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The Vacant Chair

Above Photo: Catherine Crowder

The original intent for this website was to present human interest and technical articles about United Airlines Flight 823.

During the time preceding the 50th year memorial service, there were a few family members who sent photos of their loved ones. These photos deserve a fitting place.

I have decided to dedicate this space in honor of those who lost their lives on July 9, 1964 and to those family members who have graciously allowed me the privilege of sharing their photos and their words. TD

The Vacant Chair was a popular song written during the era of the American Civil War. (Above photo: Courtesy of Larry Jordon)

Grave site marker: Union Cemetery Newport, Tennessee. Erected: September 2014

In Remembrance

Sam Orleans

Above Left: Sam Orleans with daughter, Alice. Right: Sam Orleans with daughter Alice and wife, Jane.

“One of the strangest things, that fascinated me, was all the last minute changes to be on that flight. I always said if I had been an adult, I would have written a book about why every person was on that plane along with their back story. I am convinced everyone was fated to be there that day–probably the only way I could accept what happened. My Dad met a friend at the airport–they had an early supper–he called Mom and changed his ticket to the later flight. I know some other last minute changes that I will share later. The strangest thing was meeting Richard Yancey from the Tri-Cities area when I was in college. He befriended me–turned out he had a ticket to be on that plane and his Mom called and told him not to get on it because the family was driving to Washington to pick him up. He was already at the airport waiting to board the plane when he got the message. I always wondered what happened to him.

Please remember I am reaching back 50+ years in my memory. I am basing all of this on the stories my Mother told. She went to the hearings [Knoxville Public Hearing January, 1965 TD.] and met most of the families.

My mother always said that the entire crew was switched out after they got to the airport. [This occurred in Philadelphia prior to picking up passengers in Washington, D.C. TD.]

There was an unaccompanied child (12 year old girl) on board. Her mother was hospitalized unexpectedly and her aunt said just to put her on the next plane to Knoxville.

The 5 year old boy was a patient of the leukemia doctors that were on board. He and his Mom decided to fly home on the same flight with his doctors in case of an emergency. My Mother met the boy's father at the hearings. She was worried about him because he was skin and bones. He was not doing well. He had lost so much weight that his wedding ring had slipped off and was lost.

One man who lost his mother, grandmother, and a family friend, changed plans to accompany them on the flight because of a job interview.

There were several other examples but I can't remember them.

Mother was waiting at the airport for the plane to come in. (We only had one car so Mother always drove Daddy to the airport and picked him up so she could use the car.) When it didn't come in for 20 or 30 minutes she went to the United counter and she always said that they hadn't missed the plane yet. She returned to the gate and in a few minutes everyone was ushered into a small office where they were told the plane was down. I'm not sure if they were told there were no known survivors at this time or not. An airport employee took Mother home and someone else followed in the car. I do know that the first conformation that she knew for sure Daddy was on the passenger list was when she heard the 11:00 news that night. I was at camp and it was the next morning before I knew what had happened. Someone had called a bunch of Mother and Daddy's friends and they were waiting for her when she got home. She said later that she regretted not getting out a very fine bottle of scotch (that Daddy had given her for Christmas one year and she had hidden in the bottom of the laundry hamper knowing he'd never find it there–we ended up breaking it out the night before Larry and I were married in 1973.)

There were several situations where family members reported almost supernatural occurrences. One widow reported hearing a news broadcast about the flight being down and her husband killed at the time of the crash–with no TV or radio on in the house. I was at Girl Scout Camp Tanasi on Norris Lake. We were across the lake at pioneer camp where we dug our own latrines and cooked all our food over a campfire. It was a long walk from the main camp so Mother came in by boat while we were eating breakfast. We had a clandestine radio. We knew something bad had happened but every time they talked about details the radio went to static. When I saw Mother in the boat, I knew exactly what had happened–she had predicted for years that Daddy would be killed in a plane crash. Every time on the way home from the airport she would say “remember we may never see him again”. I went to my tent and got my rollers and makeup–necessities for a 15 year old girl. I can tell you what we were eating–french toast and what I was wearing–cut off jeans, BSA Camp Pellissippi t-shirt, and red moccasins with no socks. It is strange because I remember every detail from that morning but the funeral is a complete blur. I don't remember how we got back to the main camp–boat I presume. I refused to leave till I had a chance to tell my best friend and neighbor who was in the Counselor in Training program. I'm not sure she ever forgave her Mom for not letting her come to the funeral. I remember the long walk back to the car. I don't think Mother was driving and I have no idea who it would have been.

