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Thursday, 23 April 2020

A TRIBUTE TO THOSE LOST IN THE 1978 USAC PLANE CRASH

In remembrance of the nine individuals who perished in the USAC Place crash on April 23, 1978, we pay tribute to those members of our USAC family we lost on this date all those years ago. Though they may be gone, they are never forgotten.

 

Sunday, April 23, 1978 will be remembered as the most tragic day in the history of the United States Auto Club. Nine people, including seven prominent USAC officials, perished in a private aircraft accident within 30 miles of Indianapolis International Airport after returning from that afternoon's Gabriel 200-mile USAC Citicorp Cup Championship race at Trenton International Speedway.

Gone are Ray Marquette, vice president and director of public affairs; Frankie DelRoy, technical director; Stan Worley, registrar coordinator; Shim Malone, chief starter as well as Midget division supervisor; Don Peabody, recently named as Sprint car division supervisor; Judy Phillips, typographist; and Ross Teeguarden, deputy technical director. Also lost in the accident were Bruce White, M.D., who traveled to many of the races as a USAC doctor, and Don Mullendore, owner of the Mullendore Aircraft Charter Company and pilot of the ill-fated craft.

Other air disasters have struck sporting organizations and teams, but no one can recall an instance where top-flight officialdom was hit so heavily. Midget and Sprint races scheduled for the following weekend were run as planned and were conducted minus the supervisor for either division. The doors of the USAC registration room at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway were open on Thursday morning of May 4 in order for Indianapolis 500 participants to commence "processing through." But the man who has "signed them in" at IMS since 1970 and at all other Championship tracks for 12 years is gone.

Technical supervision began at the track around the same time. As the cars became more sophisticated, technical inspection requirements had become more precise. But the team of inspectors had to perform the work without the guidance of the man who gave almost 50 years of his life to racing and set the high standards of safety requirements that had largely been adopted by other leading organizations around the world.

Only a scant few days remained before hundreds of national and international media began descending upon the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, along with numerous public relations representatives and corporate executives of the many accessory firms who were involved in USAC racing at the time. Thankfully, there was a fine press room at IMS manned by a dedicated staff who pour out a myriad of information concerning the 500-mile race. But there are numerous other questions and requests that had to be handled on USAC's behalf. And the man who handled those chores and knew everyone personally through more than 25 years as a newspaper sportswriter, was suddenly no longer there. The popular "Trackside Daily Report," which was available approximately 30 minutes after the track closes each evening, had to be written by someone else.

Suffice to say that the aircraft, having left Trenton, was on its final descent towards Indianapolis International Airport (formerly Weir Cook). Don Mullendore, the pilot, called to the control tower and reported that the craft had run into severe turbulence at about 6,000 feet. The air traffic controller recommended that Mullendore descend to 5,000 feet, which he did with equally bumpy results. He obtained permission to drop to 3,000 feet and at the same time altered his northwesterly approach to directly west in order to fly around the turbulent area. The control tower personnel said that they never obtained a response from Mullendore after the final request was granted and that the craft left the radar screen. Several residents of the surrounding farmland houses claim to have heard an airplane in trouble and rushed to the doors and windows in time to see it crash into a muddy Field just north of the tiny town of Arlington, northwest of Rushville on highway 52, near the border of Rush, Hancock and Shelby counties.

Reports of a plane crash, as yet unidentified, were heard on radio and television newscasts starting at 10 o'clock but were dismissed in one or two sentences as absolutely no details were available. Some friends and relatives of those believed to be on board became suspicious as the evening wore on and no word was heard from what was referred to as "the USAC plane" (although it was privately chartered). IC was normal procedure for the officials to place telephone calls during the refueling stop or upon arrival so that they could be picked up at the airport and driven home.

It was decided that next of kin should be warned at daybreak on Monday shortly after state police admitted that the craft appeared to be the USAC charter.

There had been tornado warnings posted for counties north of the Indianapolis area during Sunday evening and television weather radar scanning services showed a huge storm to be heading east in the upper portions of the state at around 9:00 p.m. There appeared to be other storm patches southwest of Indianapolis but both police and local residents said that the air appeared to be clear and calm in their area. Forecasters of the National Weather Service explained, however, that "a line of severe thunderstorms" accompanied by hail was moving across the path of the plane about a mile in the air. It appears that the craft may have run into this storm where, according to a NWS spokesman, winds can sometimes reach 100 miles per hour.

