The following pages are the unique stories from family members, friends, and others who were touched by this tragic accident.
Our Family Tragedy June 30, 1956
by Ray Cook
I am Raymond Cook, son of the late Leon David Cook Jr., who perished on United Airlines flight #718 in a collision with TWA flight #2 over the Grand Canyon on June 30, 1956.
He went by “Dave”, a chemical engineer, and a graduate of The University of Chicago. He was articulate in his writing and speech. He had several patents on various types of chemical coatings. Using his engineering skills, he designed and built a 2 story porch on the back of our home. He was very driven. His financial goals were, first to earn a million dollars in his lifetime, secondly to earn a million dollars a year. He loved to fish and travel. Dave was also an artist and he loved to play the ukulele. Women thought he was very handsome, even teenage girls my age.
At the time of the accident our family consisted of my dad, Dave 38, my mom Dorothy 36, my older brother David 13, myself 12, and my younger sister Susan 9.
I remember the last time I saw him, saying good-bye. We use to kiss each other when he went on a trip. I instead shook his hand to say good-bye. He said I guess your are getting older now.
My father had a premonition the night before he left home for Los Angeles. In the middle of the night he asked my mother what she would do if he died on this trip. She said she would get a smart Jewish lawyer and sue the hell out of the airlines. My father responded, don’t get a Jewish lawyer they charge too much !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
For me it began early in the evening on June 30, arriving home after playing baseball with a friend. It was about 7 o’clock in the evening. I had a knot on my head from trying to hit a basketball with a baseball bat that managed to rebound into my forehead. There was a crowd at the house. I was quickly told my dad’s plane was missing. They told me not to touch the phone, that there was an open line to United Airlines who were keeping our family informed of events. My mom went to neighbors homes to notify other family members.
As the evening progressed they told us that the wreckage of a TWA plane who had been reported missing as well, had been identified in the Grand Canyon. As we went to bed that night, no word on the United flight.
As I went to sleep that night, I thought my father would be found walking out of the Grand Canyon. A little dirty, unshaved, sunburn, but alive. I kept that thought for years to come.
In the morning we awoke to 100+ magazine, newspaper, and television people on our front lawn. My mother said as children, we shouldn’t speak to the media. She assigned a family friend, Ruth Fostee to give out information. As it turned out Ruth got it all wrong. All the information she gave the media was incorrect. So, my mom said no one should talk with the media. It was difficult because we couldn’t go outside. Neighbors were very kind and brought all kinds of food for several days.
Later in the day, we were told that the United wreckage had been spotted. The assumption began that the impossible had happened, and that perhaps the two airliners had collided mid-air. It quickly became apparent that there would be no survivors.
The United wreckage was found on Chuar Butte, a very difficult place to access to recover any remains. After a day or so it was thought best to bring in Swiss mountain climbers to access the site.
As the days passed, it was in the news daily with updates on the attempts to recover the wreckage and any remains. Some bodies were identified. In the end half of the bodies were identified and half were not. There was a decision to bury the unidentified remains from United at Pioneer Cemetery in The Grand Canyon. It required permission from The President of The United States Dwight Eisenhower. The remains from the TWA flight were buried in Flagstaff.
We had no money. My mother borrowed from relatives for us to live. My father had a small business insurance policy, that helped eventually ($25,000). After about a month two representatives from United Airlines arrived at our home to tell my mother that my father’s remains were not identified, but that it was determined he had perished in the accident.
On that morning it was my mother, my grandmother(My dad’s mother) and me. The representatives were very kind, but my mother lost it. It was very difficult to see and hear. My mother totally lost control of herself crying and sobbing. She left the front room where we were sitting. My grandmother tried to console her but to no avail. She basically cried all day. In early August there was a memorial service at the Grand Canyon for the relatives of the passengers on the United flight.
From our family my mother, my older brother David, myself, my dad’s father and mother, my dad’s brother Erv, and my uncle Roy all attended the services at the Canyon. We flew from Detroit to Chicago, on to Denver, where we spent the night. We were accompanied by Paul Boyd, a representative of United Airlines. A wonderful man. From Denver we flew to Winslow, then boarded buses to the Grand Canyon.
At the cemetery, the press, (a lot of them) were not allowed in the cemetery. There were several beautiful flower arrangements, with a large tent to cover the relatives. Most of the service was quiet and refined, until the end when one woman started screaming and threw herself on the graves. They tried to restrain her, but it was very difficult. The service was very well done.
When we got home the reality of living hit home. My mother realizing money was short, began to think of suing the airlines. Her mother worked for Santa Fe Railway as well as her uncle. They knew of an attorney in Los Angeles that had handled railway accident cases, but had no experience with airline tragedies. Of course not many attorneys did. My mom contacted him and he cut his fee in half because of the relationship with my grandmother and great uncle. His name was Joe Cummins.
While the legal issues began, my mother filed for Social Security benefits for all three children. It eased the financial crunch some. But long term, more money was needed to support us. My mother decided to take classes at a local business school to acquire the skills to do secretarial work. After six months of classes, she was hired by a small engineering firm as a secretary.
My mother could not handle the stress of my father’s death. She tried to talk with other family members, my dad’s parents, her brothers and sisters, but no one wanted to get involved. My mother was overwhelmed with life. Three children were more than she could handle. She cursed my father for dying, leaving her with three children, I am not sure she wanted.
