William Eugene Heckendorn
(First Officer)

Bill Heckendorn, of Newville, PA, was the copilot of Flight 853
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On 17 Dec 1999, Bill's father died in Newville PA after a serious illness. I had the chance to talk to him several times, and found him to be a wonderful man who had somehow dealt with the loss of his son for so many years. It's good to know that he doesn't miss Bill anymore, and that he now has answers to all of the questions he must have had over the years.

Sincere condolences go out to his family and friends.

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Update 10/2005
I've been informed by Bill's brother Michael that their brother Richard was killed in a motorcycle accident 9/23/2005.

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He had loved flying since his youth, when his uncles were known to take him up with them at every opportunity. Even before he ever had the chance to be around airplanes, he knew there was something in them for him.

Bill in 1950

He had attended Big Spring High School, where he was a loyal FFA member, and played basketball for most of his high school career. He was also an avid baseball player, having played since Little League.

Bill's High School graduation picture, 1960

Bill in 1963, standing next to a beautiful 1952 Cessna 195 in Harrisburg, PA. This plane is still flying (as of June 1999), and is based in Riverside, CA

After graduation, Mr. Heckendorn had served in the U.S. Army in an air traffic detachment at an Air Force base in Biloxi MS, and had then become a member of the 28th Aviation Battalion of the Army Reserves in Harrisburg.

On leaving the Army, Mr. Heckendorn had undertaken flight training in Kankakee and Chicago IL, where he gained his commercial and multi-engine licenses and instrument ratings. (He had started training in St. Louis, but with only a couple hours of flight time in the first several weeks, he convinced his dad to get him out of there!) He took a position as pilot for Standard Steel Co. in Lewiston PA, and subsequently was hired by Allegheny Airlines.

He held a type rating for the DC-9, and was also qualified to fly the Convair 580, 440, and F-27J. He had acquired 2,980 hours of flight time, and had almost as many hours in the DC-9 as did the Captain of the tragic flight. He had built a fine career at a young age, with the goal of consummate professionalism guiding him all along the way.

Rick Kerwin, a roommate and co-worker of Mr. Heckendorn. The plane is a DC-9-31, exactly the same as the accident aircraft. In fact, this plane is N993VJ, only five numbers removed from the accident plane. The picture is from 1971, and the plane is still flying in Florida.

Mr. Heckendorn was a bachelor, and kept a residence in New Jersey while at the same time maintaining strong ties to his own community. He was in the process of purchasing a service station in Newville, which he intended to operate with the help of his brother Richard. (Richard had worked at the station, and the owner was selling it. Bill's words to Richard were basically, "I'll buy it, and you can run it.")

Allegheny stewardess Margi Barletta. Bill had dated her at one time.

The night before the accident, Bill had said good-bye to his family at their home as he usually did before going out on a flight. This time, though, his 2½-year-old brother Michael cried on seeing him leave, wanting to go with him. (Bill's father had remembered that event almost 30 years later.)

He parked his car -- a brand new '68 Corvette -- at Harrisburg International Airport, and flew out to start his run. The car was driven home to Newville by an Allegheny employee less than an hour after Flight 853 went down.

His remains were not positively identified, so he was memorialized at Forest Hill Cemetery in Shelbyville, IN. Allegheny Airlines provided transportation for 42 friends and family members to attend his memorial service. Many more drove to Indiana, refusing to fly so soon after one of their own had been taken that way. Interestingly, the flight out to Indianapolis for some family members was an adventure in itself. Already devastated by their terrible loss, they had to endure an extremely violent storm that their plane flew into inadvertently. More than a couple of them felt that they were certainly going to join Bill on this flight, but the pilots somehow made it in. Bill's brother Richard further told me that, after that terrible experience, and the rain-soaked memorial service in Shelbyville, the plane returning him to Pennsylvania had to abort on takeoff due to an engine catching fire!

According to the caretaker at the cemetery, his parents still visit his grave every year. I had the opportunity to verify this with his father, who told me they hadn't missed a year until 1998, when health problems prevented them from making the drive.

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Besides flying, Bill had two passions in life: Hunting and Corvettes. He was known to travel all over the country with some of his flying buddies to go hunting. As comfortable out of doors as he was in the cockpit, Bill enjoyed the little spare time he had by always spending it doing the things he loved.

A beautiful picture of Bill in Idaho, on a hunting trip shortly before his death.

He had fallen in love with Corvettes at an early age, and by the time of the crash, he had saved enough and learned enough (and become hooked enough) that he had become the proud owner of a brand-new '68. The sight of him out for a spin in his baby, alone or with anyone who'd go with him, was a familiar sight around Newville. His baby brother Michael especially loved the car, and, though his memories of Bill are sketchy at best, it was obvious to those around him that he knew that car! After Bill's death, the car was eventually sold, but Richard told me of a cherished picture still owned by his father. It's of the family house, taken from a small airplane. At the exact moment the picture was taken, Bill had just pulled out of the driveway, and was driving on the road in front of the house. He must have seen the airplane carrying the photographer and wondered what it was doing, because you can see him in the cockpit of his car, looking up from the road into the camera.

The Heckendorn residence (a copy of a photograph). The car in the street is Bill's Corvette. This picture is very prized by his parents, for obvious reasons!

Bill left such a mark on the people of Newville, PA, that even today, 30 years later, it's difficult for his family to venture out into town without seeing someone who had been one of his close friends. Conversations invariably turn to Bill, with friends still wondering about how such a good man could have been taken from them like that. Bill always threw out the familiar quote that "flying is safer than driving" to those who questioned him; even though it so ironically took him from his friends and family at a much-too-early age, those who knew him understood most of all that he had died as he had lived -- doing something he absolutely loved.

Born 11/16/1942

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