All day Monday through Tuesday following the crash, the USAC office was deluged with telephone calls from around the country as details of the tragedy became known. The calls ranged from newspaper, television, and radio reporters to the hundreds of friends the officials had amassed over the years. All were sympathetic and offers of help came with almost every call. Several locally based officials came in for the day to help man the front desk and assist in the monumental task of answering telephones and relaying the sad details to distressed callers.

The task of constantly explaining a tragedy involving one of our participants for days on end has always been a dreadful burden. Fortunately, the years of developing and enforcing safety features in racing cars, tracks and driver apparel have made that burden one which must be endured far less frequently than it once was. But the disaster that USAC had been faced with was one of many times the magnitude. It involved not one or two, but nine people, most of whom were so well-known, respected and loved, ironically including men who worked so diligently to establish the vastly improved safety record of the club.

USAC went on because they had to. There were no cancellations of races because those officials would neither wish it nor expect it. But while USAC pushed forward during the 1978 season, it was minus the hundreds of combined years of experience these people offered. Their talents, friendship, untiring devotion to this great sport of automobile racing shall never be forgotten.

 

FRANKIE DELROY

How could anybody ever forget lovable little Frankie DelRoy? He seemed to know and be known by everybody.

He had the respect of all the participants and had mastered the knack of being able to clown around with them during the hours of relaxation, yet enforce the rules and make them stick during competition. You couldn't fool Frankie. He knew all the tricks. If he hadn't tried them himself years ago as a chief mechanic, he at least had heard about them. Sometimes he'd get really mad at somebody for "trying to pull something;" other times he'd start chuckling as a straight-faced mechanic tried to maintain composure while attempting to "put a story across."

He feared nobody, position or size. He'd face up to giant mechanics and even his own officials if the situation warranted. Those not in the know would stare in astonishment as Frankie, standing around 5 foot 8 inches (if that), would bawl out somebody who was seemingly twice his size as the victim stood there, head hung, and endured the tongue-lashing.

Frankie was a devoted perfectionist who had no tolerance for inefficiency. He maintained that racing cars should be prepared to the "nth" degree and he absolutely deplored poor workmanship. Several lesser car owners in the past were probably insulted when Frankie told them to load up their improperly prepared machines and take them away. But it was all for a purpose. Frankie had been through nearly half a century of racing, of which approximately 35 years were crammed with the loss of driver friends in fatal accidents.

Once in a strong officiating position, Frankie made sure that safety innovations and ideas were brought to the attention of the USAC Board. Frankie could not "make" the rules, but he could certainly make recommendations to those who did. He didn't profess to have the solutions to many problems, but he seemed to have the ability to seek out experts who did.

Engineers who had no connection with racing seemed to gravitate towards Frankie with fresh ideas. He listened to all of them. Some ideas were unworkable, but he'd give everything consideration. Sometimes the board would approve something that meant inconvenience for the mechanics and expense for the car owners. It would provoke some grousing.

But safety was at the back of every move he made. Whether he was telling a crew chief he'd have to rebuild half his car, levying a fine against a mechanic for failing to tighten the lug bolts on a wheel, bawling a driver out for entering the pits too quickly during practice, yelling at somebody for leaving a rag in the car or even at some poor unsuspecting individual who absentmindedly allowed his legs to dangle over the pit wall, safety of human lives was always behind it.

But the night before the race or the night of it, Frankie would be the life and soul of the party. He'd go for anything, whether it be chug-a-lugging wine, riding bucking broncos, cooking the food, telling jokes, wearing funny hats, or whatever. He was a great goodwill ambassador and never forgot contributions made by accessory firms or fellow officials. Displaying a flair for public relations, Frankie usually made sure that these people were blessed with good seats at banquets, and he was always accessible to the media.

Willing to get things done, almost to the point of embarrassment, Frankie was a pretty fair handyman. No matter how small or large the chore, if something needed doing around the USAC office, Frankie would do it. You could tell him that something could wait or wasn't important, but it was a waste of time. The 65-year-old DelRoy would soon be scaling a ladder or down on his hands and knees with a hammer performing some menial task.

Commenting on his introduction to racing, Frankie would grin from ear to ear, puff on a cigar almost as big as himself and chuckle. "My father was sending me to violin lessons because he wanted me to be a musician. On the way to the studio I had to pass the garage where Zeke Meyer kept his race cars. I started spending more and more time in there and stopped going to the lessons. I'd go to Zeke's, spend the amount of time I'd usually spend at my violin lesson working on the race cars, then return home, pocketing the money. One day my teacher met my father on the street end wondered why I hadn't been going to lessons for so long. My dad was so mad that when he got home, he hit me over the head with the violin. It broke the violin and there ended my musical career."