She decided somebody had to go......So in the summer of 1958, she asked me if I was willing to go away to school. My older brother was finishing high school, and my younger sister was too young to go away to school. At first I said no. She asked me to think about it. After a month or so, I realized that if I wasn’t wanted, than I might as well go. I changed my mind and agreed to go away to school. She had my choices picked out, either Howe Military Academy, or Wayland Academy. I picked Wayland because it was coed. In the fall away I went.
In early 1958 the trial, suing United and TWA was to begin in LosAngeles. My mom and the three children flew out to Los Angeles. For several weeks we went into Joe Cummins (our attorney) office to prepare for the trial.
The trial was held in Superior Court in downtown Los Angeles. As a side note, Debbie Reynolds divorce from Eddie Fisher was in the courtroom next to ours. Our case was settled out of court for $100,000. Part of the reason for the settlement, was that the judge gave our attorney hell to pay. So much so that eventually, long after the trial the judge was disbarred for misconduct by the US Supreme Court.
We returned home from Los Angeles to begin a new life. I left Wayland Academy after a year and a half. I didn’t fit in with the culture. David my older brother went on to graduate from Michigan State University, and was married to his high school sweetheart Annette. My sister Susan lived with my mom and dressed masculine. She eventually went to Arizona State University, and graduated in psychology. I attended Highland Park Jr. College for a year and then joined the Marine Corps. The three children never were close after the accident. I never felt as if there was any form of family. My mother was lost.
My mom died in 1971, drunk, she drove over an embankment dropping 50 feet and landing on the roof, as the car flipped over. My brother committed suicide in 1978. He shot himself, while intoxicated. I was a borderline alcoholic until the the age of 45. My sister is a lesbian, and has had several partners. My first marriage lasted four years, and we had a son Michael. I remarried in 1969 to my present wife, Christa. We have two daughters - Kirsten and Kimberly. Christa has been my guardian angel and has helped me adjust. I suffer from PTSD from my service in Vietnam, and that hasn’t helped any. It has been difficult for me, my wife and our children.
In talking with other family members that are survivor families, I discovered that the scars run deep for all families of disaster. The press and attention are very intense after disaster, but the real story is the long term effects of disaster on people. All of the numerous ways they are effected. I do believe today that much more counseling takes place, to assist in the adjustments that take place. In our day counseling didn’t exist. No matter what life throws at you, the circumstances, the pain, we all must go on and accept the hand we are dealt. With help, I have done that over time. I feel for those that cannot. I am sure that makes for a miserable life !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
My Story by Wayne Ranney
I do not have a direct family connection to the tragic collision of the two airliners over Grand Canyon on June 30, 1956, or at least I believed that was so until quite recently. None of my family members were involved personally. But through the course of my life this event has taken on a greater and more meaningful significance to me. A lot of this significance has come about from meeting and developing friendships with some of the loved ones who were left behind in the wake of the accident. I am happy to share my tenuous connection to the event and my increasing relationship to it through my connections to the wonderful people who unfortunately bore the awful brunt of its brute force.
My first degree of connectedness is that the crash occurred the day before my 2nd birthday, which was on July 1, 1956. Of course, there was no way at that young age for me to realize or comprehend what certainly had shaken the national psyche at that sad moment in time. But I am sure that with the planes having taken off from Los Angeles and likely passing directly over Pomona, California, where I lived at the time, that my family huddled around radios and black and white TV's and being consumed with the horrific news of the crash. As as far as I can recall, the event was completely unknown to me growing up. That is until I moved to the Grand Canyon in October, 1975.
As a rather younger member of the 60’s generation, I was taken with the nascent "back to the land" movement and began to backpack, hitchhike, and explore the larger world that beckoned me in my post-teen years. One of these explorations brought me to the Grand Canyon where I obtained a job as a volunteer (and later seasonal) ranger in the bottom of the canyon. All well and good and my curiosity about this special place knew no bounds.
One day in the spring of 1976 while off-duty on the rim of the canyon, I was asked if I wanted to see the historic collections in the Park vaults, located in the headquarters building. In those days there was no need to sign in and have someone look over your shoulders as you delicately touched objects with in hands sheathed in white gloves. No ~ someone just unlocked the door and told me to close it behind me when I was finished looking around. I remember seeing historic papers, old artifacts, and lists of black and white photos in manila folders. I was curious about my new home and had no idea that this temporary landing spot for a young 21-year-old might someday become my life.
In a metal cabinet, I saw some small linear boxes that were labeled “1956 Crash” or some similar notation. In my few months here I had heard stories about the crash from other residents and had learned the basics of what happened. But these boxes, which contained Kodachrome and Ektachrome slides of the recovery efforts, would sharpen my interest in the event. As I began to look at the images, I remember noting that the date of the crash was one day before my 2nd birthday and I instantly felt a deeper connection to the event. I also noted that it had occurred almost 20 years to the day before I was looking at the images. This, too, caused me to stop and reflect deeper about the event. I remember that at the time, “twenty years ago" seemed like ancient history to me. But the combination of its proximity to my 2nd birthday and my personal discovery of the event through these slides, put me on a path that could never more be merely casual.
The images, viewed simply while handling the slides by their cardboard frames and holding them up to the lights above me, revealed the scope of the tragedy. I was touched deeply by the images, although there was nothing overtly gory about them. Some old-style helicopters sitting on sand islands in the river, charred shrubbery, lots of metal wreckage strewn about the canyon floor, including images of colored paint with the recognizable red and white colors of the TWA Constellation.