Later that day (Friday) someone took me to the airport to pick up my Aunt Julia (Daddy's sister). I remember the irony of a sign that had a picture of a phone booth and said something to the effect of “call your loved ones and tell them you made it safely”. I remember how angry that sign made me.

Saturday morning a friend of Daddies that we didn't know arrived at the door saying he was there to help. Mother handed him a to do list a mile long! He got everything accomplished and was a wonderful help–we later realized we had no idea who he was!

Mother went round and round with the funeral home–they were bound and determined we were to meet and greet there and Mother was bound and determined that we weren't going. As it was she won out and we held the wake at the house. Then someone at the funeral home decided we needed folding chairs. Mother told them no–the house was too small and she didn't want anyone to stay that long because of the size of the house. At some point we left the house for a little while (probably to go the the cemetery) and came home to 25 folding chairs piled in the front yard! This gave us something to laugh about and when mother relayed the story to the Baptist preacher from across the street, he was highly offended that we dare laugh at this time. He stormed out never to be seen again.

There was a young man who worked for Daddy and the News-Sentinel part time. I think he wrote an article about Daddy in the local paper. He came to the house at some time and told Mother Daddy's body had been thrown free of the fire and that he wasn't burned. I remember him saying that he put a scrap of paper with Daddy's name on it in his shirt pocket. I have no idea if this was true or he just thought it would make us feel better. He also told of people picking up personal effects and placing them all in one big bag, I was always angry that we never got any personal effects back. I desperately wanted Daddy's wedding ring! Realistically it probably melted into a puddle or was buried with him. At some point I wrote a letter to the president of United asking about personal effects but I never heard back from him–that was 25 or 30 years ago.

I took the call (on Sunday I think) that gave them a positive ID on Daddy's body. They asked what color his watch was–silver–that was the info they needed. I would think his height (5' and weight 200 lb would have been a dead give away–they also had his dental records). The body was shipped back in a government sealed coffin. Daddy's wish had been to be cremated and have his ashes scattered on Norris lake from the top of Norris Dam. Needless to say that didn't happen.

People flooded in with food! Someone brought a leg of lamb on a silver tray. There was no name on it and no one could remember who brought it. Mother always felt terrible because she didn't thank them. Someone from our church (Saint John's Episcopal) called and offered mother two funeral plots at the cemetery nearest our house–they had been willed to the church. We had a number to choose from. Daddy and later Mother's ashes were buried under a huge oak tree. The tree had to be cut down several years ago–my mother loved that tree! On Sunday or maybe Monday morning St. John's had a memorial service for the three members of the congregation that had been killed. I was always thankful they included Daddy who went to the big downtown Catholic Church. Saint John's had 4 grieving families in their congregation after the crash.

On Monday morning the funeral director called and said he wanted us to come to the funeral home to see how nice they had everything set up. Mother refused. Then they sent a car to pick us up–Mother acquiesced. That proved to be a real mistake because we discovered that someone at the funeral home had unsealed the sealed coffin Mother was livid but I don't think she ever said anything. We sure had no desire to look inside but someone did! They had a crucifix hanging over his casket. They presented it to Mother and me after the funeral. It hung over my bed as a child and still hangs in my bedroom today.

The funeral was Tuesday morning. It was the first service held at the Catholic Church that included a minister from another denomination. I'm not sure who it was–possibly Dan Matthews who married us in 73 and baptized our daughter in 80. I remember nothing about the service except that the church was packed! We rode in a limo–the first and only time I've ever ridden in a limo. What I do remember was the ugly purple dress a friend of Mother's insisted I wear–it was scratchy and didn't fit. All my dresses were bright and pretty but it was decreed I had to wear a dark color. I am guessing I was so mad about the dress that that is what I thought about during the funeral. I don't remember going to the cemetery but I know I did. After lunch, Mother and Aunt Julia took me back to camp–my choice. We were going on three day canoe trip but I was too exhausted to paddle a canoe for three days. One of the counselors stayed back with me and another girl who couldn't pass the swim test. All I did was sleep!

