Friday, October 30, 2015

#CollisionWithFame: John Denver, October 12 1997

John Denver was born in Roswell, New Mexico, where his father was an Air Force flight instructor. He started playing guitar at age 12, and in 1964 he dropped out of Texas Tech to start a music career. John changed his last name from Deutschendorf to Denver to make his name fit on a club marquee.  In 1965 he joined the Chad Mitchell Trio, leaving three years later to pursue a solo career. He emerged as a musical talent when he wrote “Leaving on a Jet Plane” in 1967.  The song was initially recorded by the Mitchell Trio, but emerged as a major hit in 1969 when Peter, Paul, and Mary covered the song and it went to #1 on the Billboard charts.  The song continued to be a cover favorite, having been recorded by numerous jazz, rock, pop, country, and hip-hop artists, plus Frank Sinatra.

His first album, Rhymes and Reasons, was released in 1969 and included his recording of “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” Two additional albums followed in 1970 (Whose Garden Was This? and Take Me to Tomorrow), but it was in 1971 that his album Poems, Prayers, and Promises which contained his breakout hit “Take Me Home, Country Roads”

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

#CollisionWithFame: A Tale of Three Governors

Earl Snell
October 28, 1947: Governor Earl Snell (R-OR) and Oregon Secretary of state Robert S. Farrell Jr., and senate president Marshall E. Cornett died when their plane crashed on the way to go bird hunting in rural Oregon. Pilot Cliff Hogue encountered stormy weather and crashed near Klamath Falls, Oregon, killing all four men.  On January 25, 1962, Governor Donald Nutter (R-MT) is killed when the C-47 Skytrain he is flying on encountered a destructive snow storm north of Helena.  Hurricane-force winds tore the wings from the craft, which crashed into Wolf Creek Canyon, killing both Nutter and all of his party.  Nutter was a decorated flyer who had won the Distinguished Flying Cross during World War II. And, on April 19, 1993, Governor George Mickelson (R-S.D.) was returning from Ohio on a state-owned Mitsubishi MU-2B-60 when an engine failed (the propeller broke) and the plane crashed into a grain silo near Zwingle, Iowa, killing all eight persons on board.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

#CollisionWithFame: The Jake Lamotta Coincidence

On October 27, 1949 middleweight fighter and former WBA champion Marcel Cerdan was flying to Spain to fight Jake LaMotta (the “Raging Bull”).  Cerdan had lost the title to LaMotta earlier that year.  The Air France Constellationhe was aboard crashed off the Azores, killing all passengers and crew.  On September 2, 1998 SwissAir flght 111, an MD-11, crashed off Nova Scotia killing 229 persons, including LaMotta’s son, 49-year-old Joseph LaMotta.   The younger LaMotta was flying to Geneva to negotiate European distribution of the Jake LaMotta tomato sauce brand.  The SwissAir crash was a result of faulty wiring in the wide-body craft, and the elder LaMotta sued Swissair and Boeing for $50 million.

Monday, October 26, 2015

#CollisionWithFame: Payne Stewart, October 25, 1999

“The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth.” John 3:8

October 25 1999: Six men boarded the Lear 35 at Orlando International – golfer Payne Stewart, and his agents Van Arden and Robert Fraley, plus Stewart’s golf course designer-partner Bruce Borland and two pilots.  The flight was supposed to go from Orlando, to Dallas, and then on to Houston. For the owner of the jet, US Open Champion Payne Stewart, this was business combined with more business, scouting out a possible golf course site in Dallas and then going on to Houston to play in the Tour Championship.  At age 42, Stewart was at the top of his game and on top of the world.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