To further cement this newfound connection between my life and the 1956 event, the National Park Service undertook a second cleanup of the site in 1976. As a backcountry ranger with an official Park radio, I was privy to the many communications that came over the airwaves as the crew at the crash sites maneuvered their helicopters between the inner canyon and the East Rim where the debris was flown out to. I felt like a voyeur ~ I had seen the images from 1956, and I was looking on the Park’s topographic map and imagining the cleanup crew working in that part of the canyon, and I was listening to the communications from the site. The crash was now becoming a part of my personal narrative at Grand Canyon ~ not that I was a part of it but it certainly was becoming a part of me.
In a few years' time, I became a river guide in Grand Canyon and in 1980 I rowed a boat past the crash site for the very first time. I remember being in reverence for what the site represented to me. Since then, I've been by it nearly 100 times and I never pass without telling the story to the people who are with me.
Fast-forward to 2006. I had recently met the love of my life, Helen, and although there had been much water under the bridge during this middle period of my life, I was still connected to the Grand Canyon in an almost blood-like relationship. In fact, a book I wrote about the geology of the Grand Canyon is what initially brought me into contact with Helen in the first place (she was hired to promote the authors of books published by her employer, the Grand Canyon Association, now Grand Canyon Conservancy).
One day in early 2006, Helen had lunch with a friend, Richard Quartaroli, who is a Grand Canyon historian and archivist. During the lunch he mentioned to Helen that the 50th anniversary of the collision was approaching and wondered if the Association was going to commemorate the crash with some kind of event.
That chance conversation led to an event that was held at Grand Canyon National Park on June 30, 2006 ~ 50 years after the planes so sadly met each other at 21,000 feet in the skies over the canyon. I was not involved directly with planning this event. But with my never diminished prior connections to it I made sure that I was not working out of the country when it would occur.
When the date arrived, a small group of us, including Richard Quartaroli, laid a wreath at the TWA mass grave in Flagstaff. We then drove to the eastern side of the Grand Canyon, all the while marking and commemorating with precision among ourselves the time when the TWA plane left LAX (at 10:01 AM, PDT or MST) and when the United plane left (at 10:04 AM, PDT or MST). I remember thinking to myself, "By now they must be over Barstow," and, "Perhaps they have arrived over Needles."
[Note: Some confusion exists between multiple written reports on the exact time for the planes' departure from LAX and crash over the canyon. Some reports list the time as 9:01 AM (TWA) and 9:04 AM (United). However, the times used here are what people wearing watches and looking at clocks would have used.]
We all arrived at Desert View at Grand Canyon in time for the exact moment when the planes went down. Patchy, early summer clouds graced the sky, much as it might have appeared 50 years earlier when 128 people were enjoying a view of this earthly spectacle. I was honored to remember it in this way.
Later that evening there was public program to commemorate the tragedy at Grand Canyon's Shrine of the Ages Auditorium. Speakers included the Superintendent of the Park and attendees included two surviving children of the crash victims, Ray Cook and Sally Reaves Gauthier. This chance meeting was a momentous occasion that gave my rather limited intellectual connection to the collision a more personal and emotional tie.
For the National Park Service this commemoration event marked a seminal change in the way they viewed the tragedy. The crash had inadvertently (perhaps) been viewed somewhat as a stain on the pristine canyon landscape, with little understanding of the deeper historical, national, and personal significance. An emotional distance had grown at Grand Canyon in later years concerning the crash, as many there just wished it had never happened. But the 50-year commemoration event began to change the official Park view. They seemed to finally recognize what they "owned" and were responsible for, especially with regard to healing.
Eight years later, on June 30, 2014, on the 58th anniversary of the crash, as President of the Grand Canyon Historical Society, it was my honor to represent the organization at the dedication of the site as a Natural Historic Landmark (NHL). This time, over 50 surviving family members attended from around the country. The National Park Service had in the ensuing eight years realized the importance of the crash and had completed a phenomenal amount of work to finally honor the lives that were lost and to recognize the importance of the crash in making the skies above us safer and better organized.
It was at this event, held one day before my 60th birthday, that I learned of an even stronger connection I have with the crash. My family had come to Arizona to help celebrate my milestone birthday. I had to tell them however, that my presence at the canyon was needed to partake in an event to commemorate the crash. So, my wife Helen, sister Laura from Honolulu, and my father Don from Santa Barbara came with me to the formal dedication of the NHL at Thunderbird Lodge on the rim of the canyon.
While my dad sat and listened to my speech and those of the others (including a very heart-warming one given by Mike Nelson), he realized that he had been a part of this crash when it happened! At the time he was working for the Civil Aeronautics Administration in Los Angeles, the agency tasked with keeping track of planes as they crisscrossed the skies. He had not been working on June 30, 1956 but another 10-day work shift did begin for him the following day on July 1, my 2nd birthday. And on the drive home from the canyon that afternoon, he remembered how shaken he was with the news of the crash, along with the entire staff at the facility.
At that point, I began to imagine that even a two-year-old could pick up on the gut-wrenching news about such a horrible accident. Maybe in a sense I was predisposed to take a special interest in the crash of two airliners over the Grand Canyon.
Autobiography of Mike Nelson,
in the context of the midair collision of 1956 at Grand Canyon.
At the time of the accident I was only 2 years and 3 months old, and so the primary effects that the accident had on me in the immediate and short-term aftermath were limited to feeling sad when the adults became sad, mirroring their emotions, as children so often do, but without comprehending what was wrong.
