Mohawk Airlines Flight 40: 50th Anniversary of Crash

Local News

You might recall Mohawk Airlines Flight 40. It was a passenger plane that departed from Elmira Corning Regional Airport on June 23, 1967.

It was supposed to land in Washington D.C. but crashed near the small town of Blossburg, Pennsylvania shortly after departure, killing all on board.

In a special report, 18 News looks back on the history as we approach the 50th anniversary.

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With just around 1,500 residents, Blossburg is your average rural Pennsylvania town, but the area wasn’t always as quiet as it is today, especially on June 23, 1967.

“I was working at the old Bloss Hospital in the boiler room, and I heard the door rattle, so I went outside,” Blossburg Resident Frank Tacka said. “I can’t remember if I heard the boom or something, but the big metal door rattled, so I went out and looked up on the hill and I seen the smoke.” 

Smoke from a plane crash: Mohawk Flight 40, a British Aircraft Corporation 1-11, which left Elmira Corning Regional Airport for Washington D.C.

“I had a pretty good idea of where it was, and I had a jeep, so I drove up the backside of it (the hill) as far I could drive then I walked,” Tacka said. “Then, on the right hand side was the rudder of the airplane. As I walked farther, I could see where the trees were chopped off then I came onto the side where it actually hit.”

Tacka was 27 years old when it happened around 3 P.M. that afternoon and says he was one of the first people on-scene at the top of the hill even before first-responders.

He recalls graphic images of body parts. It was a passenger airplane that killed every person on board – 30 passengers plus four crew members.

“I seen a little doll like a child’s doll,” Tacka said. “I didn’t pay much more attention, but that really stuck to me.”

Mohawk President Robert Peach believed, without evidence, the cause was sabotage and demanded an investigation by the FBI. He later committed suicide.

The accident was one of the earlier examinations conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Lonny Frost has been researching the incident for the last fifteen years, collecting photos and newspaper clippings from decades ago. With the 50-year anniversary approaching, he finds out new information every so often. 

His grandfather, Leonard Frost, who is no longer living, had a farm in Covington which is just a few miles away from Blossburg.

“He thought the plane was going to come down in his field there, however the plane just missed the barn, and it was on fire,” Frost said. “He said he could see the fire. He could read the numbers. He could see the people in the glass. He said it seemed like time slowed way down as he saw all this happen.”

As the plane approached Blossburg, others Frost has spoken to say the pilot flew right over Island Park.

“A lot of the people now who tell me what they saw, most of them were at the park,” Frost said. “It was a beautiful day, so a lot of people were outside. Most of them were kids, so they don’t know a lot. They saw the plane coming over and saw smoke. Some said they saw the flames coming from the plane, then they saw the big cloud of black smoke, then they heard the boom.”

He says the old Town Hall building became the talk of the town because it’s where members of the FBI and NTSB stayed, and in the basement, it housed whatever human remains were left to cool off to let inspectors identify bodies. A refrigerator truck was later used to store the body parts. The Town Hall building also served as the fire house at one point but was later gutted and made into apartments.

He notes that much of the information he’s received is secondhand. He does, though, have an original copy of the accident report by the NSTB.

It deems the pilot lost pitch control due to an in-flight fire which was linked to a malfunctioning valve in the auxiliary power unit. The Federal Aviation Administration says “the fire resulted from engine bleed air flowing back through the APU in a reverse direction due to a malfunctioning APU non-return valve and an open APU air delivery valve.”

18 News discovered the coordinates of the crash site and tried to find a way up the hill with the news vehicle but couldn’t find any dirt roads.

Posted signs surround the hill in addition to gates and fences preventing trespassers from getting access.

No dirt roads raises questions as to how first-responders were able to get up there. Frost says local coalmen worked on making a small road to help officials get access which must have dissipated over time.

The first two media members on the scene, Bob Moran and Rod Denson, say bulldozers knocked trees down to make way.

Two years after the crash, Dave Manchester visited the site with his future wife and her cousin after everything had been cleaned up.

With plans to go to aviation school, the experience didn’t deter him from pursuing his passion because he says tragedies, mishaps, and failures only make the industry better.

In honor of the 50th anniversary, Frost says that after speaking with Blossburg Mayor Shane Nickerson, a marker will be put up in Island Park to memorialize the 34 people who were victims of the crash.

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