Due to Covid-19, the Henderson County Heritage Museum and Historic Courthouse are closed until further notice. Thank you for your interest and support during these unprecedented times.
by Mark Shepherd
Minutes before noon on July 19, 1967, a tragedy would begin to unfold some 6,000 feet above what is now the intersection of Hwy 64 and I-26 in Henderson County. The result left 82 people dead and our small community, shaken to its core, rising to meet the needs of both victims and survivors.2,6,7
Piedmont Flight 22 – a Boeing 727 carrying 74 passengers and 5 crewmembers – took off from Asheville Airport at 11:58 en route to Roanoke, VA, on the second of a four-leg journey from Atlanta to Washington, DC.2,4,6 The 727 was the first jetliner in the Piedmont Airlines fleet, nicknamed the “Manhattan Pacer”. 6 Simultaneously, a Cessna 310 – a six-seat, twin-engined private aircraft with tail number N3121S and three people aboard – was approaching the airport from the south.7 The two aircraft were both operating under instrument flight rules (IFR), and were in radio contact with the Asheville control tower, though on different frequencies. 6,7
Piedmont Flight 22 was in the direct flight path of Cessna N3121S, possibly due to confusion with air traffic control.6 The jetliner’s flight crew may have become distracted by a smoldering cigarette in the cockpit for 35 seconds during the initial ascent and left turn, and didn’t see the approaching Cessna.6 The Cessna slammed into the left side of the 727 just aft of the cockpit at 12:01:18, at an altitude of 6,132 feet, and disintegrated.2,6,7 The collision ripped a hole forward of the left wing of the 727, “showering debris like confetti” over the area.2, 3 Accounts then differ on how the 727 fell. Some stated that it circled, trying to regain stability; others reported a smooth fall, revolving to the ground; still others indicated a banking turn from right to left.2,3 What is agreed is that the plane eventually flipped, landing upside-down, pointing in a northerly direction, and exploding on impact in a wooded area between I-26 and Camp Pinewood.2,3,7 Debris was scattered all way back towards the Balfour area. 2
Dozens of people in Henderson County had observed the Piedmont flight take off, since jetliners were very new to Western North Carolina at the time.2,6 As a result they watched tragedy unfold; hundreds more looked up when they heard the midair collision. A giant plume of smoke rose from the crash site as the county’s Firefighters, Law Enforcement Officers, and Rescue Squad personnel rushed to the scene.1,2,3 Grady Walker of the Henderson County Rescue Squad (HCRS) lived off Orr’s Camp Road near Camp Pinewood, and witnessed the collision. He ran to the Camp, directing campers to get away from the crash and take cover as secondary explosions erupted. His quick action, along with that of several counselors at the camp, was credited with shielding the young campers from danger.3 Thomas Conner, another Rescue Squad Volunteer, was about half a mile away in his yard when his son said “Daddy, look, those planes are going to crash.” Conner also rushed to the scene. He would latter equate what he saw to the horrors he had witnessed in the Pacific during World War II.3,5
A joint effort of the Hendersonville, Fletcher, Blue Ridge, Saluda, Etowah Horseshoe, Edneyville, Valley Hill, Mountain Home, and Green River Fire Departments would extinguish the inferno within 30 minutes of the crash. 1,5 Rescue Squad members began the grim task of searching the dense smoke-filled woods for survivors, but it quickly became apparent that there was none. The Rescue Squad’s experience with Civil Defense Training made it the logical choice to take the lead in the recovery effort.5 This included setting up a command post and a Red Cross canteen at Camp Pinewood, and sending out a call though the NC Association of Rescue Squads for men and equipment. Over 400 Rescue Squad Volunteers from North and South Carolina responded, some from as far away as Belton, SC and Rowan County, NC.5 Once on scene, they searched the wreckage for passengers’ remains, which they tagged and covered with white sheets.1,5 The next task was to carry the deceased to awaiting ambulances and hearses to be transported to a temporary morgue set up at the North Carolina National Guard Armory. There a team of forensic experts from the FBI began the work of victim identification with the assistance of local veterans; area radio stations called for additional help from the public.1,4,5 The rescue workers – almost all volunteers – worked around the clock for five days to clear the scene.5 Hendersonville Times-News Editor Mead Parce recalled, “A priest and ministers walked among the dead. In two hours after the crash rescue workers had lived a week”.1
It was through the first responders’ sacrifice and dedication to service that Henderson County was able to recover. Federal officials gave high praise to the responding Fire and Law Enforcement departments and the Rescue Squad for their organization and professionalism. HCRS would receive commendations from the US Senate, Piedmont Airlines, the US Department of Transportation and the Governor for the Volunteers’ bravery during the disaster.
