Retracing the path of Continental Flight 11, 50 years after it crashed in Unionville.

Fifty years ago this week, Continental Flight 11 fell out of the sky over Unionville 

Retracing the path of Continental Flight 11, 50 years after it crashed in Unionville.

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As families began to connect with one another, talk shifted from why there was no memorial to how one might be built. Crawford and the Putnam County Historical Society & Foundry School Museum, which maintains a small exhibit of Flight 11 artifacts, collected donations and designed a memorial that was dedicated in 2010 in Unionville.

This week, Russell is flying 28 hours to attend the memorial's rededication, commemorating the crash's 50th anniversary. He'll spend nearly three days of his weeklong travel visa in the air. Crawford is picking him up in Des Moines; the two men haven't met in person before. For Russell, it's the end of a journey.

"I'll be standing there and actually looking at where that plane went down," he says. "I think that's going to be quite hard. It's going to hit me like a freight train."


Crawford pilots his truck down Main Street in Unionville. The United Methodist Church still stands at the intersection of 19th Street and Main, across from the Dairy Lane, a local burger-and-shake shack. In the park between the church and the Unionville Print Shop, Putnam County set up a temporary morgue in 1962. The print shop was the communications center for the media, members of which had taken to barging into farmhouses in an attempt to use the party lines that were the only locally available phone connections.

Crawford walks up the grassy slope, in the shadow of the Putnam County Courthouse. His fingers wipe a little dust off the top of the simple black-granite memorial. He stands in front of a black flagpole between two granite benches, both installed in 2010 when the memorial was dedicated.

"I feel like I'm part of the Flight 11 family, and I just wanted to do something for them," Crawford says. "We'll never know the whole story. But I'm at peace because I know this is going to be here forever, and people can come see it."

The town of Unionville has never forgotten. Ilajean Weber still plays bingo in town. A passenger's body was found 100 yards from the white barn on her property. And Mayor Don Fowler was one of the high school seniors guarding the perimeter of the crash against looters and gawkers. His uncle, David Fowler, was the Putnam County sheriff at the time.

"That town just reached out to us," Horn says. "Everything they've done to remember, the people on the plane deserved that. But I'm just so thankful."

Crawford expects several dozen family members of those lost on Flight 11 at the May 26 ceremony in Unionville. At 11 a.m. that day, they'll see the new stone tablet, which corrects a few spelling errors. (After the initial dedication, Crawford secured a copy of the FBI report.) It also adds an inscription: "This Flight 11 tragedy occurred in Putnam County on May 22, 1962, and changed America's air travel forever."

Joanne and her daughter, Jo-Ellen Horn, will be among those in attendance. In Jo-Ellen's home, in Independence, Joanne sits at the kitchen table, slowly rubbing her thumb across the face of a manila envelope. She has 19 grandchildren (she married Dale's brother, Kenneth, in the late 1960s; he died last year), but she still thinks about the boy she met on a blind date. She remembers how nice he was, mentions the tin cans that rattled around behind their car after they were married in her parents' house. Their future together stopped when they were 29 years old.

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