Long-term letter reconnects plane crash survivors with the officer who rescued them – CBS Pittsburgh
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CANTON OF PETERS (KDKA) – It’s a Christmas the family will never forget, even 50 years later.
On December 25, 1971, the Voshell family decided to fly their single-engine Beechcraft Musketeer to Connellsville, Pa. From their home in Dover, Delaware, to visit their family.
Pilot and aircraft owner Willis Voshell and his two daughters Jeri Spiker and Velvet Siegal loaded up on Christmas afternoon, along with Jeri’s boyfriend Warren Spiker who was in the Air Strength.
“I had to work that day. So I got to work and around noon my boss told me this because it was so slow I got the rest of the day off, ”said Warren Spiker. “So I went to visit my girlfriend and while I was there her dad said, ‘Hey you want me to take you back to see your parents’ and I said sure enough.”
After a short visit, around 8 p.m., the family returned to Connellsville to return home.
“We needed fuel, but since it was Christmas night everyone was already home and the fuel pit was closed,” Spiker said.
“Dad was like, that’s okay. There was another airport, but not far from take-off. So he said we were going over there, get fuel and then come home,” said Velvet.
Velvet was 10 years old at the time and loved to fly with his father.
Jeri was a high school student, eager to graduate.
“My father loved to fly. His hobby was to fly his private plane, ”Jeri said.
The family said Willis planned to fly to an airport in Morgantown to refuel the plane, which should have been a 15-minute flight.
“We quickly realized something was wrong and he (Willis) thought, ‘I just can’t see the runway’ or you know because he started talking to the person at the airport. I don’t know, I guess the air traffic controllers were convinced that we were near them, and they told us to stay on the same course as we were almost there, ”said Velvet.
“They kept saying that we should see the runway lights and we didn’t see them and we didn’t see them,” Jeri said.
The family didn’t realize they were actually heading to Washington County, but knew they were going to run out of gas.
“He was telling her how long and how much time he had left and as he (the gas gauge) was getting lower and lower, you know, we realize it’s gonna be a problem, but I mean I was 10 years, so in my mind, I didn’t panic. It was my dad. He was going to take care of us. It was a child’s faith, “Velvet said.
Velvet said his father reported to air traffic control that the plane was out of gas and they should land.
“So we’re looking at the freeway and all of a sudden he saw the parking lot and he said, ‘Okay, better still,’ Velvet said.
The family had spotted the Donaldson Crossroads parking lot which was empty at the time with no cars in the parking lot because it was Christmas.
The parking lot was lined with illuminated lampposts, constituting a makeshift runway for their landing.
That’s when they said they had run out of gas.
“I would call mayday, mayday and give the plane number and say we’re going down. We’re going down. Mayday, mayday,” Warren said.
“Suddenly it clicked. I’m like, mayday ?! Dad said Mayday! This means we are going down! Velvet said.
“As we were getting to make our landing, there was a lamppost at the end that was not lit,” Jeri said. “It grabbed our right wing and just totaled the plane. It kind of knocked us over and totaled the plane.
On duty that night was Constable Scott Patton, a part-time constable from the Township of Peters. He said he was the only officer on duty that night due to vacation.
“The dispatch called me. I was on my way north on Highway 19, almost in Upper St. Clair, when I got the call from Headquarters. The quote from the seat was: “There was a crash with a small ‘plane’ in the parking lot behind Vitte’s Hardware. Check it out,” Patton said.
Patton first said he assumed it must have been a small child playing with a new toy, an airplane on the end of a wire.
He said it wasn’t until the expedition called again that he realized it was a real plane that had crashed.
“She means a plane crash!” Why didn’t she say a plane had crashed? I put the pedal on the metal I put the sirens on and all of a sudden my brain is processing what I’m going to see now? Patton said.
When he first arrived at the scene, he said he saw no fire or debris.
He said it wasn’t until he turned to Vitte’s Hardware that he saw an airplane on its nose with a worn wing.
“Dad said, hang in there. We were in the back and Jeri pushed my head into his lap and covered me, ”Velvet said. “And all of a sudden we explode. Shaken. It was like, what happened?
“After we finally pulled over and she (Velvet) sat down, we both looked at each other because my dad and Warren were in the front and they came forward and hit their heads,” he said. said Jeri. “They kind of collapsed and you know the blood was all over the place, and Velvet and I remember looking at each other and like, are they dead?” We just didn’t know.
They all survived.
The family said Willis opened the door to the plane and started removing everyone. Warren suffered a head injury and ran down the road for help.
“That’s when Jeri said, I think my back is broken,” Velvet said.
Patton said he arrived at the scene and helped them out of the plane and into an ambulance.
50 YEARS LATER
This Christmas has been 50 years since the crash occurred. Patton said he decided to try and locate the family after someone on Facebook posted about the crash and if anyone remembers it.
WATCH: Erika Stanish with more on where the story stands today
In November, Warren and Jeri Spiker traveled to Pittsburgh International Airport to meet at the crash site.
Velvet and her husband Andrew Siegel came from Dover, Delaware.
“We exchanged greetings and hugs. Because even though we haven’t met in 50 years, we have this long-standing connection, ”Patton said. “Just remember and bring it all back to the fore. And I said it was a Christmas miracle of how circumstances brought them to the ground safely without divine intervention.
“It brings back a lot of good memories and a lot of bad memories. But it’s nice to meet again and finally meet him under different circumstances, ”said Warren.
The light pole that the family said they hit that night is still a stump in the ground at Donaldson Junction.
“It surprises me that they never replaced this,” Warren said.
The family said their life changed forever after the accident.
“The year after the crash I decided I was going to get my private pilot license so I wouldn’t be at the mercy of anyone up there,” Warren said. “I would be able to, you know, figure out what’s going on, fly the plane and land the plane.”
“The big change for my life? I never liked to fly like before. I mean, I loved it, ”Velvet said.
Velvet said she flew on her father’s plane again to overcome her fears.
“I rode a few more times, but he just never came back. I was like, no I know what can happen now, ”Velvet said.
“To this day, I have a really big bump in the middle of my back. It is noticeable to feel. I had no problem with that, ”Jeri said.
“Here is the bulk of the miracle. They showed me their family photos. My God and she’s right, I mean all the kids and grandkids. They are beautiful people and it is a miracle to have this plane here on the ground, ”said Patton.
Jeri and Warren got married a few years after the crash. They now have two children and six grandchildren.
Velvet and Andrew have five children and seven grandchildren.
Patton said for him that Christmas day is a day he will never forget.
“When I was a police officer, I wrote many crime and accident reports – too many to remember. But this one – the one about the Christmas miracle – this one I’ll never forget, ”Patton said.
Jeri and Velvet said they never lost faith in their father when the incident happened and they believed God would help them out.
“My family is truly a family of faith. Very simple faith though. So the Lord gives and the Lord takes back. Blessed be the name of the Lord, you know? It’s just that sometimes things happen for the good. Sometimes bad things happen, but God is still in control, ”Velvet said.
“I really have to believe it was his hand that protected us and kept us safe,” Jeri said.
The family said Willis died in August 2001 of complications from a stroke he had had several years earlier.
According to Bud Neckerauer, manager of Connellsville Airport, the gas station is always open now, including holidays.
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