Frankie's racing career, in a nutshell, saw him accompanying Meyer to the races as a teenager. He participated in several Indianapolis 500-Mile Races as a riding mechanic, including 1936 with Floyd Roberts, who was to win the race two years later, and in 1937 with Bill Cummings, who won the pole and gave Frankie the honor of being the last riding mechanic in that slot. The cars became single seaters starting the following year.

Frankie was on Lou Moore's crew in 1941 when Floyd Davis and Mauri Rose shared the win and later gained a knack for introducing East Coast drivers to Indianapolis. He arrived with Bill Schindler, Mike Nazaruk, Art Cross and Johnny Thomson as rookies in consecutive years (1950- 53) and plotted Nazazuk's course to second in his first start.

All this time, he was running a speed parts business in Patterson, N.J., and he built up a reputation for working on foreign sports cars which was practically unheard of in those days. One of his regular customers was singer Mel Torme, who wrote a glowing tribute to Frankie's enthusiasm and efficient repair of foreign care in a May 1952 Speed Age article.

Frankie's racing stories were legendary. He had seen racing grow from its grass roots to the multi-million-dollar industry it became and was equally comfortable talking about any era, always stressing safety.

 

SHIM MALONE

Shim Malone had been flagging USAC races for better than 15 years and had been the Midget division supervisor since 1971.

Another import from the West Coast, Shim was raised in the Los Angeles area and started attending races in the late 1940's. Like most people who have any connection with racing, Shim wanted to be a driver and took a very brief fling at it. "I crashed and gave up," he said quite simply. He continued to attend races and did whatever he could to get close to the sport. Then he started flagging races, and a career was born.

The handsome, dark-haired Malone made a smart appearance and displayed a flare for showmanship. He would always dress immaculately in brightly colored shirts or jackets and neatly pressed, sparkling white pants. He knew he would become filthy during an afternoon of West Coast Sprint car racing on dirt, but he always arrived spotless.

He flagged races with a flashy style and used to add a touch to the driver introductions. The cars would be lined up on the main straight before each race with the drivers standing beside their mounts. The announcer would introduce each driver with a three or four sentence "build up" ending in a crescendo as he delivered the driver’s name. Shim would walk to the driver as the announcer began his spiel and point a furled flag at the driver's chest. As the name was announced, Shim would wave both arms above his head, almost as a signal for the crowd to cheer. Then he would walk to the next driver and repeat the process.

He worked USAC Midget races in California and made trips to the Midwest whenever he could get enough races to make it worthwhile. By 1968, he was regularly flagging Championship, Stock car and Midget races, dressed for the bigger races in expensive dinner jackets and ruffled shirts. He took a lot of ribbing, but it was an honest attempt at adding dignity to the events.

Once he landed the Midget supervisor's post and moved his family to Indianapolis, Shim became an integral part of USAC's workings. He became referee of the Championship races as well as starter while continuing to run the Midget division.

His dress code relaxed, but his flagging reached near acrobatic proportions as he took to alerting Championship races with TWO green flags! It was something to see him up on the stand in cap and sunglasses, vigorously waving both flags with a whistle clenched between his teeth.

A couple of years prior, Shim learned that he had diabetes. The doctor told him to slow down, relax and cut out sweets, a tall order for a man who loved to nibble on candy. Streaks of grey had crept into his full head of hair, giving his already fine looks a distinguished touch. The once fiery and intense Shim became more subdued in his final year. He'd sit in his office silently planning the coming season. He'd stroll in to someone else's office, look at the candy or doughnuts, sigh, quietly utter the word, "No," and retreat.

There were lumps in USAC officials’ throats when they quietly pulled Shimbo's office door shut out of respect on Monday morning following the crash.

 

RAY MARQUETTE

Ray Marquette had only been with USAC since January 1977, but an unofficial affiliation had begun many years before.

It's difficult for an Indianapolis-based sportswriter not to become wrapped in the annual 500-mile race or racing in general. Ray was not an exception. Over the years, he became one of the most respected writers auto racing has ever had. He had developed strong personal friendships over the years and had a reputation for "sitting on hot stories." Participants knew that they could confide in him and give him the "inside scoop" without it hitting the papers as soon as their backs were turned.