I lost my uncle, Jack Groshans (pronounced GROSS-hanse, with the “a” like that in father) in that terrible tragedy.
Uncle Jack was my mom’s brother and only sibling. I was with her and my infant sister, Karen, and Grandpa Groshans, at Chicago’s Midway Airport, to meet Uncle Jack’s flight, United 718. Uncle Jack had never yet seen Karen because he lived in the Cleveland suburb of Parma, and we lived in the Chicago suburb of Evergreen Park. Grandpa Groshans had driven us, and we were there to take Uncle Jack back with us to the family home near Marquette Boulevard and State Street, directly east of the airport, toward Lake Michigan, for a dinner in celebration of his 33rd birthday, which had passed 3 days earlier while he was in Burbank, California on business.
I was fascinated by machinery, and my mom tells me that while riding on Grandpa’s shoulders, I kept pushing his face with my hands to turn his head in the direction I wanted him to go, so that he would bring me nearer to the air conditioning equipment and the sounds that it was making.
I remember nothing of that most awful night, but I’m sure that every bit of it is indelibly in my memory somewhere, even though I can’t retrieve it. I’m certain that all of my experiences, no matter how trivial, are still in me.
I recall a very somber, very large dinner at my grandparents’ house, probably nearly twenty of us, at her long dining table, and I remember especially how odd it seemed to me that at a big family get-together, no one was happy; I had seen only Christmases and Thanksgivings, and birthdays. I clearly remember playing with a die cast metal car on the tablecloth, and asking Grandpa, who was sitting right next to me, if I could dunk an oatmeal cookie in his coffee, as he was doing. He warned me more than once that I wouldn’t like it, but I was as persistent a boy as I was a curious one, and he finally gave in. I took one bite and sprayed the horrible, bitter, coffee and the ruined cookie out of my mouth, all over the tablecloth in front of me. It was only then that the adults became happy.
I’m sure that this occasion was in honor of my uncle, or was the first Thanksgiving or Christmas without him, and that everyone was very sad.
In order to be “strong” for her parents, my mom became at first very controlled, and then as time passed, comparatively insensitive; once she froze herself, she became enmeshed in the dubious power to shut off her feelings, and she was never able to fully warm up again. She was a good woman who had reacted to tragedy by unwittingly compounding it, forsaking a measure of the best part of herself in order to survive it, and to help her parents survive it.
Because of this, she was not as loving and tender as she might have been, and she leaned more toward scolding than toward compassionate forgiveness.
Throughout my life, while he was still alive, my dad told me that the death of her brother turned my mom cold. He was close. Her choice to control her emotions turned her cold, but I would say dramatically less warm. Maybe Dad meant “cold” toward him. She divorced him in 1960, when I was six. They already had marriage problems before the accident, but I’m sure that had she faced her pain and helped her parents to do the same, my parents would not have split up so soon, if ever.
These were the early effects of the disaster on me, the ones originating outside of myself, that is. Coming from inside of me, throughout my childhood I was very disturbed by Uncle Jack’s plane crash. I had learned enough about it by the age of seven, from willing family members explaining things to me, that I could clearly imagine Uncle Jack inside that plane while it was going down. Many nights, I lay awake in bed picturing everything and everyone aboard the plane, all turning slowly darker, in shades of gray and black, as the plane descended ever deeper into a black ocean of evil murk. And then everything would turn solid black, no longer differentiated into objects and people, and it would stay that way, not even moving or flowing. Then the vision would end, until the next time, where it would start over and be just the same.
All throughout my childhood, I asked Grandpa to take me up in the attic and show me Uncle Jack’s mechanical drawings, and I always felt both fascinated and reverent. It was not until my twenties that I stopped thinking about all of it.
But then in my late thirties, I inherited Grandma Groshans’s magnificent, curved glass china cabinet. Even in the midst of admiring it, it was immediately apparent that something crucially important was missing: the models that Grandpa had built of the two planes, which had stood for nearly all my life on top of that china cabinet. They were gone. I contacted the retirement home where he had passed away (he outlived Grandma, and kept her china cabinet and both of his models). They searched in their unclaimed items room, and could not find the planes. This distressed me quite a lot. It was a great loss to me.
A few months later I went to a hobby shop to buy a small bottle of paint to repair woodwork that our cat had damaged in the mobile home that my wife and I were then renting, while we hunted for a house to buy. While I was there, I decided (the kid in me decided) to look at the model kits. I was stunned and thrilled to find a kit of a TWA Constellation, and without the least inner debate, I bought it. I built that model to honor Grandpa and Uncle Jack. Out of caring as much as I did, I decided to get the registration numbers on the wings right, and I called TWA to see if they could tell me. They had no idea of where to even begin hunting, and they suggested I call the FAA. I said I would, and I asked the woman if she would happen to have their phone number. She laughed and said, “We don’t call them; they call us.”
The FAA referred me to the NTSB, i.e., the National Transportation Safety Board, which is in charge of investigating accidents nowadays, and they were kind enough to send me a very full report on the accident from their archives, free of charge, detailing the registration numbers and hundreds of other things. I was so moved by the attention to detail, insofar as it affirmed the worth of the human beings who lost their lives, that I was inspired to find out more. Now I was researching the accident, not just building an authentic model airplane.
I found out more, a LOT more, very quickly; and then more, and more. I began talking to people who were involved in contending with the aftermath, or who knew the crews, or who were family members, or who had simply worked at the facilities involved with the two flights. And more, and more. And then, the day came that I knew I had to write a book about this tragedy, that it was so important that it needed to be shared with the world.
