Profound Irony

Time: 1967 and 1975

Place: Purdue University, IND Tower

Players: Me, Bruce Hayward, Diane Elrod

In the late 1960’s I attended Purdue as an Electrical Engineering student. About 1967 I moved out of Purdue housing and into an off campus apartment. The last few semesters I spent there I shared an apartment with a friend Bruce Hayward and his girlfriend Diane Elrod. We were all about 20 – 21 years old at that time. On day when Bruce came back from class at the Aviation Technology School he advised me Diane’s mother was stopping by for a visit and to behave myself. Diane’s father had recently lost his life in a tragic aircraft accident. I was going to work that evening. I met Diane’s mother and talked with her briefly, then left for work. There was nothing unusual about that day.

My employment during the late 1960’s was in broadcasting, television and radio. It paid well for a university town and was easy work for me. This was of course in Lafayette and West Lafayette Indiana, home of Purdue University. One day my father sent me a newspaper clipping about jobs available in the Federal Aviation Administration. At that time I knew very little about the Federal Aviation Administration or what they did. It was 1969 I was ready for a change so I responded to the newspaper advertisement. There was a huge amount of paperwork to fill out, I did that and sent it back as they requested. NOTHING happened for about 10 months. I had in fact dismissed the effort and assumed I would hear nothing. I moved on.

Fall of 1970 I received mail from the FAA asking me to report for an interview in Indianapolis. Out of curiosity I went to the interview, I was working about 60 hours a week and the possibility of a 40 hour week at the same pay looked very appealing. I told them just that. It was an extensive interview and the only area I had little experience in was RADAR.

At the conclusion of the interview I was advised I would probably be on the Federal Payroll if I wanted the job and would be placed in the RADAR group. That should have been my first clue what the next 36 years at that job would be like. I left Lafayette in late 1970 and went to work for the FAA on December 7, 1970. The FAA had not intended to hire me but there had been a tragic aircraft accident in Shelbyville in 1968. It was the result of a mid-air collision between a privately owned VFR aircraft and a DC-9 owned by U S Air. Over 100 people were killed. The largest piece of the jet was about the size of a kitchen table and the largest piece of a body found was about 35 pounds. The only part of the captain that could be identified was his arm in the sleeve of his flight jacket. The aircraft hit the ground at an angle of about 10 degrees, upside down, at about 475 knots. There was not much left.

Much time passed, about 5 years more or less. It seemed like a lot of time passed to me.
It was a nice clear spring day in the Tower, VFR weather, light traffic. In the Tower there were 4 Air Traffic Controllers and myself. There was some discussion between the controllers about the accident in Shelbyville Indiana back in 1968. I had a job there more or less as a result of that event, the FAA had decided after that crash to increase staffing and that created the position I had been hired into. I was not listening very carefully until I heard one controller mention: ……..Captain Elrod……….

Captain WHO ?? It was explained to me that Captain Elrod was the pilot that died in that tragic aircraft accident. In all those years I never knew about the connection, that I had known his daughter, met his wife only a short time after his death in 1968 in West Lafayette Indiana.

Over those years after I left Lafayette I lost track of Bruce Hayward and Diane Elrod. After some internet searches I found nothing about their fate after they diverged and left Lafayette shortly after I did in 1970. I imagine they would find it all very Ironic, very unusual. Now I am retired and the story has passed quietly into oblivion.

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