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Aviation Memorial at Burlington’s England Idlewild Park site for TWA 128 50th Anniversary remembrance

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By Mark Hansel
NKyTribune managing editor

England Idlewild Park in Burlington is the site for today’s TWA Flight 128 50th Anniversary Memorial.

The event begins at 3 p.m. and is open to the public.

TWA Flight 128 crashed near Hebron on the night of November 20, 1967 while preparing to land at the Greater Cincinnati Airport. A total of 82 people including 10 crew members were on board.

On approach, the airplane struck trees on the Constance hillside and crashed 6,878 feet short of the runway.

Twelve passengers, survived the crash, including Chris Haile, his two-year-old sister, Eileen Haile, an infant, and two crew members. It is still the deadliest crash in Boone County history.

Among those expected to attend the ceremony today are survivors Robert Hart, and Chris Haile, who was just five years old at the time of the crash.

Today’s event includes a welcome by Boone County Judge/Executive Gary Moore and remarks by Scott Wolfe, son of Dr. Frederick Wolf, who perished on the flight.

An Aviation Memorial was dedicated on November 26, 2011 at England Idlewild Park and is the site of today’s ceremony. It is the focal point of the Aviation Memorial Grove at the park.

The memorial consists of three plaques commemorating the crashes of TWA Flight 694, American Airlines Flight 383, and TWA Flight 128.

A worker prepare the site for the TWA 128 50th Anniversary Memorial service, which takes place today at England Idlewild Park in Burlington.

TWA Flight 694 crashed two minutes after takeoff on the morning of January 12, 1955. The TWA Martin 202A collided with an unreported DC-3. A total of 15 people, including the two-member crew of the DC-3 and everyone aboard the Flight 694, died in the crash.

American Airlines Flight 383, a Boeing 727 aircraft, was traveling nonstop from New York City to Cincinnati on November 8, 1965. Attempting to land in a heavy thunderstorm, it crashed into a hillside near the site where TWA Flight 128 went down two years later.

Of the 62 people on board, only four, three passengers and one crew member, survived.

Linda Holbrook, who is a member of the Flight 694/383/128 Memorial Group, Inc., has been instrumental in keeping the memory of those crashes, and the victims, in the public consciousness and she helped organize today’s event.

“We were not asked to do a service on the 50th anniversary of Flight 383, but we were contacted by family members who wanted a memorial service for Flight 128, so that’s why we’re doing this,” Holbrook said. “It’s not for the family members to do it, the community members should do it as a remembrance, and when they asked, I just kicked in gear and got on it.”

Holbrook was a 20-year-old telephone operator for Cincinnati Bell at that time of the TWA Flight crash and she still gets emotional when recalling the events of that evening.

Click to enlarge

“I was working long distance information that night and people kept calling in, wanting the number in Hebron, really the crash was in Constance, but they didn’t know that,” Holbrook said. “They had heard that there was a plane crash and they were calling for phone numbers all night.”

Of course, this was 50 years ago and there were no cell phones or 24-hour news channels, and no internet. In that more primitive communication era, people looked to the local telephone companies to provide information.

“They just wanted phone numbers and we didn’t have any phone numbers, but we took the calls and talked to them” Holbrook said. “Now there are 800-numbers that people can call when something happens to get information right away. It was primitive back then and you really didn’t get anything until the next day.”

That next day, Holbrook and a friend drove over to see the crash site, but couldn’t get near it.

“It was raining and my friend rolled her window down to hear what the policeman was saying and he was just telling us to get out of the area,” Holbrook said. “One thing I do remember is the smell of fuel, it was everywhere in the air and that is kind of cemented in my memory from all those years ago.

TWA Flight 128 departed Los Angeles shortly after 5:30 EST on that November day and traveled into the Cincinnati area without incident.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board report from the accident, the flight was initially scheduled to make an Instrument Landing System approach to Greater Cincinnati Airport’s runway 18. The outer marker beacon for runway 18 was operational, but the middle marker beacon, glide slope, and runway approach lights were inoperative.

Eileen Hale, who was just two-years-old when she survived the TWA 128 crash, with her three children in a photo from 2009 (photo courtesy of Eileen Hale and the Flight 694/383/128 Aviation Memorial website).

Shortly before 9 p.m. EST, Flight 128 passed the outer marker and was cleared to land. The aircraft descended to an elevation of 875 feet, where it struck trees in a spot 9,357 feet short of runway 18 and 429 feet right of the runway’s extended centerline, according to the report.

The first impact was described by a survivor as like a hard landing, followed by a series of hard bumps and the airplane’s final impact. The aircraft’s came to rest in a wooded area 6,878 feet short of the runway, where it disintegrated and was enveloped in flames.

One survivor reportedly described the aircraft as breaking apart in front of him, saying he stepped out and ran from the wreckage just before it exploded.

The flight was scheduled from Los Angeles to Boston, with stops in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, so the flight manifest included several passengers from those cities and the surrounding areas. Several members of the flight crew were from Kansas and one passenger lived in Germany.

Among the notable Northern Kentucky passengers were Andy Clark and his wife Clementine “Clemmie” Clark, of Park Hills, who were returning from a savings and loan convention in California.

NTSB investigators determined the likely cause of the accident was crew error, in attempting a visual no-glide-slope approach at night during deteriorating weather conditions without adequate altimeter cross-reference.

Then Ohio Gov. James Rhodes called for runway 18 to be shut down after the crash, but that was never seriously considered.

The crash did result in the construction of an Approach Lighting System (ALS) for runway 18, completed in July 1969.

There are historical markers for all three of the Northern Kentucky plane crashes memorialized at the park.

The American Airlines Flight 383 marker is located along KY Route 8, and the TWA Flight 694 marker is at the corner of KY Route 237 and Wright Blvd. in Hebron

The TWA Flight 128 marker is located on Kentucky Route 20 at the corner of Petersburg Road and Aviation Blvd.

Contact Mark Hansel at mark.hansel@nkytrib.com

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One Comment

  1. Mash says:

    Sometimes it seems as we journey through life we’re on a collision course, and we just don’t know it. Whether it’s by accident or by design, there’s not a thing we can do about it. Life can only be understood looking backward. But it must be lived forward.  Our lives are defined by opportunities; even the ones we miss. You never know what’s coming for you.

    To die and to part is a less evil, but to part and live, there, there is the torment. He told me that I need to move on and put this loss behind me. “Perhaps you could say that to someone with a broken leg or arm, I told him “But not a broken heart.”

    “…for you can grieve your heart out and in the end you are still where you were. All your grief hasn’t changed a thing. What you have lost will not be returned to you. It will always be lost for as long as we live. You’re only left with your scars to mark the void. All you can choose to do is go on or not.” But if you go on, it’s knowing you carry your scars with you for ever.”

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