It was 1935 when 12-year-old Edith Harrington, joined by her father and younger brother, hurried to the scene of a plane crash near Atlanta, Missouri, where five died and eight were injured.
Among those killed was a U.S. senator from New Mexico, Bronson M. Cutting, in addition to two pilots and a 20-year-old woman from Kansas City. Injured passengers included a Paramount Pictures crew on their way to make a film about the Naval Academy.
The Transcontinental & Western Air Flight 6, named “Sky Chief,” was en route overnight from Los Angeles to New York, with a pilot change in Kansas City.
At about 3:30 a.m. Monday, May 6, 1935, it crashed 2 miles south of Barnesville, near Atlanta.
Columbia researcher Robert Palmer recently discovered a newsreel covering the crash in the National Archives. He shared the film Saturday morning at the Macon County Historical Society with members.
Before the crash, the aircraft received warning of heavy fog and was diverted to an intermediate field in Kirksville where the pilot planned on making precautionary landing.
Palmer said that the field’s different elevation level, along with limited visibility and radio malfunction, caused the plane to ultimately hit a ditch and crash.
Since the crash pre-dated the National Transportation Safety Board, the airline and the U.S. Postal Service investigated.
At the Saturday screening, Harrington shared vivid details that she remembered.
The phone rang in her father’s general store in Barnesville, asking for help. Her father rendered aid by transporting the victims to Samaritan Hospital in Macon, Missouri.
“My brother and I went with him, too, because we thought we’d get to see an airplane,” she said. “Back then it was something to see.”
Harrington said it wasn’t yet daylight when the three got to the scene.
“We were one of the first ones there,” she said. “There was an empty house across the road, and my dad and our neighbor went over there, took the doors off the house and used them as stretchers to put the bodies on, and put them on the back of my dad’s truck.”
One of the pilots, Harvey Bolton, died before reaching the hospital. Harrington remembers talking with him as he sat up on his arms and instructed her and her brother to pick up the loose debris.
“I wanted to save him, and I think that’s why I wanted to become a nurse,” Harrington said.
Harrington, now 96, went on to attend MU and became a cadet nurse at Winter General Hospital in Topeka, Kansas, aiding those injured in World War II.
Palmer said he decided to study the crash two years ago after he and a friend learned that the 1935 plane crash had received little attention. Palmer plans to write a book about the crash and its victims.
“This community has such a rich history, and history not shared is history lost,” he said.