Because of the respect Marquette had earned among participants, press and accessory people over the years, he was the ideal person to assume the duties of director of public affairs when that post became available in January 1977. He was made a vice-president of USAC shortly thereafter.

Ray attended Arsenal Technical High School in Indianapolis and was a high school correspondent for the Indianapolis Star during those days. After he graduated from Indiana University in 1951, he joined the sports staff of the Indianapolis News and remained there until 1964. Bob Collins, a longtime friendly rival in the sports department of the morning paper, the Star, was made sports editor at that point and he hired Marquette over from the night paper.

Before long, Marquette was given the auto racing beat and still had it when he decided to take the post offered at USAC. He gave up the presidency of the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association but retained his long-running weekly column for Sporting News.

Shortly before coming to USAC, Ray had authored a huge "coffee table" book on the history of Indiana University basketball and was a past president and longtime secretary-treasurer of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association. His magazine articles on both basketball and auto racing were numerous.

In Tuesday's Indianapolis Star, Ray's former hoes, Bob Collins, wrote a glowing tribute in which he cited Ray's ability to write good, concise stories faster than anyone else.

Collins wrote, "On our desk, when it got down near the deadline – when we were fighting the hands of the clock, the slotman would usually ask, 'Ray, can you handle this?"

"And when during the basketball season we had to send three or four guys out on Saturday night, John Bansch, the assistant sports editor, and I would get together, and we usually would give the latest starting game to Ray. He was the man we wanted to be there, the one we were sure would make the deadline."

After fighting to meet the daily deadlines for better than 25 years, Ray decided to accept Dick King's offer of the public affairs spot at USAC. With it, he was accepting a whole new range of challenges, but met all of them with relish. He knew how to relax a tense situation with back-slapping humor, and having survived another bad Indiana winter, was ready for a summer of racing.

 

DON PEABODY

Don Peabody went to work £or USAC on a full-time basis in January 1978 and was just beginning to have things work out for him after nearly four months of anguish as Sprint Car supervisor.

When he took on the post, he inherited an item that was to cause much controversy. In a move to obtain Sprint dates spread further around the country, no track was permitted to conduct more than four events and Don's job was to seek out races at new venues. Different race organizers reacted in different ways and some were not exactly passive.

The tall, handsome, prematurely white-haired Peabody seemed to have boundless energy. He appeared to be forever nervous and talked in an incredibly rapid yet articulate delivery that reminded one of Howard Linne. When he was upset or excited, his voice would raise an octave, and the events of the first third of 1978 caused him to be up there much of the time as he tried to explain his position to race organizers and participants alike.

The transplanted Californian survived the dreadful midwestern winter (his first) but injured himself a couple of times. Once, having parked his station wagon outside the USAC office on an icy February morning, Don stepped onto the road surface and felt his foot slip out from under him. "I slid right out in the middle of the road," he exclaimed, as his voice raised to new heights and achieved greater speed than usual. "A guy had to stop so he didn't run right over the top of me!"

Bad weather was one of several factors that caused delay after delay in the start of the Sprint season and co-workers good-naturedly ribbed the easily ribbable Peabody that it may be the middle of the summer before he would finally get his opener in. Either weather or scheduling changes affected something like nine variations to which event would have the honor, ending up with an IRP "ice out" and a Winchester "rain out."

But when they finally got to race at Indianapolis Raceway Park on Saturday night, March 26, Peabody was at his best. He demonstrated the feat for which he had become legendary on the West Coast by running off the program faster than anyone had ever seen. Rain was on its way and Don crammed four heats, a semi and the 40-lap feature into something like an hour and 40 minutes.

The man was totally devoted and was overcoming the odds. He had races scheduled at tracks where USAC hadn't been in years and some that the club had never raced on at all. Organizers who had objected to the new rulings were gradually coming around. Don understood the tribulations of being a car owner, having run a Sprint car in the Midwest in 1968 and again in 1971 sporting a neat white crew cut in those days! Lee Robison, Jimmy Oskie and even Johnny Rutherford were on his driving staff. He could listen to owner's problems and totally sympathize. He had sold the trucking company and truck stop where he had demonstrated a strong business sense and was now free to devote himself completely to racing.

 

STAN WORLEY

Despite closing in on his 70th birthday, Stan had the physique and mental attitude of a man one third his age.