Because Daddy traveled much of the time, I probably adjusted better than some of the other kids who lost a parent in the crash. I'm not sure my Mother ever recovered.

I still think the strangest thing was meeting Richard Yancey in college. He had no idea that Daddy had been on the plane that he had narrowly escaped being on. His Mother's reason for driving to DC to pick him up had nothing to do with a premonition that something was going to happen to the plane. Rather, they decided on a long weekend family vacation.”

–Alice Orleans Jordon

In Remembrance

Joseph Hobbins

I wanted to send you a picture of my father, Joseph Hobbins. He was 36 on July 9th, 1964. He was an acoustical engineer and left behind three children: myself, William, and Richard.

I want to write my story of (the Parrottsville plane crash) for my children so they can learn about their grandfather and, I hope, more about me.

(T)he actions or non-actions of the downed airliner in the Ukraine…engender a strong thankfulness for the first responders and residents of Parrottsville who responded to 823… the strength and character of your community is reinforced in me. I am honored and grateful the plane crashed where it did, if it had to be, because I can think of no other place the entire community would jump immediately to help and display both the heroism and dignity in locating the remains.

The pictures I saw from the scrapbooks caused me to realize just how horrific the site was and the depth of resolve any person needed to approach it.

The ride home, after I dropped my daughter off in Greensboro, was filled with unchecked emotions as memories and “what ifs” assailed. However, I would not have changed anything…In many ways, it brought many aspects of my life into focus. Although I have not started my journal, I am ready to start putting down on paper…the events in my life evoked and emoted from this journey.

While I thought I wanted to see a scarred hillside, I realize now, seeing the new growth and healed earth, that I was wrong in thinking I would have become a better man if my father had not perished that fateful day. I am beginning to look back on my life not as a child robbed of a parent and defective, but realize I, like the hillside, did move forward with three wonderful children to prove it and a career rich with fulfillment allowing me to enter retirement with another full life ahead of me as a whole person.

—Jim Hobbins

In Remembrance

John Joseph McHale

John McHale with his wife, Mary, on their wedding day.

In Remembrance

Robert R. Cramer, Sr

Robert R. (Bob) Cramer, Sr. attended Haverford High School outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, graduating in 1945. He attended Penn State University for two years and then entered the U.S.Army. He was stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington for two years. After returning, he finished his degree at Penn State, graduating in 1951. He then accepted a position at DuPont in Wilmington, DE. He met his wife, Jane Edwards, in the summer of 1944, the summer before his high school senior year. They were married in August,1949.

In September of 1951, Bob became the father of twin boys, Robert R. Jr and Miles C. In August of 1958, a daughter was born, LeAnne. Bob Sr. continued his employment with DuPont up until the day of the crash. He and two other executives were traveling on business for DuPont at the time of the crash.

Bob Sr. was survived by his wife Jane, 36, and his three children, ages 12, 12 and 5. He is also survived by a sister, Janet (Cramer) Adams and his parents Ralph and Catherine Cramer, many cousins, nieces, and aunts and uncles. He has gone on later to be an uncle to a nephew, a great-uncle, a grandfather to two granddaughters and two grandsons, and four great-grandchildren and counting.

Robert R. Cramer Sr., is buried in Arlington Cemetery in Drexel Hill, PA.

–LeAnne Cramer Haverstick

In Remembrance:

Mary Chesney

Elizabeth Chesney Richardson

Back Row: Vince Richardson and his mother Elizabeth Chesney Richardson. Front row: Grandparents Mary Chesney and Alex Chesney

“My Grandpa and Grandmother, Alex and Mary Chesney, along with Bill Whittaker, moved from Knoxville, Tennessee to Donora, Pennsylvania for work in the Steel Mill.

Bill became blind from an accident in the mill and moved in with my grandparents. Even though he was blind, he kept the coal furnace in my grandparent's home full of coal and emptied the ashes. He also did the laundry and hung them up on the clothes line. He helped where he could with house work.

My grandfather had died in March of 1964. My grandmother wanted to go to Knoxville to take care of some family paper work.

I had just gotten out of the Army in June, so I was going to go with my grandmother, my mother and Bill to Knoxville. Then about 3 days before we were to leave I got a call for a job interview for the day after we were supposed to leave, so I decided it was more important to do the job interview and I decided not to go.

