The Hook Looks Back at the Piedmont Airlines Crash

This month is the fiftieth anniversary of the crash of Piedmont Airlines Flight 349, which went down on Bucks Elbow, near Sealeville north of Crozet, on October 30 1959. The Buckeye Pacemaker, a DC-3, travelled low over AHS, where fans at the football game that evening heard it buzz by, hidden in the cloud cover. Minutes later the plane, with 27 on board, crashed into the side of Bucks Elbow. Remarkably, one man survived, tossed from the plane, still strapped into his seat, where he was found a day and a half later. (Listen to Rey Barry’s remarkable story of how he found the man, from Coy Barefoot’s show in 2006.) The crash, and the survivor’s ordeal, were national news. It’s remained a mystery why and how the pilot made the series of errors necessary to fly directly into the side of the mountain.

In this week’s Hook, editor Hawes Spencer tells the story of what happened in those couple of days, in far greater detail that I’ve ever seen it. It turns out that the government crash report doesn’t make a lot of sense, and what might be the real explanation of what happened that night is a whole lot more interesting, and makes a great deal more sense. Don’t miss the comments, where family of the deceased are telling their own stories.

5 Responses to “The Hook Looks Back at the Piedmont Airlines Crash”

  • I remember that Friday night and that weekend well. I was on the football team at AHS just 15 at the time. Cold, dreary, rainy night. On Saturday when the news broke about the crash a lot of rumors about where it had crashed spread rapidly. Most rumors had the crash on the other side of the Blue Ridge mountains, some even said it may have crashed down around Buena Vista. Early Sunday morning planes/helicopters began circling around bucks elbow mountain and by afternoon many people were parked along 250 west at the long stretch of 250 from Brownsville Market to Yancey mills to try and get a look at the crash site. The suvivor and victims were carried to the top of the mountain and transported to the skyline drive and taken back to Charlottesville. I, along with some friends, hiked up the power line from what is now mint springs the next summer to the crash site and there were only a very few pieces of the plane left. The rock outcropping where the plane crashed is still visible from 250 west. The plane crashed directly above the rock outcrop, if you ever want to pin point the site from 250 west.

  • Unbreakable.

  • I too have made the hike up to the crash site. It’s an amazingly gorgeous hike with both a truly harrowing and humbling culmination, albeit one surrounded by a fascinating amount of Albemarle County history. Thanks for the link, Waldo.

  • Much gratitude to Mr.Spencer for the excellent reporting, bringing unknown facts to light, and allowing families of the victims to know they will never be forgotten, and that their connection to this event will not go unrecognized. The 50th anniversary is a fitting date for this wonderful article to be published, and for a a memorial service to take place at the monument to the crash on Oct 31st 10am at Mint Springs Park in Crozet.

  • Phil James’s story on the crash in the October CROZET GAZETTE is also worth reading:

    He also includes interviews with Phil Bradley and Crozet residents who helped with the search and rescue.

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