3 Dead in Fiery Plane Crash Here

The Republic
by Greg Scherschel, Staff Writer

Map shows Runway, Flight Path, Impact Area and Neighboring Streets.

Three persons, including a 24-year old Columbus mechanic, were killed in the fiery crash of a four-engine airplane in a wooded area just east of Riverview Acres Sunday afternoon following take-off from Bakalar municipal airport.

Five others, including another Columbus mechanic, were injured in the crash of the Lockheed Super Constellation plane, a plane which had been under surveillance by Columbus police since at least last Thursday.  Reason for the surveillance was not revealed by Chief Robert Talkington, although other officers on the scene Sunday said it was drug-related.

Site of Plane Crash
-- An aerial view shows the wreckage of a four-engine Lockheed Super Constellation which crashed shortly after takeoff Sunday, killing three occupants and injuring five.  Eyewitnesses said the triple-tailed freighter struck power lines and slid into the woods, exploding on impact.  Barricades placed by Federal Aviation Administration officials can be seen in the fields on both sides of the plane.  FAA officials will be Columbus several days to investigate the wreckage.
Staff photo by Mike Redmond

Killed were Robert J. Lay, 24, 3230 25th, a mechanic on the plane; Herman Richard Salmon, 67, Tehachapi, Calif., the pilot, and Leland Joseph Sanders, 54, Sylmar, Calif., engineer on the plane.  Police said the bodies of the three men were burned beyond recognition and positive identification would not be possible until dental records could be checked.

Robert Eves, 2320 Sims, a 48-year old mechanic who had been employed by Rhoades Aviation until recently, was the only local person injured in the crash.  He was treated and released from Bartholomew County Hospital for cuts and bruises, as were the others in the plane: Randall Salmon, 40, Van Nuys, Calif., George Betzner, 25, Burbank, Calif., Kenneth Kenaston, 31, Rancho Mirage, Calif.,  and Gary Garibaldi, 31, Los Angeles, Calif.

According to Chief Talkington, who watched the plane as it took off Sunday after having it under surveillance the past several days, the plane left the Bakalar runway heading southwest but was unable to clear utility wires just west of the airport.  The plane clipped off two utility poles, slid through a soybean field owned by Joe Sims and came to a stop in a wooded area owned by Estate Development Corp. where it burst into flames.

Some 5,000 gallons of high octane fuel burned in a series of explosions which echoed through nearby Riverview Acres, Park Forest and Parkside additions and sent a huge column of black smoke into the sky.  The column of smoke was visible several miles away.

The plane crashed just a few hundred feet east of River Road and just a few hundred feet north of Hummingbird Lane.  If it had made it over the woods and then gone down, it would have crashed in either Riverview Acres or Deerfield Park addition, according to East Columbus Fire Chief Bill Maze, who lives in Deerfield Park.

Because it was thought at first that the plane crashed in the city, Columbus Fire Department was in charge of operations.  It was discovered later that the crash actually took place in Columbus township, just north of the city limits.

Assisting the Columbus and Columbus Township fire departments were units and personnel from every other fire department in Bartholomew County except Jonesville, and also the Edinburgh fire department, Maze said.  Police agencies involved in crowd control and investigation of the crash, in addition to city police, were Bartholomew County Sheriff's department, Indiana State Police and area conservation officers.

Additional fire personnel from area departments were on standby at the city's Fire House No. 2 on Central Avenue and at the Columbus Township fire house on South Marr Road in case a fire was reported elsewhere in the area while the other units were away.

Several U. S. Army helicopters, including emergency evacuation helicopters were at the crash site in case they were needed.

Maze said some 175 to 200 gallons of fire-extinguisher foam concentrate were used on the fire, although that was not able to  extinguish the parts of the plane which were made of magnesium.  He said those were allowed to burn out by themselves because burying or using a special chemical are the only ways to put out a fire on that metal.

Every tanker truck in Bartholomew County was on the scene, and all the foam concentrate available in the county and even some picked up from Midwest Fire and Safety Supply Co. of Indianapolis was used to fight the fire.  Several firemen complained of smoke inhalation and exhaustion, but none were hospitalized.