#CollisionWithFame: Jeff Burkett, October 24, 1947

Jeff Burkett, the rookie punter for the Chicago Cardinals, was one of 53 people who died when United Air Lines flight 608, a DC-6, exploded over Bryce Canyon, Utah. The flight was headed from Los Angeles to Chicago. During a fuel transfer the overflow leaked and was ignited by the cabin heater combustion air intake scoop. When the cabin heater came on, an explosion and fire destroyed the plane killing all 53 aboard. The Civil Aeronautics Board blamed both design flaws and the failure of the crew in training and performance. Burkett was in LA because the Cardinals were playing the Los Angeles Rams.  The rookie punter from out of LSU had suffered an appendicitis attack and missed both the game (lost by Chicago) and the team flight home.  At the time he was the league’s leading punter, averaging 47.4 yard per kick. The Cardinals nonetheless went on to win the NFL title behind the play of former Maxwell Award winner Charley Trippi (UGA), who also took over the punting.

Friday, October 23, 2015

#CollisionWithFame: US Senator Paul Wellstone, October 25 2002:

Paul Wellstone always blazed his own path.  A former championship wrestler, who grew in northern Virginia, he had wrestled at UNC, taking a BA and also a Ph.D. in political science.  In 1969 he moved to Minnesota, taking a faculty position at Carleton College and becoming as well known for his liberal activism as for his scholarship (he had written a well-received book, How the Rural Poor Got Power, published in 1978).  In 1990, Wellstone challenged incumbent Republican Senator Rudy Boschwitz for the US Senate seat from Minnesota, defeating the incumbent by 37,000 ballots despite being outspent by almost $5 million. 

Writing on Wellstone after the young senator’s emergence in 1991, Michael Barone observed that Wellstone wasrepresentative of a still-lively impulse in American politics, the spirit of student protest that blazed out in the late 1960s and, on some campuses at least, lives on in embers.  Wellstone himself is a Rip Van Winkle, the spirit of Woodstock 1969 come back to earth.  As a “rock the boat” professor at Carleton College, he taught nothing but the politics of protest and appeared at faculty meetings only when he was leading a group of students to protest something or the other. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

#CollisionWithFame: The NTSB Report on the Lynyrd Skynyrd Crash

“Well the train to Grinder's Switch is runnin’ right on time,
And the Tucker boys are cookin’ down in Caroline,
People down in Florida can’t be still
When old Lynyrd Skynyrd's pickin’ down in Jacksonville . . .”
Charlie Daniels, “The South’s Gonna Do It”

On the evening of October 20 1977, the greatest band in southern Rock was involved in one of the most famous plane crashes in entertainment history.  On tour across the South in a leased Convair CV-300, Lynyrd Skynyrd was headed from Greeneville, South Carolina to Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  The crash was caused by a malfunctioning engine that consumed excessive fuel, and took the life of Skynyrd’s lead singer and song writer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, vocalist Cassie Gaines, and assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick.  The flight crew of pilot Walter McCreary and co-pilot William Gray were also killed in the crash.  Among the survivors of the crash were Gary Rossington, Billy Powell, Leon Wilkeson and Artimus Pyle and guitarist Ed King. Lynyrd Skynyrd survived, but it wasn’t the same.  But it created a legend, and the art form of southern Rock endured and prospered, with an eye toward Lynyrd Skynyrd as the greatest band  of the genre.
            From an aviation standpoint, the Lynyrd Skynyrd crash illustrates all the classic conditions of a celebrity plane crash: mistakes that were anticipated but not corrected, guess-work replacing care and caution by the flight crew, and an old, inadequately maintained piece of equipment.  To that end, rather than recount the crash story, we use this opportunity to present the complete NTSB accident report, which reads like literature in explaining all the failures in this tragedy:

Monday, October 19, 2015

#CollisionWithFame: New Orleans Mayor deLesseps “Chep” Morrison -- May 23 1964:

deLesseps “Chep” Morrison had blood ties to several of the oldest political families in Louisiana, including the Claibornes and the Morrisons.  Born in 1912 in Pointe Coupee Parish  to the parish district attorney and a mother from New Orleans “Uptown” society crowd, Chep attended law school at LSU and eventually went into the practice of law with his half-brother Jacob Morrison, and Hale Boggs, husband to his cousin Corinne “Lindy” Morrison Claiborne.  Morrison was one of several bright young uptown New Orleans politicians who sought to tame the historic corruption of New Orleans – he helped to form the League of Independent Voters and also was allied with the reform faction of the Democratic Party which lined up opposite the Longs in Louisiana politics.

