed within two miles of Allegheny County Airport. A few miles away, the Greater Pittsburgh Airport reported the pilot radioed that he was running out of gas. Seconds later the ship pancaked into the water, almost as softly as a feather, said some of those aboard.
Capt. ROBERT WALKER, 35, also of Seattle and a civilian pilot employed by the Johnson Flying Service of Missoula, Mont., was one of the five crewmen aboard. Brushing off his own heroics, he praised POE for his "beautiful handling of the ship."
WALKER, one of 18 persons rushed to the McKeesport Hospital, told The Associated Press the ship was making its final approach to the Allegheny County Airport "when we heard som 'birds' in an engine." He said:
"Someone hollered 'Brace yourself.' There was no panic -- no excitement. We were buckled down. The pilot made a beautiful landing. She (the plane) settled down just like on an airfield."
Got Out On Wing.
"We all got out on the wing. We were wet and cold. Some of the guys insisted on going back for their gear. The plane then wasn't very far from shore but she drifted back into midstream."
"It was a long, cold swim to shore. I helped pull a couple of guys ashore with some other fellows. The people on shore were terrific. They helped a lot."
The public information officer at Camp Kilmer said the plane was bound for Ft. Carson, Colo., Ft. Ord, Calif., and Ft. Lewis, Wash. It was on the first leg of its trip. An operation officer said the flight was a Civil Air Movement, a service employed by the Army to move troops.
DAN PASTORE, of Clarion, who was passing the site of the crash in an auto, said he saw men standing on the wings of the sinking plane.
"I hollered at them to swim in to shore," he said. "Some were hesitating. Others screaming and yelling."
Formed Human Chain.
MARK BRANNIGAN, a Clairon construction worker who was among scores of rescuers, declared:
"About six other fellows and myself formed a human chain. We waded out into the river and we grabbed those guys when they came to us. Some swam, others floated on logs. Some didn't have many clothes on. I guess they were sleeping. And they were so cold from that icy water. It was terrible."
Cpl. TONY L. TOFTEMARK, 22, Eugene, Ore., said he was sleeping just before the crash landing.
"When the plane hit someone yelled 'Bust out the windows and crawl out on the wing.' Then we were swimming," he said.
Sgt. PAUL MIDDLETON, 21, Granger, Wash., was the first to swim to shore and summon help.
"I started flagging cars and the first four passed me up," he said. "The fifth one stopped and rode me into a town to get help. Then I went back to the scene. I had records of all the soldiers but I wasn't going back to get them because the plane was sinking. I only felt sorry for those that couldn't make it because I know some of them couldn't swim."

Pittsburgh (AP) -- The McKeesport Hospital reported it had treated the following who were aboard a chartered airliner which crashed last night in the Monongahela River:
CHARLES LUTJE, 22, Eugene, Ore.
JOSEPH GREKNOWICZ, co-pilot, 26, Seattle, Wash.
JOHN FREELING, 22, Denver, Colo.
ROY G. PHELPS, 24, Mae, Wash.
OLEV ADAMSON, 22, Portland, Ore.
Sgt. PAUL MIDDLETON, 21, Granger, Wash.
JAMES EVERLY, 24, Lakewood, Calif.
RONALD JOHNSON, 22, Hawthorne, Calif.
CLARENCE CHAPMAN, 35, Tacoma, Wash.
CHARLES CARTER, 35, Tacoma, Wash.
ROBERT SHAFER, 22, Salem, Ore.
TONY TOFTEMARK, 22, Eugene, Ore.
FRANK KUSUMI, 22, Los Angeles, Calif.
ROBERT NORGREN, 24, Pueblo, Colo.
Capt. ROBERT WALKER, Seattle, Wash.
PHILIP WHEELER, 22, Ririe, Idaho.
DUWAIN CROW, 22, Kellog, Idaho.
ROBERT GILL, 23, Grangeville, Idaho.
Others Listed:
In Washington, the Defense Department said the following also were aboard the airliner:
En route to Ft. Carson, Colo.:
Pfc. HARRY, D. MOSS, Palisade, Colo.
Cpl. ROBERT. F. WILDER, Denver, Colo.
Pfc. LESTER W. DONAHUE, Sterling, Colo.
En route to Ft. Lee, Wash.:
Cpl. ELMER A DIERCKS, Jefferson, Ore.
Cpl. CARL O. THIM, Hermosa Beach, Calif.
Pfc. JOSEPH R. HARKEMA, Myrtle Creek, Ore.
En route to Ft. Ord, Calif.:
Cpl. JOSEPH SELVAGGIO, Los Angeles, Calif.
Cpl. DONALD T. SEITZINGER, Bellflower, Calif.
Cpl. BOB D. WHIPPLE, Redondo Beach, Calif.
Missing is the pilot, HAROLD POE, 33, Seattle, Wash.

Chester Times Pennsylvania 1954-12-23


The Plane was found.....

I have a Daily Newspaper at home here. There is a picture on the first page with headlines showing a crane on a barge lifting the plane outta the river (that crashed in the river December 1954). This is not the original newspaper, but rather a reprint from the year of 1984 the Daily News.

My dad talked about this

My dad talked about this crash. He indicated the plane went down in the river across from the old Cristie Works, or Glassport. The site he talked about is below, or down the river from Clairton. As I recall, it was bit below the spot where the railroad bridge crosses over route 837 on its way to Dravosburg and before the left turn up the hill towards Irvin Works as you travel away from Clairton towards Dravosburg. The working mills may have made a soft water landing possible by stopped the river from freezing with the heat and the river traffic.



Harold Poe was my

Harold Poe was my grandfather. His story had become legend in my family.
Thank you for posting this article.

The plane was never found

The plane was never found

Minor correction

This plane, 2 miles from the county airport, would have been Clairton, Pa. The article makes mention people from Clarion, Pa. (Clairton is the town the movie "The Deer Hunter" was filmed)

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