Allegheny Airlines Flight 853 memorial

9 September 1969

London, IN

Thank you for viewing this page with the appropriate reverence for those who were lost

It has come to my attention that a number of photographs of the immediate crash scene were in the possession of a Mrs. Ruby Shields before her death.
These photos would be of great interest to me, and I would please ask anyone with information on the whereabouts of these photos to contact me. Thank you!


The First Pictures

These pictures were graciously provided to me by Lee E. Jurras, who was undoubtedly the first photographer on the scene. He was there long before any of the newspaper reporters (as evidenced by his comment that his negatives were in the soup while the other reporters were still fighting traffic!), approximately 25 minutes after the crash. In that time frame, the police have arrived on the scene, but no effort has begun to mark the locations of remains. These are pictures that were reproduced in just about every newspaper I looked at, meaning they were the ones AP went with immediately. Thanks, Lee!

the above photographs © 1969 Lee E. Jurras

Governor Edgar Whitcomb walking among the wreckage.
(from the
Lafayette Journal & Courier)

Crash Scene

These were graciously provided by John Flora, who was a young reporter for The Indianapolis News at the time. He has been very helpful in providing first-hand knowledge of what the scene was like. According to John, who was on the scene by 5:00pm or so, the overwhelming smell in the air was that of kerosene (jet fuel). He told me that he had worried during the drive down that he would not be prepared to handle what he might see there in that bean field. But the scene was almost surreal, as if he were outside himself looking down and not really taking in the enormity of it all as it happened.

He was amazed to see cash lying on the ground, lots of it, and no one picking it up. We understand why there would be lots of money lying around, but think about it -- it really would be weird to be find yourself at a scene where there was a ton of money scattered everywhere, and people not scrambling for it like fools.

John told me he walked around for hours in that field, both the day of the crash and all the next day. Pieces of bodies were everywhere; it was as if you knew they had been people, but you couldn't believe it to see them now. It was like they were mannequins, or lifeless models of people. He thought maybe that was because in all that time, with all those body parts, he never saw one face. Is the face so fragile, that it goes first in such a tremendous impact? Or (my conjecture only) would seeing a face have been too much to deal with all at once, and therefore, was any chance of making that recognition or in retaining the memory blocked out by his conscious mind?

In any case, here is some of what he saw that day:

guerney with remains

mortuary students collecting remains


head and back

guerney with remains

bags of remains

road between field and mobile homes

(Click on any picture to see a larger version)

And he took these as well, showing the numbers of people milling around the wreckage:

all above photos ©1969 John Flora

I also had the opportunity of speaking with Mr. Skip Hess, another reporter for The Indianapolis News. Mr. Hess was at home in Acton at the time of the crash, and was in his car and on the way to the scene immediately upon hearing about it on his police radio. Acton is very close to the crash site, and with his familiarity with the area, Skip was able to "drive right to the site". He estimated that he was there within ten minutes of the crash itself, before police, civil defense, or any other officials. In fact, the only thing he remembers about when he actually pulled up was that there was a man who had the trunk of his car open. Skip walked up to him, and the man didn't say hello or anything. He just asked Skip to hold his arms out so he could start piling them up with four-foot-long wooden stakes. He was given instructions to walk the field and mark any body parts he found with the stakes.

Skip walked the field for the rest of that evening, and most of the next day. He spent hours in that field, and saw things that the rest of us should be thankful we don't have to look at. He told me that the smell of kerosene (jet fuel) was so overpoweringly strong, that for weeks afterward, it was impossible for him to get that smell out of his sinuses, and out of his memory.

He, too, did not remember seeing any faces, and independently offered the suggestion that perhaps those were memories his mind had suppressed. Given his long journalistic history of intense crime scene coverage, where it was not unusual for him to deal with severed body parts and mangled corpses on a day-to-day basis, I find this doubtful. One never knows.

The remembrances were vivid, even after thirty years. Skip reported seeing a severed hand holding a three of hearts, as though a card game had been very rudely interrupted. There was the human leg that had been tossed hundreds of feet into the lawn of one of the mobile homes, the shoe and pants leg of which caused him to be fairly certain that this leg had belonged to one of the pilots. There was the torso, still strapped into its assigned seat, whose head, arms, and lower legs had all been forcibly removed by the huge G forces. There was the start of a piece of correspondence, written on Allegheny Airlines stationery, apparently begun just as the planes collided. The word "Dear" was all that was written at the top left of the sheet, the letter "r" having been abruptly ended by an unintentional, long, sprawling line, very likely induced by a great sideward force.

Another thing that was reported by multiple sources who were at the scene is the lack of blood. You would think that, with 82 people having been instantly vaporized, there would have been some amount of blood at the scene. 350 gallons or so of blood couldn't just disappear, right? Well, I have yet to hear or read of anyone reporting much blood at the scene, like it all just vaporized, like the jet fuel. The only thing close was one person (Dr. Inlow, the coroner) who told me that he saw one large piece of jagged metal with a large splattering of blood on it, like in the movies when you see someone get shot against a wall, and the dripping blood stain is all that's left when they fall out of the way. That picture gives you some idea of the force of the crash, where people were just instantly cut to pieces by whatever happened to be in their way. At least it was instantaneous.

An amazing scene, on the porch of one of the "front line" trailer houses.
Thanks to Rev. Steven T. Hagopian for this picture.