The Daily Star
---- — March 1984 will probably always be remembered by investigators of Oneonta airplane crashes, and the community in general, as tragically unforgettable. In less than one week that month, there were two crashes that claimed the lives of seven people, five of them local residents.
“A twin engine cargo plane of World War II vintage, carrying a 3,500-pound cargo of marijuana with an estimated value of more than $2.4 million, crashed late Friday night in a wooded area about one mile northeast of the Oneonta Municipal Airport, killing two men aboard,” it was reported on Monday, March 19, 1984 in The Daily Star.
Pilot Stanley Louis Booker, 48, of Altamonte Springs, Fla., and passenger Gordon A. Douglas, 47, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., were identified after the wreckage was discovered Saturday morning by a visitor to a nearby resident. State police investigators weren’t certain whether the plane was trying to land at the airport, but believed it was.
Approximately 35 bales of marijuana, wrapped in red, blue and white canvas bags, weighing 50 to 100 pounds each, were thrown clear of the airplane, while some of the contents burned in the wreckage.
There had been reports that this plane had been under surveillance by federal authorities in recent days, the flight having originated from Anniston, Ala.
It appeared to investigators the plane came down almost vertically, as the wreckage was confined to a relatively small area.
By Tuesday, March 20, it was reported that Booker was “one of the foremost drug smugglers we are aware of in this country,” according to a federal narcotics official, Special Agent David Taketa of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
“He’s known to have brought in planeloads of marijuana from Mexico. We seized two of them coming into the southwest from there. He wasn’t aboard,” Taketa said. There was documentation that Booker had owned over 200 airplanes, and information the DEA had on him dated back to the early 1970s. Authorities said they had “nothing” on Douglas until this crash.
Two local men were arrested and jailed for trespassing on the site of the crash, allegedly found scavenging through the wreckage. State police later took the marijuana and burned it on the grounds of the Troop C barracks near Sidney.
Weather conditions and poor aircraft handling were probable causes of the accident, later reported by the National Transportation Safety Board.
A state trooper was still standing watch on this crash site when another tragedy was unfolding, on Wednesday, March 21, around 6:40 p.m.
Trooper D.E. Rodriquez watched a Kar-San Realty Piper Navajo airplane make its last approach pattern to the Oneonta Municipal Airport and moments later heard the crash that killed all five people on board. Rodriquez saw the plane fly over during winds and a hard rain. The group was returning from a business trip in Virginia and Florida.
State police and civilians began a search, and the crash site was located around 1:40 a.m. Thursday in a wooded area in the town of Laurens about a half mile northeast of the airport runway.
Identified were Oneonta residents Joseph P. Molinari, 43, Darryl Place, 33 and John Lyall, 22, employees of Kar-San Realty. Wolfgang Hutzel, 48, the pilot, and wife Marcia, 45, were from Wells Bridge.
The families and community mourned over their loved ones. For Molinari, a city alderman, Mayor James Lettis ordered a 30-day period of mourning with black bunting to be draped on City Hall and the Public Safety Building. The town of Oneonta also lowered its flags to half-staff in tribute to Molinari and others who perished in the crash. More than 800 attended Molinari’s funeral at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Oneonta.
“Fuel starvation” after the plane lost engine power, and pilot errors, were determined by the NTSB as probable causes of the crash.
This weekend: Our area enjoyed new benefits of the full opening of the Albany & Susquehanna Railroad in 1869.
Oneonta City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at email@example.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.