I drove them to the airport and I thought my grandmother had talked to the airlines about the flight, but she hadn’t, so we went to the counter and I helped them get the tickets. I stayed with them until they boarded. The three of them could board first because Bill was blind.

My father, my brother and I saw on the 11:00 pm news that the plane had crashed. At 2am United called and informed us they were on that plane and they had died. I remember that I had trouble sleeping until United called and said they had identified the body of my mother. We had my mother's funeral on a Wednesday and my grandmother's and Bill Whittaker's on Thursday.

My brother and I were pall bearers at my grandmothers funeral.

About two weeks after the crash, two men came to ask questions about what they may have had in their suitcases and what they may have carried on the plane. They also said they were going to question the neighbors.

When we moved to Crossville, Tennessee in 2002, I thought about finding the crash site, but I thought it was so long ago, there wouldn’t be anything to identify the site. Then Rob Bible informed me, in 2005, about finding my mother's class ring. When we went to meet with him I thought that we didn’t need to go to the crash site, but we did. I was moved that I was there where they died. My wife said a prayer which was very comforting and appropriate.

Out of this tragedy there were some good things that happened when three men decided to take on a project and followed through with it. When Rob Bible started the search for the owner of the ring he didn’t know how much time, trouble, frustration, and disappointment he would have in his search. At each dead end he was determined to continue searching for the family. Then he was able to get Bob Hurley [writer for The Greeneville Sun] to help him and they came up with the ring's owner, my mother Elizabeth Chesney Richardson. After searching for a while they were able to track down myself and return the ring.

The memorial in 2014 was very well done and I was impressed with the effort and time given by the people involved. I also was pleasantly surprised with the number of East Tennesseans who attended.

When Tom Dier heard about the crash, he decided to investigate its cause. In his investigation he didn’t leave any stone unturned. He did a complete and thorough search. The time, money and effort he put into it was great and it gave me an understanding of what went on with the plane and the investigation [that followed]. Tom brought up about the pilot having a plan about where he could land the plane [in Douglas lake]. I now feel that the pilot, with his experience and time in service, and if he had enough altitude and time he would have landed it, so there may have been some survivors. He would not have given up on a controlled landing.

Through these three men, I have become more satisfied, understanding, and accepting—with a comforting feeling about the plane crash. Also I have got to know and visit with Mae Edith Trentham and Denver & Lavonda Trentham who have enhanced my life with their friendly acceptance of me.”

—Vince Richardson

From Left to Right: Vince Richardson, Elizabeth Chesney Richardson, Vincent Richardson Sr. and Dale Richardson

In Remembrance:

William Whittaker

Bill Whittaker (left) and Vince Richardson

A Note From Vince Richardson:


I attached Bill's picture. Bill did all that work [See above note TD] at my grandparents house. My brother and I visited often and stayed overnight a lot of times. We knew a lot of the neighbor kids there. Bill and us two boys would walk down to the bank, which was about 12 blocks away, so he could cash his check. The clerks had a routine where they would give him a 5 instead of a 10. He was blind but he could tell the difference by rubbing the bill with his hand. He would tell them that's wrong and everybody would laugh. As soon as my brother or I took two steps in the house he would know us. We enjoyed him and of course we called him Uncle Bill.


In Remembrance

Paul Roark

Paul Roark, at the time of the accident, was serving with the United States Coast Guard

In Remembrance

First Officer Charles L. Young Sr.

Charles L. Young Sr and his wife, Helen, on their wedding day

First Officer Charles L. Young Sr. flew for Capital Airlines and United Airlines. In the Korean War, he was a pilot In the United States Air Force and flew the B-26 bomber.

In Remembrance

Captain Oliver E. Sabatke

The picture above was taken January 20, 1961 at the John F. Kennedy Inaugural in Washington, D.C. Seated on the left is Frank Noakes. On his left is his daughter, Lois Noakes Sabatke and to her left, her husband, Oliver E. Sabatke.

Below: Short Snorter money collected by Oliver Sabatke during the time he spent in the Pacific Theater during WWII. Wikipedia gives a good description of Short Snorter money

United Flight 823

the_vacant_chair.txt · Last modified: 2021/07/23 17:24 by tom

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