So in middle age, the loss of my Uncle Jack became my purpose, my resolve, and my goal.
I researched for the next ten years, and then I wrote the book for eight years after that, with a two-year break, and finally published it. It is now the most concrete effect that the accident had on my life. Throughout my life I have thrown myself deeply and dedicatedly into one creative endeavor after another, and I have taken them all far, but often not as far as I needed to. I have taken this one all the way to its completion. My heart was more in my book than it had been in any other art form I tried, and even though I finished the manuscript, I never found the end of my interest and caring. In fact, I am close to completing a new edition. Through the immeasurable forfeiture of his entire life, my uncle gave me the opportunity to claim the largest measure of my own. Thank you, Uncle Jack.
August 25, 2016
The following essay was written by Ranger Ian Hough. Even though Ian is not a member of a victim’s family, he invested so fully of himself ~ his time, his heart, and his spirit ~ that his involvement is exemplary.
I became involved with the 1956 TWA-United Airlines crash site project in 2006. This was the year after I started working for Grand Canyon National Park as an archeologist. In the early summer of 2006, I had read several local articles about the 1956 mid-air collision crash site and on June 30, I attended a presentation at Grand Canyon about the accident. In attendance was the wife of one of the accident victims and I was struck by the rapture held by all in the room as she spoke. Everyone seemed to understand how important this accident was to Grand Canyon history. I was also struck by how little was written about the accident and how the story didn’t appear to be told as part of Grand Canyon’s history.
With the approaching 50th anniversary of the mid-air collision, in the spring of 2006, rangers started to report people visiting the crash sites. The Superintendent’s office and the archeology team decided the sites needed to be documented to protect them. I was asked to lead an effort to visit the sites and start the documentation process. I had mixed feelings about this assignment. When I was 12, my dad took me to a plane crash on a mountain side in Montana and I found a watch with its hands impressed on the watch face at the time of the accident. He worked for the US Forest Service and knew the easiest way into the site. It was just another hike until my dad told me what happened to the man wearing the watch. I quickly sobered up and got a very uneasy feeling in my stomach. Those were the thoughts going through my head when I was asked to go to the Grand Canyon crash sites in 2006. The thing that helped me overcome those uneasy feelings was the fact the sites needed to be protected and story needed to be told.
In August of 2006, we launched on a National Park Service river trip and after stopping at the Little Colorado River confluence, I led a small team of three archeologists and a physical anthropologist to navigate to the TWA site, locate and identify pieces of wreckage and personal effects, photograph and map the area and write an evaluation. Although happy with the success of getting to the site in such rugged terrain and the professionalism of my teammates, the feeling of tragedy quickly came over me. The twisted, broken and melted pieces of aircraft and everything inside was overwhelming, 70 people died here. The grounds spoke to me and my teammates, the power and intensity of the impact was clear, and the loss of life hung like a residue on the landscape. The team completed what we could in two days, having documented a large area of the Constellation’s impact and recovery operation landing zone.
Two years later, we repeated this same effort at the United Airlines DC-7 impact site. Completing documentation at the United site was very technical as the location is very steep with 750-foot sheer cliffs directly below the work area. This time our team included myself and the physical anthropologist from the 2006 team, as well as a historian and two rangers who were technical climbers. They rigged climbing gear and fall protection for us. The same tragic feelings came back as in 2006, only stronger. 58 people died here. The cleanup efforts following 1956 were not as extensive at the United site compared to the TWA site, so there were more physical reminders of the force of the impact.
Upon leaving both the TWA and United sites, my parting thoughts were focused on the beauty of the place. ‘What a beautiful place to rest’ is what I remember thinking. As often as I’ve spoken about the 1956 TWA-United National Historic Landmark project, I refrain from sharing my personal feelings about having spent six days at the crash sites. This is partly out of respect for the victims and their surviving relatives; their story is what needs to be heard, not mine. It’s also based on my desire to protect the sites.
After our 2008 visit to the United site, I continued to write documentation reports with the goal in mind to submit a nomination. The fieldwork had to be paired with historical research demonstrating the details of the accident and the significant changes that followed in aviation safety. That research took several years, and I had the fortunate help of Northern Arizona University researcher Benjamin Carver, PhD who wrote much of the National Historic Landmark nomination.
In 2011 at the request of the National Historic Landmarks committee, I coordinated an effort to contact surviving family members. Grand Canyon Historical Society volunteers were a huge help in finding contact information. At the time, I wasn’t sure how successful we would be with so little information. Again, the simple success of finding contact information was overshadowed by the personal stories shared by the wives, sons, daughters, nephews, cousins of crash victims. After many such conversations in 2011 and 2012, I felt at last, the true meaning of the tragedy was coming to light. I began to see the mid-air collision and crash less as a historical event and more as a personal story of tragedy and survival.
Up until that point, because the two planes crashed in Grand Canyon National Park and that’s where the remains are preserved, I had thought the national park had some sort of ownership of the story. In my normal duties as an archeologist, feeling ownership of archeological sites is a huge part of how we protect and preserve these special places and defend against destruction. It became very clear to me in 2011 and 2012 while hearing survivors’ personal stories, that the national park doesn’t own the story at all. The story first and foremost belongs to the surviving family members, those who lived through the aftershocks and struggle with them to this day. The national park certainly has a place in the story, but it’s to ensure the story is never lost. It can preserve the archives and oral histories that document the tragedy, help tell the story when appropriate and to protect and preserve the landscape where the accident occurred.