In 1946, Morrison returned from World War II with the rank of colonel, and was quickly recruited to run for mayor against corrupt incumbent Robert Maestri.  Morrison won the election, and held the seat for fifteen years. As mayor, Morrison acted in the tradition of many post-machine reformers, moving to break the pockets of patronage in local politics, engaging public works, and dramatically expanding public housing. Unfortunately many of these reforms did not pay off in the long run for New Orleans, as the local housing authority became corrupt and its tenements as derelict as the old neighborhoods they displaced. Corruption retrenched itself in the police department.  Other plans, like legalizing the rampant gambling in the city, were dead on arrival.

And, while Chep displaced the “Old Regulars” in local Democratic politics, his own organization supplanted them, continuing a tradition of mayor-centered and neighborhood-based machines in local politics. He was not a good manager of race relations – his efforts to satisfy black constituents’ needs in public works; recreation; housing; and the integration of the police department; were offset by his poor performance on the violence surrounding the integration of the New Orleans public schools in 1960 and his continued public support for segregation.  Morrison thrice tried to win election as governor of Louisiana –1956, 1959, and 1963 – losing the Democratic primary each time.


Friday, October 16, 2015

#CollisionWithFame: Hale Boggs And Nick Begich, October 16, 1972

In Alaska, flying is easier than driving.  This is especially the case for the campaigning politician, who has to cover vast distances to get to population centers and voters.  Alaska also has its share of airplane disappearances, leading some conspiracy buffs to argue for the existence of an “Alaska Triangle.”  It is into this alleged triangle that US Reps. Hale Boggs and Nick Begich flew on October 16, 1972, in a Cessna 310C with registration number N1812H.
Boggs, the US House majority leader, was campaigning for Begich, a freshman lawmaker who confronted a tough reelection challenge.  They were traveling from Anchorage to Juneau, an almost 600-mile, all-day trip by car but just over two hours in a Cessna.  The flight disappeared over the Chugach Mountains, a 300-mile-long range of towering, rocky peaks along the Copper River.   

The flight is mainly remembered for the presence of Hale Boggs. Boggs had climbed the ladder of power in Texas Speaker Sam Rayburn’s House of Representatives.  Born in Mississippi, he was elected to Congress in 1940 at just 26, then after losing renomination in 1942, enlisted in the Navy.  He then returned to Congress in 1946, and was reelected.  He was one of a select group of young lawmakers including future Speakers of the House Tip O’Neill, Carl Albert, and Jim Wright who emerged to dominate the leadership of the US House from the late 1960s until the late 1980s.  Boggs followed the classic pattern, making his way onto the Democratic Steering Committee, then becoming majority whip and majority leader; he was Carl Albert’s presumptive successor as Speaker.  He had been an exceptional southern Democrat; in the 1950s he had signed the Southern Manifesto protesting the Brown v. Board of Education decision that ended formal segregation, and had also voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  However, by 1965 Boggs had changed his mind on civil rights, supporting the 1965 Voting Rights Act and subsequent legislation.  As House majority whip, Boggs and floor leader Carl Albert were the principle strategists who shepherded LBJ’s Great Society legislation through the House. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Thirty-seven years ago, a long national nightmare ended

On Saturday, October 14, 1978, Gilligan, the Skipper, the millionaire and his wife, the movie star, and the rest were rescued. Celebrate accordingly.

