|10/15/2013 6:02:00 AM|
Column: 'Over the Edge' is a must read for Canyon scholars
The human psyche is often equipped with a built-in reminder apparatus prompting oneself to recall where he or she was and what he or she was doing upon being alerted to an event carrying emotional impact. For example, many of those of us of a certain age have such a vivid memory of that dark November day when President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. I remember it as if it was yesterday, as I was home for lunch that day from my job at the Brownfield News-Herald (40 miles southwest of Lubbock). Wife Pat was away at her grade-school teaching job, while our baby-sitter, Mrs. Bailey, was at our home tending to our 6-month-old son Kerry. I had flipped on the TV and learned that JFK had been shot and, shortly thereafter, Walter Cronkite slowly removed his glasses and announced that our beloved president had been pronounced dead at the Parkland Memorial Hospital.
Predating the assassination, though, was another tragedy that occurred on June 30, 1956, when two airliners collided above the Grand Canyon, killing the 128 people aboard the two craft. (June 30 is a terrible day for Arizona tragedies, as 57 years to the day later 19 elite Granite Mountain Hotshots died while fighting the Yarnell Hill fire.)
The moment when I became aware of the 1956 Grand Canyon disaster also remains fresh in my memory. I had just arrived by Greyhound in Colorado Springs from my assignment at 5th Army Headquarters in Chicago en route to my new duty station with the 8th Infantry Division at Fort Carson and heard the news as I reclaimed my duffel bag from the bowels of the bus. My reaction was one of disbelief.
Earlier this month, during an author's event sponsored by Prescott's Chapter Y, P.E.O. (Philanthropic Educational Organization) in the Hotel St. Michael's ballroom, a Flagstaff medical doctor, Thomas M. Myers, gave an absorbing talk and power point presentation focusing on the book - "Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon" - that he co-authored with Michael P. Ghiglieri. Included are detailed overviews of the documented fatalities recorded over the years including the aforementioned crash.
In the book's introduction is this statement: "Within America's National Park system, Grand Canyon seems a top ranking trauma zone offering a wide array of unfamiliar opportunities to make fatal errors. And hundreds of victims have made at least one of them. Overall, the known number of traumatic fatalities inside Grand Canyon is around 700 people. The record year (not counting 1956, when 128 people died in a mid-air collision) was 50 fatalities in 1986, when 25 of these died in yet another midair collision."
In his cataloguing of the errors leading up to the 1956 crash, Myers writes: "So how, exactly, did this disaster happen? Analysis of the final United 718 transmission received by Salt Lake and San Francisco revealed two voices over the radio. One, in the background, was saying, 'Pull up! Pull up!' The other voice was that of United 718's First Officer Robert W. Harms: 'Salt Lake City from United Seven One Eight ... uh ... we're going in!'
"Later examination of the TWA wreckage, notes a collision report, 'indicated that the left wing of the United DC-7 had slashed sideways and downward across the rear of the TWA plane, ripping off the latter's tail [and rear fuselage].' The TWA plane, tail-less, probably dropped like a lead Frisbee, spewing coats and pillows and other cabin appointments over miles of desert landscape. No passenger had ever been killed on board a Super Constellation before. This incident, however, proved a jackpot in the casino of death."
Tony Hillerman, the best-selling author of Southwestern lore who passed away in 2008, had this to say about Myers's and Ghiglieri's book: "If you believe that everything about the Grand Canyon has already been written, you're dead wrong. 'Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon' belongs not only in the libraries of Canyon lovers, but in those of everyone interested in Western Americana.'"
It's available at Peregrine Book Company in downtown Prescott.
Contact the columnist at email@example.com.
Posted: Friday, October 18, 2013
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The Old Sage Bookshop
The Old Sage Bookshop in Hotel St. Michael's Alley of Shops also carries this book along with a fine collection of other new southwest history, natural history, and children's books we also have a great offering of quality used books. 110 S. Montezuma, Suite H. 928-776-1136
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