This realization helped guide me in submitting the final nomination in 2013 and in helping plan dedication events in 2014 and 2016 following official National Historic Landmark designation in April 2014. I am happy to have been part of this story and to continue efforts to connect family members and ensure the story will be told. Now when I visit Desert View, I immediately look out at Chuar and Temple Buttes and think, ‘what a beautiful place.’
Lisa Gottesman Kaichen – daughter of Noel Gottesman,
age 30, a passenger on the United flight
“Daddy’s plane is missing.” “The plane is lost.” These phrases were not very scary to a five year old little girl
who adored her father. What was scary was my mother crying, and lots of neighbors and strangers coming to the house, sitting there, clearly uneasy, unsettled, talking in hushed voices and reaching out to me, for me.
We went to a cemetery pretty often, and there was a headstone with the name Noel Gottesman on it. I knew, but did not totally believe, that my daddy was under the dirt and grass, shaded by a tree that he had planted over his aunt Hattie’s grave. Sometimes I snuck a piece of bread or bite of cookie into my pocket, and left it for him...Just in case dead people got hungry.
School made me feel like an outsider. I was the only one, or so I thought, who did not have a father. What was I to do when the other children made extension cord holders and cards for Father’s Day? My own outsider status made me feel empathy for others who were different: children with accents, children with diseases, children with brown skin, children who might have felt lonely, too. I saw myself as my Mother’s helper with my little brother, and my job was to keep her happy and be a good girl and never to be the cause of her tears.
As I grew older, and learned more about my “first” father (because a few years later I had a “new” father and a sister) I felt very proud to be his daughter. He was so smart that they wanted him to teach at Notre Dame, where he was a PhD student. He was a lead Mathematician at Bendix Corporation, working on things to do with the emerging topic of space exploration. He practiced his Jewish faith, and married a Catholic girl that he nicknamed Mickey. They both endured the wrath of their families, but their young love, captured in many photos, buffered any storm. My birth hastened a reconciliation, particularly with his family. I often wondered if, after he died, his parents regretted that they disowned their only child for a few years. Wasted time, never to be recovered, that they could have had together. He was a good son, a great son, and they mourned him into their ninties, for over sixty years, sitting in lawn chairs at his graveside every Sunday that was warm enough to do so.
Clearly, when I grew up, I had to work with people who felt disenfranchised, lacked justice, hurt. I got both a Bachelors and Masters degree in Social Work. Once I turned thirty, the age he was when he died, I kicked into even higher gear, because my father did not have those years beyond thirty to live, and I needed to excel and seize the day doubly, for both of us. I’ve had a very successful career, with recognition and accolades that would have made him proud.
In 2006 I was asked to chaperone two young boys who lost their mothers in Hurricane Katrina to an international grief camp in Japan. There were children there from 18 countries, all of whom lost parents to some sort of disaster: war, earthquakes, the Tsunami, AIDS, etc. The mode of grief-counseling was story-telling. I learned about the power of just talking, or just listening, and the universality of the experience of children losing their parents: survivors’ guilt, wanting to make the deceased parents proud and feeling alone. It was cathartic for me to be with so many children who shared a similar loss, even through 40 years separated us.
On June 30th, 2016 I attended the 60th anniversary commemoration of the crash, and met family members of other crash victims for the first time. All of us are over age sixty now. Our eyes filled with tears as we heard each others’ stories, cried through our own oral histories and made deep and enduring connections with new brothers and sisters of the heart.
Essay about the Life, Career, and the West Coast Trip of Thomas J. Sulpizio
by Tom Sulpizio (Jr.)
April 19, 2023
Carmilla John Sulpizio was born in Philadelphia in November 1925 to an Italian immigrant father and mother who was American-born of Italian immigrant parents, and thus given the very Italian first name of his grandfather. He subsequently used the English first name Thomas while in high school, but was also known as "Sully," and graduated in January 1944. (By coincidence, this is of course the same nickname given to the US Airways pilot of January 2009 Miracle on the Hudson fame.) He graduated from the Drexel Institute of Technology with an Electrical Engineering degree after only 3-1/2 years in June 1947. He was a brilliant student and quickly landed a job after graduation with RCA across from Philadelphia in NJ in the booming post-WWII era. Several engineers from RCA had moved to Rheem Manufacturing's Government Product Division in Philadelphia in 1950-1951, including fellow passenger and colleague Ray O. lasby. He joined Rheem in August 1951, and quickly rose to become a senior project engineer. The focus of Rheem's Engineering Development group was engineered defense sub-systems which took advantage of Rheem's mechanical engineering expertise plus their electronic innovations. Their primary defense contract work was with the Wright Air Development Center, (WADC) part of the USAF at Wright-Patterson Air Force base in Dayton, Ohio to develop and build training sub-systems for jet fighters which was all very 1950s Buck Rogers in appearance. Their trademark was "EYEtronic" with an eyeball graphic. My father was the lead engineer for the F151 gunnery trainer and responsible for the imaging and projection systems.
My father's trip to the West Coast with fellow Rheem electronics engineer Ray O. Lasby was deferred from the previous year due to my birth in January 1955. It was a very big deal to have week-long business travel in the 1950s and to leave one's family. My father's third wedding anniversary was on June 20, 1956, and he would never be traveling on such a special date. So, the trip was scheduled for the week of June 25, 1956. This was not his first air travel, and air travel was becoming an increasing part of work for engineers and industrialists in the 1950s. My mother used to say that he was very excited to be making his first trip to the West Coast and especially to California.
