18 DIE AS AIRPLANE CRASHES INTO MOTEL.
Avalanche Journal, Lubbock, Texas
March 31, 1967
New Orleans, La. (AP) -- A DC8 jet flying a practice landing pattern cut a swath of destruction through a residential area near New Orleans International Airport early Thursday and exploded in a fiery crash into the rear of the Hilton Inn, killing 18 persons.
Nine of the dead were high school girls from Juda, Wis. All but one burned to death in their rooms as flames fed by jet fuel engulfed a portion of the motel. The ninth girl was blown out of the building.
The tragedy occurred only hours before the girls were scheduled to leave with their classmates for some fun on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. They were on a senior class vacation outing.
On board the Delta Air Line jet were five pilots and an inspector for the Federal Aviation Agency. All were killed when the plane fell sharply during a banking turn, sliced through two homes and cartwheeled into the multimillion-dollar motel.
Spewing fuel from the exploding craft set off an inferno near the section where the Wisconsin pupils were quartered.
"It spouted a sea of fuel right in those rooms where those eight kids were staying," said Capt. Marvin Leonard of the New Orleans Police Department.
"That's what killed them, not the impact from the wreckage. You could see where they took refuge in the shower stalls. One girl even took her purse with her. They turned on the water but it didn't do them any good."
A Catholic priest said last rites over the huddled, charred bodies. A mass memorial burial was planned in Juda.
The remaining 23 students and their advisors arranged to leave by train Thursday for home.
"The students are taking it fine," said JEROME KALK, superintendent of the school district in Juda, a town of 300 in the dairyland of Wisconsin.
"They are a very close knit group, a mature level-headed group. The children have been fed and clothed. We will escort the bodies back on the train."
The uninjured pupils, and most of the other guests at the motel, ran in panic from their rooms when the jet struck about 1 a.m. Many were in night clothes. At least 11 were injured.
"As it hit, it exploded and one huge ball of flame seemed to roll right into the back of the motel along with the flying pieces from the airplane," said Stan Olson, an advisor to the touring pupils. "As the plane exploded, doors of rooms opened and students streamed out screaming, petrified by fear."
In addition to the pupils and the six on board the plane killed, a mother and her son living in one of the houses demolished by the careening plane lost their lives. A maintenance man at the motel was killed also.
Officials said as many as 30 or 40 guest units were destroyed or damaged.
No financial estimate of the destruction was available.
A Civil Aeronautics Board team arrived from Washington to investigate the crash, the first air tragedy here since February 1964 when 58 persons died in the crash of an Eastern Air Lines jet into Lake Pontchartrain.
The Delta plane's flight recorder, which registers all panel instruments, was found intact among the wreckage strewn for about 100 yards around the scene. A voice recorder was recovered from the tail assembly, which ended up inside the motel structure.
The DC8 was the oldest such plane in use by Delta Air Lines. It made the first scheduled passenger DC8 flight in 1959, from New York to Atlanta. The craft had been airborne only nine minutes before the crash. It had been used on a regular passenger run from Chicago shortly before the training flight.
Another group of pupils from Olympia Fields, Ill., was staying at the motel. Their rooms were not in the destroyed area.
"We all looked up and it looked like the plane was coming right at us," said JANE BENNETT, 17, senior from Rich Central High School. She was returning to the inn from the airport across the highway.
"I started running toward the flames. Some of the guys began chasing me but they couldn't catch me. A couple of us girls fell to the ground and began crying. I've got grass stains on my trousers. I had never seen anything like it in my life."
Another witness said the impact "sounded like a giant whoof. The plane was covered in flames like a ball of fire."
Part of the airport and surrounding area was blacked out by the crash. All available fire-fighting equipment was rushed to the scene, about 15 miles from downtown New Orleans.
Chief pilot MAURICE EDWARD WATSON, of Harahan, La., was qualifying J. W. MORTON, of Covington, La., to fly the big jet liner. It was not known who was at the controls when the craft went down.
One of the pilots on board was GEORGE PIAZZA II, an attorney for a keg figure in Dist. Atty. Jim Garrison's John F. Kennedy assassination probe. PIAZZA was counsel for James Lewallen, a former roommate of David W. Ferrie, the man Garrison alleges was part of an assassination conspiricy here. PIAZZA was both a lawyer and a pilot.
There were no signs or calls of distress from the plane before the crash.
The night was balmy with a nearly full moon.
1988, James Garrison, 'On The Trail Of The Assassins', p. 114-116:
One other lead about Ferrie yielded some provocative information. Ferrie, once a pilot for Eastern Airlines, had been investigated by a private detective agency. I obtained a copy of its report. The investigators had maintained a stakeout near his residence and found that Ferrie was visited frequently by a man named Dante Marachini.
A simple check of the phone book revealed that Dante Marachini resided at 1309 Dauphine Street. This was extremely interesting to me because right next door was the home of Clay Shaw. I wondered who else might be living next door to Shaw. Reaching for the red book (which lists individuals by address) I found that also living at 1309 Dauphine Street was a man named James Lewallen. I recalled from earlier research that James Lewallen had once shared an apartment with David Ferrie in the vicinity of Kenner, a New Orleans suburb.
Now I found myself looking at two unfamiliar names, Marachini and Lewallen, both of whom had in the past been associated with Ferrie and both of whom now lived next door to Clay Shaw. That was something to think about.
Some time later, I came across the name of Dante Marachini again. I had wanted to talk to individuals at the Reily Coffee Company who had worked with Lee Oswald or at a level immediately above him, so I sent Frank Klein over to the company to get their names and respective positions.
He returned rather quickly. "They're all gone," he said. "Anyone who ever had any connection with Lee Oswald left the Reily Company within a few weeks after Oswald did." He laid a sheet of paper in front of me. "Here are the names and the new jobs."
I glanced down at the list. One name jumped out at me immediately: Dante Marachini. He had begun work at the Reily Coffee Company on exactly the same day as Oswald. Several weeks after Oswald's departure, Marachini also left the coffee company and began life anew at the Chrysler Aerospace Division at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), on the eastern side of New Orleans.
I then noticed that Alfred Claude, who hired Oswald for Reily, had also gone to work for the Chrysler Aerospace Division.
Then I saw that John Branyon, who had worked with Oswald at the coffee company, had left for a job at NASA.
At just about the same time, Emmett Barbee, Oswald's immediate boss at Reily, left the coffee company and also inaugurated a new career with NASA.
After seeing what happened to all of these men associated with Oswald at the coffee company and after seeing Marachini's name again, my curiosity about 1309 Dauphine Street returned. I called Lou Ivon in and asked him to find out if James Lewallen, David Ferrie's former apartment mate who now resided at 1309 Dauphine Street [next to Clay Sahw], had been as fortunate as some of the workers at Reily had been. It took Ivon a couple of days, but he came back with a now fairly predictable piece of information: Lewallen had gone to work for Boeing out at NASA. Lou and I kicked this interesting situation around a bit, and then we both became curious about what had happened to Melvin Coffee, who had accompanied David Ferrie to Texas on the eve of the assassination.
Ivon was back the next day. Melvin Coffee had been hired by the Aerospace Operation at Cape Canaveral.
Perhaps it was mere coincidence that all these men associated with David Ferrie, Clay Shaw, and Lee Oswald ended up working for NASA, but I doubted it. I knew by now that when a group of individuals gravitated toward one another for no apparent reason, or a group of individuals inexplicably headed in the same direction as if drawn by a magnetic field, or coincidence piled on coincidence too many times, as often as not the shadowy outlines of a covert intelligence operation were somehow becoming visible.