This was the first major aviation accident investigated by the newly-formed National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).4,6,7 Over the next few weeks the Boeing 727 jetliner was reconstructed in a field that is now occupied by a McDonalds restaurant off Hwy 64.5 The NTSB interviewed hundreds of citizens who witnessed the crash.1 The initial investigation concluded that the pilot of the Cessna was at fault for the collision. But the NTSB reopened the case in 2006 because of apparent irregularities in the original investigation identified by Paul Houle, a local historian. Though the NTSB upheld their original conclusions, new facts presented showed multiple factors leading to the tragedy.6,7 Most historians looking into the events agree that the air traffic control procedures of the time, as well as the minimum pilot skill levels then required for IFR flight, combined with several mistakes on the day of the incident to produce the circumstances that led to the crash.6,7
- Parce, Mead (1967, July 19). Rescue Workers Search for Victims. The Times News, pp. 1A
- Staff Reporter (1967, July 19). All Passengers And Crewman Perish In Noon Plane Crash Here. The Times News, pp. 1A
- Staff Reporter (1967, July 20). A Ball of Fire—Then The Tragedy. The Times News, pp.1A
- Staff Reporter (1967, July 20). Safety Board Will Conduct Official Inquiry of Crash. The Times News, pp.1A
- Staff Reporter (1967, July 24). Rescue Squad, Others Agencies Did Big Job. The Times News, pp8
- Houle, Paul D. (2016) The crash of Piedmont Airlines Flight 22: Completing the record of the 1967 midair collision near Hendersonville, North Carolina Jefferson NC: McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers
- National Transportation Safety Board. (2008) Aviation Accident Report AAR68AJ Piedmont Aviation, Inc., Piedmont Airlines Division, Boeing 727, N68650, Lanseair Inc., Cessna 310, N3121S Retrieved from https://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/AccidentReports/Pages/AAR68AJ.aspx
Bold Life Magazine
One of the treasures currently on display at the Heritage Museum is a Gillespie Long Rifle. Crafted by Phillip Gillespie in 1848, this .34 caliber rifle was made at Mills River in the area known as Forge Mountain. The Gillespie’s of Mills River were well know as gun makers in the 19th century. Gillespie family tradition identifies this as Phillip’s own rifle.
View this and many other local treasures at the Henderson County Heritage Museum in the Historic Courthouse. Wednesday-Saturday 10-5, Sunday 1-5.
In 1937, long before Flat Rock Playhouse began its history “on the Rock” in the Village of Flat Rock, a man by the name of Robroy Farquhar led a group of struggling performers around the country, until together, they settled in the Blue Ridge region of Western North Carolina. Having performed on a number of stages, this play-reading group called themselves the Vagabonds. Led by Robroy and his dreams of bringing summer theatre to the beautifully set mountains of Henderson County, this group of vagabond actors became the famous Vagabond Players, first seen at Lake Summit Playhouse until moving permanently to the location of today’s Flat Rock Playhouse, The State Theatre of North Carolina. Born of one man’s dreams, The Vagabond Players have provided the Henderson County community with eighty years of incredibly high quality entertainment and live performance art that was, and still is woven into the fabric of Western North Carolina’s history, people and culture.
Dennis C. Maulden, long-time Vagabond and current Resident Scenic Designer at Flat Rock Playhouse, explains that, “having joined the Vagabond family in 1967, I remember thinking upon my arrival that The Playhouse had been around for decades. It came as a surprise to learn that Flat Rock Playhouse had been founded a mere fifteen years before in 1952. Now that we are celebrating the 80th anniversary of Robroy Farquhar’s Vagabond Players, I understand how that sense of history and spirit affected me so powerfully in my first-year apprenticeship. I feel privileged to belong to such a creative and giving theatre ensemble. We are, indeed, a family, and I experience each new season with fond memories of the past and eager anticipation of the new Vagabonds who will soon become lifelong friends.”
It is this very story and evolution that Flat Rock Playhouse celebrates as they present their 2017 season. In addition, the Henderson County Heritage Museum will graciously honor this history with The 80th Anniversary of the Vagabond Players exhibit opening May 6th at the Henderson County Historic Courthouse. The exhibit will run throughout the entirety of the 80th Season of The Vagabond Players into mid to late December 2017.
This exhibit features (but is not limited to) the angel, designed by Maulden, from Flat Rock Playhouse’s 1970 production of Look Homeward Angel, The Vagabond School of Drama, Inc. sign that originally hung over the porch of the historic Lowndes House, programs from the inaugural 1952 summer season of Flat Rock Playhouse, the Sarcophagus used in The Playhouse’s 2004 production of The Man Who Came to Dinner, and the scenic model from the 2015 debut of Chasing Rainbows: The Road to Oz. The exhibit also contains several multimedia displays showing the storied history of the State Theatre of North Carolina, as well as a series of panels with biographical and historical information about Farquhar and his wife Leona.
The Chair of the Board of Directors of the Heritage Museum, Carolyn Justus, notes, “the exhibit at the Heritage Museum not only portrays the History of Flat Rock Playhouse, but is exciting! It is not often that a museum display can be called exciting.”
There will be a reception presented by the Flat Rock Playhouse Board of Trustees and local “Vagabonds Players” celebrating the opening of this exhibit on May 6th from 12:00PM-2:00PM at the Courthouse. All are welcome.
Henderson County doesn’t date back to ancient Egypt, but a sarcophagus is part of our heritage. We are currently preparing our 80th Anniversary of the Vagabond Players exhibit. This prop is from the Flat Rock Playhouse’s production of The Man who Came to Dinner and is one of the items featured in the exhibit.
Join us at the Heritage Museum on May 6, 2017 from noon until 2:00 for the opening reception of The 80th Anniversary of the Vagabond Players exhibit. There will be a short program at 12:30, cast members from the Playhouse and Leona’s Lemonade to celebrate the opening.
The Dana Graded School was dedicated on July 4, 1906 with an educational rally, dinner and a parade of students from the Blue House, the Blue Ridge Academy and other preceding schools to celebrate the day.
This four room “modern” school allowed students to be taught according to their grade level as opposed to the one room school that was typical of the day.
Educational curriculum only went to approximately seventh grade level. During this time many students from the ridge completed their high school studies at Fruitland Institute.
At the end of the 1920’s when smaller schools were consolidating with Dana, the school became overcrowded and classes were taught at local churches until the new high school was completed in 1928.
Now on display at the Heritage Museum, the “portable” camera used by the Baker Barber Studios. This Eastman View Camera No. 2-D, circa 1923, was used to take photos around town, at schools and for scenic views.
Big Jim, who at 2,415 pounds was once the world’s largest pig, is still remembered in Hendersonville years after his death.
A magnificent dream turned into a catastrophic failure when Jay Perry Stoltz attempted to build the Fleetwood Hotel in the North Carolina mountains.