Tom Sulpizio and Ray Lasby departed Philadelphia on Sunday, June 24 for Chicago Midway (on TWA with intermediate stops in Pittsburgh and Dayton) and connecting to Seattle, taking United's signature Red Carpet Mainliner from Chicago to Seattle with a stop in Portland. He wrote and sent a post card to my mother which is postmarked "Seattle, June 25, 1956, 8" (pm not legible) writing that the trip was very long but that business was going well. It was confirmed with a statement by Rheem's Chief Engineer, John E. McWade, at the Philadelphia plant in the Evening Bulletin newspaper article of July 2, 1956 that they were on classified government business, and visiting a Boeing aircraft factory in Seattle and Hughes Aircraft Co. in Culver City, CA.They traveled from Seattle to Los Angeles on Wednesday, June 27 by air on United for the meeting at Hughes. Travel from Seattle to Los Angeles, even by air, took nearly all day. They stayed for three nights at the Hotel Clark in downtown Los Angeles. Note: Downey, CA (near downtown Los Angeles) was the HQ of Rheem's Aircraft & Missile Division, and might have been one of their destinations. Santa Monica is also the HQ of RAND Corporation which was a think tank to the U.S. government and was on distribution of the Rheem reports relating to the Rheem gunnery trainer work. RAND also had one of the few state-of-the-art digital computers available in the mid-50s. The Rheem trainer technology depended on having real time computers to run the system.
One or more WADC engineers were also on this trip because one engineer took three photos in Santa Monica on June 29, 1956, including one at dinner time in Palisades Park outside their restaurant. I have visited the very spot of the photo and had dinner at that restaurant. The WADC personnel returned to Dayton (OH) by a different itinerary, perhaps using Air Force transport.
The business meetings ended by midday on Friday, June 29, based on a more casual photo taken midday on the promenade by the Santa Monica beach. My father and Mr. Lasby stayed until Saturday morning due to the limited availability of eastbound flights in those days. Flight 718 was United's Red Carpet, all first class Mainliner from Los Angeles to Chicago which would continue to Detroit and then to Philadelphia, finally ending in Newark (NJ).
My father did not typically wear his wedding band in the office or while traveling, which may explain why his remains could not be positively identified, but Mr. lasby's remains were identified, even though they likely sat next to each other on the flight.
It seems quite amazing that there were so many defense industry people on the United flight but not unusual considering that Los Angeles had become the hub of the defense manufacturing industry, especially aviation, in the 1950s, during the height of the Cold War.
Helvetica Light is an easy-to-read font, with tall and narrow letters, that works well on almost every site.
Biography of Flight Engineer Girardo X. Fiore
by his nephew, John Hasha
Gerard Xavier Fiore 1916-1956
My maternal uncle, Gerard Xavier Fiore, was born on October 21, 1916, at 299 Gold Street in Brooklyn, Kings, NY, where my maternal grandparents lived. It is now the location of the NYPD 84th Police Precinct. He was the son of Santolo Fiore, 1888-1969, and Anna Caratenuto, 1892-1975.
Gerard attended the Casey Jones School of Aeronautics, now the Vaughan School of Aeronautics and Technology in Flatbush, NY, founded in 1932. I don't know what years he attended or when he graduated. Also, he worked at Brewster Aeronautical Corporation in Long Island, NY, and I don't know what years he worked there or what job he had. He probably worked until they went bankrupt in 1946.
Gerard was hired by United on March 26, 1948, as a mechanic. He was promoted to Flight Engineer on February 22, 1951 and held a current mechanic certificate with airframe and engine ratings and a valid flight engineer certificate. Gerard had accumulated 2,670 flying hours since March 1, 1953, when company records became effective on engineer personnel. It was during this time he flew 285 hours in the equipment involved.
Gerard was living in Torrance, CA, with my grandparents at the time of the crash in the house, 24233 Ward Street, which he bought for them for $9,000. It was built in 1948 and was demolished in 2015, and two condos are now on the lot. He restored a private plane in the house's backyard, and there is a home movie of the plane, and I don't know what became of the plane or the home movie after his death. Gerard was a fun-loving guy, and some friends called him Jerry.
Requiem Mass in Latin was held on July 16, 1956, at St. James Catholic Church in Redondo Beach, CA.
James Joseph Jang –
a passenger aboard Trans World Airline L-1049 flying from Los Angeles International Airport to Kansas City on Saturday, June 30, 1956
It was a fateful day, a few weeks after school ended for the summer and a few weeks before my eighth birthday, that my world changed. Sitting in the living room of my next-door neighbor's house, watching television with my neighbor's son, Lee, I heard my father's name on the afternoon news in conjunction with an airplane crash.
I remember being in denial that my father would emerge alive out of the wreckage. The next day with my mother in complete devastation, my father's brother from Wasco arrived in Whittier. My uncle, Roland, took me aside and told me my father had perished in the plane crash.
It was chaotic and hectic in the weeks that followed. My mother refused to receive the airlines' offer of flying her to the Grand Canyon, opting for a train trip to Arizona with my father's two brothers, Roland and Lincoln. She met with an attorney to transfer my father's assets and received settlements from the airlines and my father's company insurance company.
