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Braniff Airways Meets with Loved Ones of Crash Victims

MEMORIAL PLANNING -- Buffalo’s Charlcie Casey has been a historical connection for Colin Ice and Ben Cass of the Braniff Airways Foundation as they planned the Memorial of the Braniff Flight 542 that crashed here in September 1959. (Photo taken at the crash site.)

The Pharm in Buffalo was the site of an organizational meeting called by Ben Cass and Colin Ice of the Braniff Airways Foundation which preserves and promotes the history of Braniff. Cass, the Founder and President of the organization, presided over the meeting.

The meeting was to discuss and finalize the details of the Memorial of the Braniff plane crash that occurred just a few miles outside of Buffalo on September 29th, 1959. There were no survivors. Thirty-four people, passengers and crew, perished at the scene. Attending the meeting were three individuals who each lost their father in the tragedy.

Braniff Flight 542, a Lockheed-188 Electra, was just 23 minutes into its flight from Houston on its way to stop at Love Field in Dallas before its final destination to Washington, D.C. The cause of the crash could not be determined at the time. This was before planes were equipped with ?black boxes? to record information. It was months later, when another Electra crashed, that it was determined that ?harmonic coupling? in the wings caused the wing to vibrate and fail, thus causing the crash.

Besides the family members of the victims, several local residents who were living in Buffalo and remembered the event were at the meeting to help recall the scene and the days after the crash when people in Buffalo assisted in what ways they could. Most of the residents in Buffalo were affected by the tragedy as the gymnasium at the old Buffalo High School was used as a place to collect the bodies until identifications could be made.

Following the meeting, the group drove to the site of the crash, giving the three family members a chance to see (one for the first time) where their loved ones came to rest almost 60 years ago. Jonnel Stone, daughter of the pilot, Georgene Harris, and John Brooks all shared remembrances of their fathers.

Brooks wore the wedding band that belonged to his father. ?Braniff was able to return this ring and the watch Dad wore after we sent them a picture of his wearing them that they could use for identification. Braniff made a nice return of them to my mother, cleaned and in a presentation box.?

Cass described the plans for the Memorial of Flight 542. It will consist of historical interviews, family photos of each of the victims will be displayed, the seating chart of the plane indicating where each individual was located, and a reading of the names on-board. There will also be speakers to represent some of the first responders who were at the scene that day from Buffalo.

Cass said that he has had contact with several families who were not at the organizational meeting but plan to attend the Memorial on September 26th that will be held at the Buffalo High School. Parthena Moore Newsom and Norma Moore announced plans for a meal for the family members before the Memorial.

Cass gave a special thanks to the people in Buffalo who have helped in the coordination of the Memorial, City Secretary Debbie Waters, Mayor Jerrod Jones, and Superintendent Lacy Freeman. Charlcie Casey was also recognized for her help with contacts and remembrances of the community, as was Parthena Newsom and Norma Moore.