Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

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May 3, 2008

Dawson plane crash remembered

40th anniversary of aviation disaster was worst of its time

Forty years ago, May 3, 1968, a passenger plane flying from Houston to Dallas crashed in a pasture near Dawson, killing all 85 passengers and crew on board. At the time, it was the worst aviation disaster in Texas history, and is still remembered as the worst event in Dawson’s past. However, many residents also remember it proudly, for, as soldiers and emergency crews worked around the clock under cruel conditions to salvage the wreckage, and the high school gym became a mass mortuary, the townspeople brought food and coffee, even their sheets from home, the churches stayed open, all doing whatever was within their modest powers to help.

“It rallied the town,” said Conrad Newton III. “I can remember the ladies of the Garden Club making sandwiches to make life a little easier for the solders, especially the soldiers.”

Braniff Flight 352 was a Lockheed Electra, a four-propeller airplane carrying 85 live passengers and one body — a Vietnam casualty on its way home. As the plane met up with a violent storm just east of Dawson, the pilot tried to go around, but lost the fight.

One of the first people on the scene was Doug Lenox, who was 24 in 1968. Lenox was out spraying a field on that Friday afternoon when the storm came sweeping in from the north. He took shelter in the Gulf gas station on the edge of town on FM 709, not far from where he now lives.

He and some others rushed back outside when the explosion happened. “All you could see was a ball of fire,” Lenox recalled.

Lenox and his friend Ronnie Chasteen went into the pasture, hiking through the mud until they came over a small rise to find the still-burning wreckage.

“When we left the filling station, we thought it was a fighter plane,” Lenox explained. “I just happened to look down, and Ronnie was about to step on a foot that had been cut off at the ankle, and that’s when we realized what we’d walked into.”

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