Slobot About Town XCII:

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Plane Crashes of Spartanburg!

On Monday December 06, 1943 a formation of three planes would depart from the Florence Army Air Base on a routine training mission.

The formation would consist of two Douglas A-20G "Havoc" light bombers and a North American B-25D "Mitchell" medium bomber. As the group neared the Price House in Switzer one of the A-20Gs would begin spewing smoke as it fell from formation.

Mrs. Freeman Godfrey, who lived nearby, reportedly saw a member of the crew crouched upon the plane's wing, screaming for help.

Shortly before 10 am the A-20G slammed into woodlands between the Price House...

and Ferguson's Creek on what was then the Clarence Fowler farm.

The bomber would be demolished and its occupants would be mangled beyond recognition. One body would be recovered from the top of a 50 foot birch tree. Another would be found 75 feet from the wreckage. Officials from Camp Croft would remove the bodies and place a military guard around the scene.

2nd Lt. Hampton P. Worrell, Pilot - age 26; Sgt. Harry G. Barnes, Gunner - age 19; and Sgt. John D. Hickam, Gunner - age 21 had all died in the crash. They are memorialized in stone at the Price House.

The memorial made Slobot think of another airplane disaster.

That disaster would begin here, at the Downtown Greenville Airport.

where, on Thursday October 20, 1977, the members of Lynyrd Skynyrd and their crew would board a Convair 240. Lynyrd Skynyrd had played a show at the Greenville Memorial Auditorium the previous night, a show that would prove to be their last.

The band had chartered the flight from the Downtown Greenville Airport to Baton Rouge, Louisiana where they were to have played a concert at Louisiana State University. Tragically, the plane would run out of fuel and crash near Gillsburg, Mississippi while attempting an emergency landing. The dead would include lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, Gaines' sister and vocalist Cassie Gaines, Pilot Walter Wiley McCreary, co-pilot William John Gray and Dean Kilpatrick, assistant road manager for the group.

Among the 20 survivors were two Spartanburg residents, Thomas Delmer "Artimus" Pyle, of 149 Hidden Hill Road and Mark Frank, of 592 Houston Street.

Artimus had been drummer for Lynyrd Skynyrd since 1974 and, in the wake of the crash, he would be the only ambulatory member of the band. Artimus, despite broken ribs, managed to crawl from the wreckage.

Mark Frank would, at that time, be equipment manager for Lynyrd Skynyrd. He would survive the crash with cuts to his face, arms, legs and head as well as with a broken nose and a concussion. Mark and Artimus would rendezvous with sound technician Kenneth Peden, Jr. and, together, they would manage to summon help from a nearby resident, Johnny Mote.

Shortly before the crash, on October 17th, Lynyrd Skynyrd had released their fifth studio album, Street Survivors.

The cover of Street Survivors would feature the band standing among flames. Guitarist Steve Gaines, center, would be particularly illuminated.

Out of respect for Steve Gaines' widow, Teresa Gaines, and for the families of the deceased, MCA would change the cover for future printings of the album.

Another tragic day in Spartanburg aviation occurred on Tuesday October 29, 1985.

On that day Lt. Robin Helton, 30, of the Marine Corps would be flying a Douglas A-4M Skyhawk as part of a 3 man formation from the Naval Air Station in Millington, Tennessee to the Marine Corps Air Station in Cherry Point, North Carolina.

Lt. Robin Helton would, at around 6 pm, lose oxygen, lose consciousness and leave formation. He would crash about a half mile north of Shoally Creek Road in Boiling Springs. The A-4 would leave a crater some 30 feet wide and some 20 feet deep. Initially there would be some hope that Lt. Helton had ejected but, as the days went by, it became increasingly clear that Lt. Helton had died in the accident. Pieces of flesh would eventually be found and determined to belong to the late Lt. Helton. It is estimated that Lt. Helton had been traveling at 450-500 miles per hour at an angle of 70-80 degrees at the time of impact.

Today the crash site is home to Greene Creek, a housing development.

Lt. Robin Helton, however, lives on as the name of the main drag of Greene Creek.

Lt. Helton is also memorialized at Greene Creek with a stone monument,

a monument to Lt. Helton and the widow, Connie Helton, and daughter, Robyn Helton, that he left behind.

Slobot would like to thank Jesse Watson, the Spartanburg County Historical Association, 2nd Lt. Hampton P. Worrell, Sgt. Harry G. Barnes, Sgt. John D. Hickam, Roger Wilkie, Bob Dicey, Artimus Pyle, Mark Frank, Teresa Gaines, Steve Gaines, Cassie Gaines, Ronnie Van Zant, Walter Wiley McCreary, William John Gray, Dean Kilpatrick, Robin Helton, Greene Creek and YOU!