With the help of her attorney and my father's friends at work, she secured an investment broker to invest the settlement money and insurance payment. On top of all the estate and airline settlement issues, my mother found out she was in her first trimester of giving birth to my sister, Deeana. Within weeks my mother began taking driving lessons with my father's Studebaker, which had a manual transmission. Later my mother purchased a Ford station wagon with an automatic after securing her first driver's license.
But I got ahead of myself as to what brought my father, mother, my two-year-old brother, Jon, and me to Whittier as the only Asians living in an all white subdivision called "Sun Gold." My father was the eldest child in a family of three brothers, where their only sister died in childbirth. His parents immigrated to San Francisco from China through the arduous processing in Angel Island in the San Francisco Bay. From his earliest life, my father was a leader and an innovator. He quickly immersed himself into the life of San Francisco's Chinatown joining the Boy Scout Troop there…Troop Three.
He played basketball as a youth, a challenge for someone with his small statue. My father possessed the courage to ask women taller than him to ballroom dance. He worked as a Chinatown tour guide to finance his way toward achieving a chemical engineering degree at UC Berkeley. He was one of the most popular members of his Boy Scout Troop, often referred to as "The Gang."
My father's nickname was "Jam Jam," although most everyone would call him Jimmy. My father was a leader leaving the Bay Area to attend graduate school in Ann Arbor, Michigan, at the University of Michigan and obtained a P.h.D. degree at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Later, my two siblings, Jon and Deeana, would follow in his footsteps in college in the Midwest; both of them attended Oberlin College in Ohio.
My father would return to the Bay Area and soon met my mother in San Francisco. After a honeymoon in Hawaii which my father won in a contest, I was born, and we lived in a building my mother's parents bought near Nob Hill on Leavenworth Street. My father's parents would have us over for Sunday dinner. Because my grandparents spoke different dialects of Chinese, my first spoken words were two dialects of Chinese.
My father's parents bought a building two blocks from my mother's parents' building and asked us to move to the top floor of the building. It was then my life made a major change; my father secured a job in Freeport, Texas. Much to the disappointment of my grandparents, because I was the firstborn of my generation, my father moved my mother and me to Texas, where I quickly lost my Chinese language ability because all my playmates were speaking English. In Texas, I was exposed to my first experience with racism as, at the time, the restrooms were segregated for "Whites" and "Blacks." This presented a dilemma for me because I was "Yellow," but I eventually went into the "White" restroom as I had no African American friends.
After a couple of years of living in Texas, my father got another job with the Fluor Corporation in Los Angeles. We moved into a duplex in the heart of Los Angeles, where my brother Jon was born. Because we lived in California, our family ties were reestablished as my grandparents and uncles, and aunts visited. My father was ahead of the curve as he purchased our first television set, where I became a cowboy western show and basketball game watcher.
For my birthday one year, my parents bought me a cowboy outfit and rented a pony on which I posed for a photo in our driveway. My father was becoming a valuable employee at Fluor Corporation, building oil refineries globally. He was tracking to become a Fluor Vice President. Through the help of a fellow Flour employee, Ace Goodman, my father arranged for him to buy a house in a brand new tract in East Whittier near an upscale community, Friendly Hills. The tract, Sun Gold, would not sell to minorities, so my parents agreed to tell the neighbors on Santa Gertrudes we were renting.
My father had a vision; he wanted to make the backyard my playground. Besides building a clubhouse for me behind the garage, he constructed a "Good Neighbor" fence with a hinged plank where I could lift up and visit the neighbor's kids. He planted ivy on the hillside leading to the orange groves overlooking our house to prevent erosion of the hillside dirt into our patio. He installed a "rainbird" sprinkler system, so we didn't have to stand with a hose watering the yard.
Every Saturday, my father would send my mother to do the shopping, and he would spend the day with my brother, Jon, and me. We started the day with him cooking Cowboy-shaped pancakes. Some days he would be constructing his do-it-yourself speakers for his turntable to play various classical 78s.
After my father perished in the crash over Grand Canyon, my mother took over raising me. She, too, had a plan for me. She immediately got me involved with the YMCA's Indian Guides and The Squires. She was my Den Mother in Cub Scouts. Later, I evolved into Webelos and Boy Scouts. My mother spent many hours sewing the patches on my Cub Scout and Boy Scout uniforms. In the animated movie, Up, I was reminded my mother was the only woman present when I received my badges in Boy Scouts. My mother wanted me to have male direction, so she drove me to Little League practice, although I wasn't very good.
She even bought a "pitchbook" where I spent hours in our backyard throwing the baseball into the "pitchback" spring-loaded net. She also wanted to expose me to culture, as she signed me up for dance lessons with Cotillion and piano and guitar lessons. When I was accepted to college, she told me I was a good family role model being the eldest of my generation. It's a tribute to her that my two siblings also completed their college education; my sister, who never knew my father, passed the California Bar after graduating from UC Davis Law School. My brother, Jon, became a world-class jazz musician and composer. Recently, I was inducted into the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame due to my career in radio in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The 1956 catastrophic air collision involving two commercial airlines over Grand Canyon not only impacted air travel in the United States over the ensuing years but also dramatically changed my family's dynamics. My siblings and I were fortunate our mother had the strength and fortitude to rise to become the family leader, a role my father played as a pioneer in his family. Through my mother's guidance and influence, we all became valuable contributors in our chosen fields. We were blessed to have two strong and visionary parents.
Son of James J. Jang and Etta L. Jang