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Posted: 2:26 p.m. Monday, May 21, 2012

Direct from France

Orly plane crash - 50 years later


Orly plane crash 50th anniversary photo
New York, June 4 - Mayor Ivan Allen, center, of Atlanta, Ga., boards a plane at New York's Idlewild Airport last night for flight to Paris and scene of Air France jetliner crash yesterday with killed 130, most of them Atlanta residents. With him are Edwin L. Sterne, left, assistant Atlanta city attorney, and Aubrey Morris, an Atlanta newscaster. 1962

By Chris Chandler

Upon arrival in France, this second Atlanta delegation was stunned at the sheer thoroughness of the destruction.  “The memory is still etched in my very being”, Aubrey Morris said to WSB’s Scot t Slade decades later.   “When the plane arrived in Paris the following morning, (the crash site) was still smoldering.  We came in on the same runway which was occupied by the plane when it aborted its takeoff and crashed.  We came in and we could see the smoking ruins of the plane at the end of the runway over a little village in the middle of an orchard.”

On WSB later that day from Paris, associate city attorney Edwin Sterne provided Atlanta listeners the first detailed description of the Boeing 707’s crash and its aftermath:  “There was a clear rolling terrain from the end of the runway down to the road.  The plane came down there, knocked down some lights, crossed the road….dropped two engines, then it dropped some of the wheels, went on a little further, and about that time apparently the fuel began to come out--because from that point on, it cut a wide path and things were burned out pretty generally.”

Hear WSB’s Aubrey Morris reporting from the scene of the crash at Orly Airport France on Monday, June 4, 1962. [0:48]

So little was recognizable after the blazing explosion, Mayor Allen now faced the grisly task of viewing each victim’s charred body, to try and make identification.  It proved impossible; back in Atlanta, WSB repeatedly broadcast a startling announcement:  “We would suggest at this time that members of the families of the deceased take their dental charts and other identification information directly to the Air France office here in Atlanta.”  And Consul General John Gossett cautioned WSB listeners, “It is quite possible that we may be able to end the process of shipment home within a week.  It’s doubtful that we will be able to do better.  And I must regrettably emphasize that it may well be longer before positive identification is completed upon any individual.”

From the Atlanta newsroom, WSB’s King Elliot warned listeners positive identification of the bodies could take “weeks”.  From the WSB 6:00 PM news, Monday, June 4, 1962:  “Mayor Ivan Allen of Atlanta has started the slow and difficult task of identifying (the bodies of those) killed in the crash of an Air France jetliner in Paris yesterday.   Mayor Allen spent an hour walking slowly through wreckage of the chartered plane today.  He next talks with U.S. Ambassador James Gavin and Air France officials on details of returning the bodies to Atlanta or other destinations desired by the next of kin”.

On Wednesday,  as some five hundred mourners packed American Cathedral in Paris for a memorial, Aubrey Morris relayed the scene to north Georgia:  “A large crowd of Paris citizens joined in the service; also official representatives of the United States Embassy in Paris,” he reported.  A choir sang “O God Our Help in Ages Past” and the church bell tolled “Taps”.

Hear the WSB 6:00 PM News, Monday, June 4, 1962 [0:25]

Hear the WSB 11:00 PM News, Tuesday, June 5, 1962, announcing plans for a Paris memorial service. [0:19]

Hear the closing prayer and church bell tolling ‘Taps’ at American Cathedral, Paris, Wednesday, June 6, 1962 [1:45]

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