Sometimes the exterior was gruff, but the man had a job to do. The job of registrar is not an easy one. Everybody has a story on why they should have a pit pass and a good many more think they should get one for nothing.

As a friend once said, "You have to know who everybody is so that you can be sure who is supposed to get in and who isn't. You have to quickly ascertain who is legit and who is a phony when a stranger shows up. You can't spend all day talking about it because the line behind is building up. Then you have to be able to say the word 'No' in 14 different languages and make it stick."

That is what Stan was faced with at the tracks. He's another who knew who everybody was. He had to because of his job, but he would have anyway. He usually had a friendly quip or needle for everyone who "signed in" but dug his heels in when he had to.

Always dapper and neatly dressed, Stan went to work for USAC full-time in 1966 after years as a "weekend warrior." "I always wanted to work full-time in racing, but there used to be very few jobs that paid anything," he explained. "I had a wife and two daughters to support, so I had to have a good living. I was a salesman in Chicago, and I'd work it so my vacation would come in May. I came down with the Chicago `crowd' every year to serve as an observer at the Speedway. Then I'd make what races I could during the year. Du Quoin, Springfield, the old Detroit mile, Milwaukee and as many of the Chicago area Midget races as I could get to. After the girls grew up and married, Maxine (Mrs. Worley) and I moved down here. I worked during the week but assisted Emil Andres at the USAC Stock car races on the weekends for about two years. When the situation at USAC opened up, I quit my sales job right now!"

During a tenure on the West Coast in the early 1930's, Stan took a fling at driving race cars. "I suppose I drove about six races, but I kept crashing, so I gave it up," he said. One of his friends in California was Danny Oakes, who later became a top Midget driver who tried to qualify for the "500" in '52, '53, and'54 before giving up to become a successful crew chief. Stan said that he and Danny once talked their way into becoming Hollywood "extras" and appeared in crowd scenes of the motion picture "All Quiet on the Western Front." The show business flare continued as Stan and Maxine became dance instructors and were always to enjoy dancing.

Stan's last day at USAC was a busy one. He was trying to get some "500" registration paperwork sorted out, efficiently making up "team packages" of credentials in advance. He had finished up checking the transfer of all the office supplies from the "old supply room" into the vaults of the new and as yet unopened new extension to the USAC office.

Another Worley talent was that of a printer, and he often put in some press time during the day when the regular printer wasn't available. Several sanctions were cleared on Thursday, so Stan took time out to crank through five entry blanks before setting out for Trenton.

 

JUDY PHILLIPS

You would never know that Judy Phillips lived most of her life in Indianapolis, for she was one proud Texan. She was a tall girl, that Judy, and a ton of fun. The rougher the day and the longer the hours, the funnier she got. Her favorite greeting was, "Well, by God Howdy!"

She had worked for the Indiana State Teachers Association since 1958 as a graphic artist and came to work at USAC during the evenings, starting in 1970. A typographist was needed for the USAC Newsletter, which was to be produced "in house" for the first time and Judy fit the bill. Other projects followed as she lent her graphic talents to USAC brochures and forms. Later came the monumental tasks of typesetting both the USAC Rule Book and the USAC Yearbook. Either job was a mind-boggling project, involving thousands upon thousands of details and requiring hundreds of hours of work, yet she accomplished them mostly at night while holding down her regular job at ISTA during the day.

For a number of years, Judy had typeset the "Daily Track Report" in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Press Room each night in May. Once it was completed and the copies run off, she would fold the releases, stuff the envelopes, then drive them out to the airport to expedite the mailing.

More recently, she traveled to some of the other races. Her knowledge of the precise spelling of drivers' and sponsors' names, coupled with her ability to typeset rapidly and accurately under pressure, made her a valuable aid to Ray Marquette in the nation's press rooms. She didn't get flustered when dozens of people crowded around and peered over her shoulder at the "rundown" she was typing. Most people would burst into tears or thrown a tantrum when faced with the situations Judy was sometimes subjected to.

Other projects led her away from much of the typesetting of the USAC newsletters, but she continued to do "the final paste-up." It amounted to something like 300 issues between 1970 and 1978.

Since she spent so many hours at night, upstairs on her own, laboriously typesetting while everyone else had gone home, fellow employees tried to keep her spirits up by calling in a couple of jokes. She enjoyed a good laugh. Sometimes they would sneak an expletive or two into the copy and wait for her reaction.

