Fifty years ago, a series of articles appeared on the front pages of the Marietta Daily Journal for several days in July regarding a missing single-engine Cessna 140 and its two occupants. The plane, which took off from Cobb County’s McCollum Airport near Kennesaw, had only an hour’s worth of fuel and failed to return to the airport. Resolution to the mystery came 63 days later in September.
Below is a day by day look at the search coverage.
Sunday, June 30, 1963
It was reported that Ray Ford, a 20-year old milling machinist at Lockheed-Georgia Co., took off on an unauthorized flight at 2 a.m. the night before with another young male passenger. Ford, who owned the plane, was reported as having only logged 13 hours and 50 minutes of flight time in lessons.
Airport Manager Joe Sandmann stated that there were no airport personnel on duty at the time of the flight and that it was an unauthorized flight because Ford did not have a full pilot’s license. The only witnesses to the takeoff were two of Ford’s friends, who had driven him to the airport. When the plane did not return after an hour and a half, the witnesses notified Sandmann and the Federal Aviation Agency’s flight service in Atlanta. The witnesses stated that the plane had been heading toward the west as it took off.
Airport officials began broadcasts on the radio for residents near Lost Mountain in west Cobb to report if they heard a small plane in trouble.
At midday, the search was broadened to extend 100 miles from the airport. Engaging in the search were four planes of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), as well as Cobb’s Civil Defense Rescue Squad and other rescue units from Austell and Acworth.
Monday, July 1, 1963
Ford’s passenger was identified as Tommy Harvey, who was also in his 20s.
One of Ford’s friends was reported as saying that the two men had gotten into the plane with the intention of only taxiing about the runway. But, then the airplane became airborne during maneuvering and took off. The craft was last seen making a left turn towards the south at an altitude of about 200 feet.
Volunteer cadets and senior staff from CAP squadrons in North Atlanta and Marietta took part in Monday’s search. Members of the CAP squadron in Rome were to arrive later that afternoon and other volunteers were expected from CAP units at Milledgeville and Warner-Robbins Air Force Base in Macon.
Sandmann was also reported as saying the airport’s runway lights had been left burning all night and that there would have been no difficulty for Ford taking off that night.
Tuesday, July 2, 1963
Ground rescue crews were reported as heading for three wooded areas spotted by CAP search planes. Sandmann said the spots, all of which were some distance from access roads, had what appeared to be unusual pieces of metal lying on the ground amongst the brush and trees. One of the spots was in Powder Springs, another just over the Cobb-Paulding county line and the third was near Douglasville in Douglas County.
Fifty volunteers and three search planes were searching Tuesday. But, Sandmann said it would take hours for the ground rescue crews to any of reach the locations.
Wednesday, July 3, 1963
The metal fragments in the three wooded areas were reported as false alarms. The metal turned out to be auto parts, bits of roofing and other junk.
Sandmann announced that a massive hunt would be launched on the Fourth of July holiday with 200-300 CAP cadets and senior staff, while Wednesday’s search was being concentrated in a pattern to the southwest of the airport and extending some 60 miles. A ground search in the dense woods near the airport was also intensified.
Friday, July 5, 1963
An oil slick spotted near the Lake Allatoona Dam in Bartow County and a mystery woman’s rumors of a plane burning on a mountain close to the Cherokee-Bartow line were investigated by search parties on the holiday.
The oil slick was spotted some 100 yards from the dam. But, the reservoir superintendent said that a boat had sunk there on Wednesday. An unidentified woman, who later could not be located, had reported seeing a plane burn on the mountain, but there no evidence of a crash site could be found.
An anonymous source at the airport told the newspaper that the search was going to be cancelled unless more substantial leads developed.
Sunday, July 7, 1963
Aircraft and radio-equipped cars were reported as having broadened the search on Saturday along a 65-mile line into South Georgia. Maj. Clarence Howard, commander of the Lockheed CAP squadron, said the searchers covered an area of 20 miles on either side of the search line.
During the mass search, by 12 planes manned by CAP crews and some 20 ground vehicles manned by nearly 100 people, a final speculative theory was discussed.
The theory was that Ford had become lost and headed for an airport 18 miles north of Rochelle that was equipped with special landing aids that he was familiar with. Rochelle was also the hometown of both men and where Ford’s parents were living. Search mission headquarters were then moved to Griffin.
CAP Search Mission Coordinator Lt. Richard Kelly said that the Air Force’s Eastern Air Rescue headquarters had issued instructions to end the organized search if nothing developed from the Cobb County to Rochelle hunt.
Monday July 8, 1963
The organized search was reported as called off at 3 p.m. on Sunday after nine days of fruitless searching. Lt. Kelly said circumstances indicated that the men had crashed in the plane and were presumed dead. While the crash site had not been found, Lt. Kelly stated that if further definite leads developed they would be investigated. However, no more mass searches were planned.
Sunday, Aug. 4, 1963
The fate of the two men was still unknown and CAP search parties were reported as still investigating leads.
On Saturday, ground crews combed Pine Log Mountain north of Lake Allatoona and swampy woodland in north Fulton County. Lt. Kelly was quoted as saying the missing men could have crashed just about “anywhere” in the area and still escaped notice of the searchers. Trees and undergrowth were so thick in spots that Kelly said a plane could crash and no sign would be visible from the air.
Tuesday, Sept. 8, 1963
Two sons of a Tennessee family, taking a “safety break” at a Labor Day weekend roadside stand near Kennesaw, were reported as discovering the wreckage of the plane and the skeletal remains of the two missing men in a thicket that could not be spotted from the air.
The crash site discovered at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 5, 1963, ended an on-and-off search lasting 63 days. The scene was just to the west of the McCollum Airport runway and about 300 yards off U.S. 41 near Kennesaw.
Officials were not offering an explanation for the crash. But, Jimmy Buford, an official at the airport, said that at the time of Ford’s takeoff the ceiling was below 50 feet and the weather had been foggy. Buford said that Ford had not flown solo before and there were insufficient instruments in the plane to allow him to fly by instruments alone.
Buford also speculated that Ford may have crashed while circling in the clouds while trying to land at the airport.
Damon Poirier is the Newsroom Administrator for the Marietta Daily Journal.
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