Monday, October 12, 2015

#CollisionWithFame: Todd-AO

March 22, 1958: Michael Todd

Michael Todd was an entertainment giant.  A producer of stage and screen, among his more noted and memorable films are Around the World in Eighty Days, which won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1956.  The volatile producer was thrice married, the last time to international star Elizabeth Taylor.  On March 22, Todd and noted sportswriter/ screenplay writer Art Cohn were headed for New York along with pilots Bill Verner and Tom Barclay, leaving Burbank at 10:41 p.m. (Cohn was writing Todd’s biography.) Todd was to be honored by the Friars’ Club with the “Showman of the Year” award.
The craft they were flying on, a Lockheed Lodestar, was a twin engine transport developed by Lockheed before World War II.  About 625 were built, though they had difficulty cracking a commercial market dominated by the Douglas DC-3.  After World War II, many Lodestars found their way into executive use. Todd’s Lodestar, the “The Lucky Liz,” (named for Taylor) was one such craft. As Todd and his party traveled east, they encountered winter weather.  Near Grants, New Mexico, at about 1:55AM, Verner radioed flight control, requesting a change in altitude from 11,000 feet to 13,000 feeet because they had encountered “moderate” ice. No further communication came from the “Lucky Liz.”
A flash was subsequently reported by the Grants airport. The next day, the remains of the craft were found in the Zuni Mountains.  The wings had iced, making the craft much heavier and placing a strain on the engines. Investigators from the Civil Aeronautics board determined that the plane had crashed nose first into the ground and exploded.
According to the Associated Press, “Miss Taylor did not accompany her husband. She stayed at their West Coast home because of a cold. She collapsed when she heard the news and was placed under sedation.” They had one child, Liz Todd, born the previous August.  Taylor’s marriage to Michael Todd was the only one of her eight marriages to seven men to not end in divorce (it was her third marriage).
Todd is remembered in industry technical circles for the development of the Todd-AO process for widescreen cinematic process.  It was first used on the 1955 film adaptation of Oklahoma! and subsequently became an industry standard.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

#CollisionWithFame: Cory Lidle, October 11, 2006

Five days after the elimination of the New York Yankees from the American League playoffs, pitcher Cory Lidle and his flight instructor Tyler Stanger were attempting to return to Teterboro Airport, a major civil aviation airport in New Jersey.  A distress call was received from Lidle’s Cirrus SR-20, and the craft then struck midway up a fifty-story residential tower, the Belaire Apartments on 72d Street.

Monday, October 5, 2015

#PresidentialDreamCourse Presents Charlie Chaplin's "Modern Times" at OU Union 10/07/15, 7PM

#CollisionWithFame: Tom Slick, Yeti Hunter

“There is precious little in civilization to appeal to a Yeti.” --Sir Edmund Hillary

Thomas B. Slick lived a life that could have inspired a work of fiction.  His famous namesake father, Tom Slick, was the “king of the wildcatters” who came out of Pennsylvania to make a fortune in the oilfields of Oklahoma and Texas. Tom Slick the elder died of a stroke on August 16, 1930, at the age of 46. Two days later the oil derricks in the Oklahoma City Field stood silent for an hour to honor his passing. Slick’s widow married Oklahoma City oilman Charles F. Urschel, who was a kidnapping victim of Machine Gun Kelly in 1933. Young Tom was back east, attending Phillips Exeter; he would later go on to Yale, serve in the US Navy during World War II, and also do graduate study at Harvard.
Young Tom Slick had great success in business.  He had become chairman of Slick Oil and also Transworld Resources Corporation, and sat on several other boards. Tom Slick was also “instrumental” in developing the Texstar Corporation.  In his twenties, before World War II, he had plans for creating a series of research enterprises, which he later fulfilled in the 1950s.  His children carried on those efforts, endowing multiple research enterprises, some in the family name.  Among the institutions he or his family created, endowed, or assisted were the Southwest Research Center, the Southwest Research Institute, the Southwest Foundation for Research and Education, and the Southwest Agriculture Institute; Trinity College in San Antonio; and positions and lectureships at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas.
            During the 1950s Slick made his public name as an adventurer and mystery seeker.  He had crashed his plane in the Brazilian jungles while seeking diamonds, but walked out of the rainforest unscathed. Slick financed and undertook expeditions to search for the Loch Ness monster, the Yeti, and Big Foot. An accident on the Nepal Yeti expedition had also nearly claimed his life. The Yeti-seeking expedition of the late 1950s so upset the Soviet Union that the Communists claimed the expedition was a cover for destabilizing Communist Chinese influence in South Asia:

The engineering of the incidents between Nepal and Communist China . . . was the missing link in the story of the mysterious scientific expeditions sent to the Himalayas in quest of the “snowmen”  . . . Izvestia told its readers of the current “sensational clamor” in the United States press asserting that the snowman is one of the earliest ancestors of man and a sort of herd-living Himalayan pithecanthrope.  A dispatch from Peiping warned that searching parties now “intensively reconnoitering” the China-Nepal border resembled dangerous, missions once sent to snoop around the Soviet-Turkish frontier in search of the remains of Noah’s Ark. Izvestia presumably was alluding to an expedition led by Tom Slick of Texas and sponsored by the San Antonio Zoological Society to try to determine whether the “abominable snowman” of the Himalayas is an ape, a man, or possibly a myth.

Slick had also been involved in more credible and serious pursuits than cryptozoology.  His annual conference at Columbia University was a vehicle for seeking paths to world peace; Slick also wrote on the topic, including his publication of the book Permanent Peace by Prentice-Hall in 1958.
On October 7, 1962, Slick and Shelly Sudderth, his friend and pilot, were returning from a hunting trip to Canada, bound for Salt Lake City, Utah.  Their craft, a twin-engine Beechcraft Bonanza 35, crashed in the mountains of southwestern Montana, in Beaverhead County.  Little is known about the crash. As reported at the time, the’re best theories were speculative:

Harold Briggs, search and rescue coordinator for the Federal Aviation Agency and the Beaverhead County sheriff’s office, said the plane, a Beechcraft Bonanza 35, apparently disintegrated in flight.  There were storms in the area Saturday night, and Mr. Briggs theorized that the plane had been had been struck by lightning or was traveling too fast and tore itself apart.

Yeti activity was not suspected.

Friday, October 2, 2015

#CollisionWithFame: October 2 1970 -- Wichita State University Football Team

On October 2 1970, two Golden Eagle craft were transporting the Wichita State University Shockers football team to Logan, Utah, for a game with Utah State University.   Wichita State came out of the old Missouri Valley Conference, which was more of a basketball conference, mainly composed of teams from the Midwest.  Their football team rarely played outside the region

 Golden Eagle Flight 108 was a Martin 4-0-4 produced in the early 1950s. The 4-0-4 was a forty passenger aircraft powered by two 2,400hp Pratt & Whitney engines.  Manufactured from 1947 to 1953 as a successor to Martin’s problem-plagued 2-0-2, a total of 103 of the 4-0-4 were produced by Glenn L. Martin in Baltimore and delivered mainly to Eastern Airlines (60 craft) and TWA (40 craft) from 1951-53.  Three 4-0-4’s were delivered to the Coast Guard and US Navy. When the major carriers switched over to jet service, the 4-0-4’s were sold to regional service providers, including Golden Eagle Aviation. 

Serving as first officer on one of the flights, a 4-0-4 with tail number N464M was the president of Golden Eagle, Ronald Skipper (Skipper he was not rated in type and therefore could not captain the flight). Survivors report that Mr. Skipper advised passengers during the Wichita-Denver leg of the flight that they would make a scenic pass by the Loveland ski resort.  The craft approached the Rockies at a low altitude, evidently too low.  The plane was unable to clear or turn to avoid the range of the American Continental Divide, crashing into Mount Trelease a third of a mile below the peak.  31 of 40  persons on the plane were killed; the game the next day was canceled; Wichita State and Utah State have not played since, and Wichita State actually dropped football in 1986.