Aviation Historial Society meets with guest speaker
The Aviation Historical Society met recently at the Macon County Airport with guest speaker, Bob Scott. Scott related some of the more interesting plane crashes in eastern Tennessee, northern Georgia, northern South Carolina and western North Carolina that comprise this region of the Smoky Mountain National Park. “It [plane crashes] is not a morbid curiosity,” Scott said, “but it is interesting.” In fact, Scott has written a number of articles on the subject.
Scott also pointed out that the Civil Air Patrol, for which he is still a card-carrying member, oftentimes played a key supporting role to those search and rescue efforts. “As an auxiliary of the Air Force, the primary duty of the Civil Air Patrol, as assigned by Congress, is search and rescue operations.” Scott explained that, any operation that Civil Air Patrol gets involved in, the Air Force has to approve the mission for the organization to be reimbursed for expenses.
The regional Civil Air Patrol is centralized in Asheville, and since the Macon County flight of Civil Air Patrol does not have its own plane for searches, they have to get one from Asheville. According to Scott, there were a lot of local searches that were not reimbursed because the Macon County Civil Air Patrol did not wait for the official sanction of the Air Force and an actual mission number, they just went out and did what they had to do. And as Scott pointed out himself, it is getting expensive to drive, to say nothing of flying.
The Civil Air Patrol was begun in the 1930s as a volunteer program and later became an auxiliary of the Air Force specifically designed for young people. “The cadets are a special breed of people,” said Scott. “They are very patriotic, and are not scared to get out in all kinds of weather and suffer the consequences.” Some cadets will even begin a military career in Civil Air Patrol. Cadets can enroll in different academies right out of Civil Air Patrol once they reach 18 years old. But even cadet enlistment has seen a decline over the years. “There is just too much competition for young people’s time,” Scott speculated.
In his presentation, Scott stated one thing pilots tend to forget is that the weather patterns in the mountains are very different than anywhere else. He said that if he had to make a guess, he figured that about 80 percent of the plane crashes within the Smoky Mountain National Park were due to weather related issues and not mechanical problems. In Scott’s opinion, the implementation of GPS into aviation and greater pilot awareness about flying in mountainous conditions has contributed to a decline in crashes and search and rescue missions. “It has slowed down,” Scott said. “I think that GPS, people finally realizing that there is weather in the mountains and the mountains are sometimes higher than what you file for on your flight plan have entered into why we do not seem to have the crashes that we used to. There were times when we would have two or three searches a year.”
Scott said that now there is, fortunately, a decline in the number of crashes but there are other search missions going on all the time. The Civil Air Patrol does not work on just plane crashes, they will also be called upon to do searches for missing or escaped persons.
Many people do not understand why it takes so long to find a downed plane. Scott emphasized that the rescue teams have to take things like trees, laurel thickets and rock faces into account when conducting their search. It is not like an open field. “You would not think that you could have any problem finding a C-141,” Scott jokingly stated, however, he said he remembers a search for just such a plane that took nine days.
The C-141 plane is a huge, 4-jet engine plane that was widely used by the Air Force until it was replaced with the C-17. Scott said that it was not unusual to take a number of years to find a plane.
Scott said that it is never easy to find the site of a crash in the mountains. He said that it is not as easy as jumping into a plane and expecting to find the crash on the first fly-by and that a lot of times the rescue teams are looking for a plane that they would expect to see in a hangar. “That is not what we are looking for,” he stressed. “We are looking for clues. You look for broken trees, dark spots, shiny objects and colors that do not ordinarily appear in nature.” In essence, Scott said, they are looking for a site that looks like a trash dump.
He jokingly added that it would help facilitate matters in these searches if all planes were painted one bright color. “I wish they would paint all airplanes flourescent orange. That would possibly help us.”
In a book called “Mayday, Mayday” by Jeff Wadley and Dwight McCarter, Scott takes information about the first known crash in the Smoky Mountain National Park as being a logger by the name of Rooster Williams. Williams had purchased a Jenny in the case right after World War I for $20-$50. He took it to Sevierville, Tennessee, put the Jenny together, flew it and then promptly crashed it. Scott pointed out, that what is interesting about the crash as outlined in Wadly’s book is the events that took place after the crash. Williams survived the plane crash but was later gunned down by his mistress.
Although there are some rescues that are somewhat amusing, like Williams’ story, all too many plane crashes end tragically. As of a few years ago, according to Scott, there have been 127 people involved in plane crashes in the Smokies since Rooster Williams’ crash; only 56 of those people have survived.
Scott told of a B-29 that was flying from an airport near Tampa, Florida to Chicago, Illinois. The crew was on a routine, night-time navigational training mission, when the plane crashed into the side of Clingman’s Dome at approximately 3:00am. Scott said that the crash site had a two-acre debris field and all 12 of the crewmen were killed. Since the mountainous region of the Smoky Mountain National Park is used as a military flight training zone, there have been numerous similar accidents.
The most recent plane crash that they were involved in should still be fresh in the public’s memory earlier this year.
“The last crash we had was when four people were killed over in Cherokee County,” said Scott. The four people killed in the May 25 crash were identified as pilot Matthew Shuey, 27 of Nicholasville, Ky.; Tiffany Maggard, 23, Kassie Robinson, 22, and Miranda Morgan, 20. The three girls were from Knott County, Ky. They had been in Alabama and were on their way back to Kentucky. “The three young ladies had been to a beauty pageant or a wedding reception or something.” According to Scott, just prior to the crash, the pilot reported an in-flight fire.
All things considered, Scott said that if he were ever to become a millionaire, the one thing he wants is his own personal plane, a Cessna 172 to be exact. The Cessna 172 is a four-seat, single- engine plane that is most widely used by Civil Air Patrol.