The only fireman reported injured was Kris Weisner of the Columbus Township department, who was knocked over by an unidentified woman claiming to have an ownership interest in the plane.  She was climbing on the fuselage of the plane and jumped off when another pocket of fuel exploded.

Personnel from the Columbus and German townships fire department stayed on the scene all night, using generators to keep the area lighted to protect it from vandals or souvenir hunters.  An official of the Federal Aviation Administration also spent the night at the crash site, and FAA personnel were on the scene today to continue their investigation.

Although 4,093 gallons of fuel were purchased from Rhoades Aviation for use by the plane, according to Rhoades President Jack Rhoades, some 5,000 gallons of fuel were on board, according to Betzner, one of the survivors.  Rhoades sid the fuel for the Super Connie, as it is called, is supposed to have an octane rating of 145, but such fuel is not available in Columbus and a lower octane rating of 100 to 130 was being used.  Rhoades said maximum gross take-off weight of the plane with the 145 octane fuel is 141,700 pounds, while with the 100-130 octane fuel the maximum drops to 120,000 pounds.  It was not learned how heavily loaded the plane was, although Chief Talkington said he believed the plane was overloaded.

Responding in addition to area police and fire units were the Medic I Rescue Ambulance, the Athens Ambulance Service and the emergency unit of the American Red Cross, which provided food and drink for the emergency personnel on the scene.

Maze expressed his appreciation for the assistance of all at the scene, and praised the fire and police departments for the way they worked together.  He said they had not had such a large cooperative effort since the fire at Central Junior High School one and a half years ago, and he said the cooperation was 'quite excellent.'

Extra personnel were called in at the Bartholomew County Hospital to handle the injuries involved with the crash, although the hospital did not implement a disaster plan it has for such situations.

No charges were filed in connection with the crash, although Talkington said he believes he has 'more than enough information to warrant calling the grand jury on charges of gross negligence, particularly if it can be proven that the plane's pilot was not fully aware of problems the plane had had earlier in the week,' the chief said.

After putting a new engine on the plane Thursday evening, Garibaldi and Kenestan took the plane down the runway Friday evening, lost control of it and ran it off the runway into the dirt, Talkington explained.

City Police Officer Frank Butler had encouraged those with the plane not to take off on that runway because of the nearby residences, Talkington said.

WIRES DOWN - Utility wires dangle after being clipped by a four-engine cargo plane which crashed and killed three persons near Bakalar Municipal Airport Sunday afternoon.  Five other persons were injured.

CRASH SCENE - Firefighters sift through the wreckage of the four-engine cargo plane which crashed Sunday afternoon at Bakalar Municipal Airport.  This photo was made from the top of a Columbus Fire Department ladder.  Three persons were killed in the crash and five other injured.  The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the accident.
Photo by Greg Scherschel

TANGLED REMAINS - Tangled debris, still smoldering, is scattered in the area where a four-engine cargo plane crashed early Sunday afternoon.  The three persons killed in the crash were burned beyond recognition and had to be identified by the five survivors.

ONE OF FOUR ENGINES - One of the four engines which powered a cargo plane lies in the ruins of the craft which crashed shortly after takeoff Sunday afternoon from Bakalar Municipal Airport.  The craft, headed for Seattle, Wash., then Alaska, failed to reach altitude at the end of the runway and clipped utility lines and poles, traveled another 1,000 feet and then skidded across a soybean field into a thicket of trees.

STILL BURNING - The remains of a four-engine cargo plane which crashed Sunday afternoon after takeoff from Bakalar Municipal Airport still burns.  Three persons were killed and five injured in the crash.

LENDING A HAND - Bartholomew County Sheriff's deputies and Indiana State Police lend a hand to firefighters at the scene of Sunday's plane crash which killed three persons.  Columbus and East Columbus fire officials commended police and fellow firefighters for their cooperation.

PROTECTED FROM HEAT - Columbus firefighters wear proximity suits to protect them from the heat of a fire in a four-engine cargo plane which crashed about 2 p.m. Sunday after takeoff from Bakalar Municipal Airport.  Three of the eight persons on board were killed, including Robert J. Lay, 24, 3230 25th.  The other five were released after treatment at Bartholomew County Hospital's emergency room.

Page last revised 11/03/2017
JameS D. West