The power of Facebook is amazing for anyone interested in history, especially local history. A Chicagoan has been lured to the small town of Dexter because of a Facebook page called “Memories of Dexter–The Original One Horse Town.”
Brandon Andreasen was looking for information about an emergency plane crash that his grandfather had piloted in January 1955, and he wanted to visit the site.
Tom Fagen, a farmer in the area, was recommended to Andrean because Tom is a pilot. He also grew up half a mile from where the plane came to rest, and now lives half a mile in the other direction.
Tom’s wife had even grown up on the farm where the plane hit first, before tearing through fences and across the road to come to a stop in Fred Lenocker’s field. Tom’s inlaws, Hochstetlers, had some old newspaper clippings but hadn’t talked much about it.
Tom loves the history of aircraft and also makes scale models of them. After showing the pilot’s grandson the area of the United Airline Convair crash, he went to work to find out as much about the plane and the accident as he could. Besides making a 1/72 scale model of the broken plane in a snowy corn-stubbled field, he has made a 15-minute video about the entire history of the plane, what happened the day of the crash, and even the people involved with it. Tom Fagen’s video
Seeing a picture of Tom’s diorama certainly brought this story back to me. Sis Gloria and I, ages 8 and 10, had just gotten off the yellow Dexter school bus on Old Creamery Road. We heard a plane just to the east having trouble, then watched as it sputtered and glided south, toward snowy farm fields.
From where he was working in the barn, Dad (a World War II pilot and instructor) could hear that a plane was in trouble. He headed for the house. We couldn’t see where the plane ended up, but soon we all bundled up and drove towards the area it was headed, along with half the neighborhood.
By the time we got there, our bus driver John Herrick had finished his route (including his own son Paul, who’d also witnessed the plane going down), then returned to the plane to see if he could help. The 36 passengers and 3 crew were shaken up but okay, so he drove them all into Dexter, to the bank to warm up, be checked out by Dexter’s doctors Chapler and Osborn, and decide how to get to their destination.
Recently Tom Fagen even located Jeff Boyle, the son of the first officer on the United Convair that day. After Jeff watched Tom’s video, he said was surprised to learn who the captain was that day. Earl Andreasen and Thomas Boyle had been friends for years–but they had never talked about the emergency landing near Dexter, at least around Boyle’s son Jeff.
Jeff said when he later learned about it, he asked his dad if he was frightened during those few seconds. No, the two of them (pilot and co-pilot) were so “busy trying to regain some type of control over the plane” that they didn’t have time to feel anything. After the plane came to the stop, he had crawled out through the cockpit window, which was no longer there.
How amazing that all 39 people aboard that plane survived the crash landing. Capt. Andreasen and First Officer Boyle were both given $10,000 bonuses for the successful handling of the crippled plane. Stewardess Johnson was given $2500.
Several local people who helped got gifts: cigarette lighters to doctors Chapler and Osborn, compacts to their nurses, a set of dishes to Lenockers (who served meals to the salvagers), etc.
Tom Fagen’s inlaws, the Hochstetlers, got a United Airlines check for $25 for the three fences the plane tore out. They still have the uncashed check as a souvenir.
The United Convair was disassembled, lifted by crane in pieces into trucks, and hauled to the Dexter train station. There they were loaded on flat cars to ship to the Convair plant in San Diego, for repair. The airliner became a cargo plane, flying another 34 years.
What caused the plane to crash that winter day? Human error. A Civil Aeronautics Board Investigation found that a fastener on the elevator linkage had been removed the night before during a scheduled airframe inspection, and not reinstalled.
The “Memories of Dexter” Facebook page says that you can see Tom Fagen’s diorama of the downed airliner this month, along with other memorabilia about the crash, at the Dexter library.