Once in a while, she would deliberately type it into the final version to see if we would catch it in the proofreading stages. We always did, because that was the whole reason for proofreading, but one time it almost backfired. A press kit containing a biography with an unfortunate sentence in it accidentally slipped through and found its way to a far-off racetrack. An emergency telephone call to a trusted soul averted disaster and the mischievous bio was destroyed.

 

ROSS TEEGUARDEN

Quiet and friendly, Ross Teeguarden was a Stewart-Warner engineer who worked the races on weekends. He was one of Frankie DelRoy's key right-hand men with a keen eye for USAC's rigid technical inspections. A former crew chief, Ross quickly demonstrated his ability, so Frankie put him to work.

His position of supervisor of industrial engineering at S-W, coupled with his technical knowledge, made him a natural. He knew how to handle people in a diplomatic fashion and had the ability to spot a technical fault and enforce the change without ruffling feathers. In 1977, he was named deputy technical director.

Ross was born in Frankfort, Ind., north of Indianapolis, but had lived in the capital city for 36 years. He worked on a number of Indianapolis cars as a mechanic and was a crew chief on Carroll Horton's efforts in the late 1960's. In 1974, he served as a technical inspector for the Sprint car division under Russ Clendenen before moving over to the Championship side. He also subbed for Frank at some of the Formula 5000 races which USAC was co-sanctioning with the Sports Car Club of America.

Ross's forte was checking engines where he was a stickler for detail. It can be a tough proposition to show up at a participant's garage and announce that you've come to check the engine. It has to be done, but you sometimes find yourself performing the function in a very strained atmosphere. There were some garages where only three inspectors were welcome. Ross was one of them.

 

BRUCE WHITE, MD

Blond-haired Bruce White was single and only 27-years-old.

He followed in his father's footsteps to become a doctor and was in his first year of surgical residency at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. Because of his interest in racing and his wish to be "involved," Dr. Thomas Hanna took Bruce onto the medical staff at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1975.

Last year, USAC decided to develop a program whereby Indianapolis doctors would go to the races to assist the track doctors. Steve Olvey headed up the plan with assistance from David Clutter and Bruce White. In July of 1977, word was received prior to the running of the 200-miler at Texas World Speedway that David Clutter had died in an automobile accident.

Only nine months later it is unthinkable that only Steve would remain of the three.

Bruce was rarely seen without a pleasant smile on his face and was constantly exuding a boyish enthusiasm for anything in which he took an interest. He arrived at Trenton with a brand-new camera and was like a kid with a new toy. His love for racing was equally abounding and he was thrilled to be playing an active role in it.

Bruce was a charming young man with a delightful disposition.

 

DON MULLENDORE

Air tragedy waited more than 30 years to introduce itself to the flying Mullendore family. Then, in five years' time, it struck twice.

Don Mullendore, 54, of Franklin, was at the controls when the twin-engine Piper Navajo Chieftain crashed in a field near Rushville, killing all nine persons aboard.

The pilot had lost his only son on October 9, 1973, when a single-engine experimental craft became tangled up in power lines and crashed. Gary Dean Mullendore was 22 when the homemade plane he was steering went down.

That accident occurred near Franklin (Ind.) Flying Field, home of Mullendore Aircraft Charter Co., where a pioneer family in Hoosier aviation lived and worked.

Hubert Mullendore, 85, founded the company in 1939, about the same time his sons, Don and Jack, taught him to fly.

The sons took over the business in 1952 and both established solid reputations as flyers, though Jack is better known as a former four-term state representative.

"We grew up around airplanes," Jack said. "We just about lived in 'em."

The tradition continued in the person of Jack's son, Robert, a pilot with the family company, and Don's son-in-law, Michael Walker, a pilot with Allegheny Airlines.

Popular and widely respected as a pilot and instructor, the tobacco-chewing Don Mullendore kept a spit-can handy on flights and was known to grade students partly on their ability to keep the makeshift spittoon upright during turns.

Don racked up more than 33,000 miles in the air, a good chunk of it in the type of craft which exploded in a cornfield that Sunday night.

"He was very experienced with a twin-engine," said Jack of his brother.

Though the family has been plying the airways since commercial flight was in its infancy, he never felt the Mullendores were pushing their luck, Jack said.

"I never give it a second thought when I fly. I feel much more relaxed in an airplane then in the seat of a car," he said. "There's much more maneuvering space and much less traffic.

"I would just never believe this would happen to Don."