Fifty years ago, last week, the Marietta Daily Journal reported on a terrible tragedy suffered by the Fair Oaks Community when a Navy Fury jet fighter on approach to Naval Air Station Atlanta at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta crashed into a residential home and killed two occupants.
The Fair Oaks community, which was named for its many mature native oak trees, was located just outside the city limits of Smyrna and Marietta.
Investigators said that the Navy jet seemed to have dropped straight down from the sky atop the white frame home on Austell Road, which was right under the runway approach, shortly after 5 p.m. on Saturday, July 25, 1964.
Sisters L.V. Cassidy, 61, and Ostella Cassidy, 58, and Marine Reserve pilot, Lt. Joseph Martin Walker, 25, died in the crash.
The Fair Oaks tragedy was the first fatality for the Marine Air Reserve in Atlanta since the Naval Air Reserve moved to Marietta three years earlier and from the time the Chamblee base was established in 1946.
According to neighbors, there was no engine noise as the jet approached. It was said that it seemed to be making a normal approach, then tilted a wing, dropped from the sky and crashed through the home, which was immediately engulfed in flames.
Idell Pickens, 58, had been visiting the Cassidy sisters and was walking to her car in the driveway when the crash occurred. She was found in the back yard, screaming for help and suffering from burns. She was taken to Kennestone Hospital in Marietta for treatment.
The Cassidy sisters’ minister, Rev. L. Howard Gordon of Crestview Baptist Church, was reported as having just left the home three minutes before crash occurred. He had been visiting L.V. Cassidy, who had suffered a heart attack two years earlier.
W.W. Allen, a third sister – who had been keeping up the house and nursing her sister, L.V., was at the grocery store at the time of the crash. Allen had planned to bake a cake for her two sisters and went out to pick up a lemon cake mix. She was at a grocery store on Powder Springs Road when she heard the sirens and had a premonition that something was wrong.
Allen said that she and her sisters had been used to seeing planes flying over the home every few minutes.
“They flew so low they sucked up the curtains in the living and caused the leaves to quiver,” Allen was quoted as saying.
It took Allen an hour to drive the mile home from the store due to the traffic jam caused by curiosity-seekers trying to see where the plane had crashed. Recounting her ordeal, she said that the streets were jammed with cars, Austell Road was blocked off and that a policeman tried to stop her when she got close.
Eventually, Allen got within sight of her home and saw the flames that had engulfed her house.
Later in the day, among the roped off “charred, acrid-smelling ruins,” four Navy guards were placed on duty to guard the site even though fragments of the jet had been removed.
MDJ Reporter Ruth Schuster reported the following observations –
“A back portion of the home, where the kitchen and bathroom had once been still remains standing.
“A refrigerator, black with burns, lies on its side, the door knocked off. About 30 feet away are two ice-cube trays. The oven lies near the refrigerator. A tea kettle, still shiny, lies nearby. Only a kitchen sink and a water heater remain upright.
“Where the bedrooms were, one can see burned blankets and quilts. A blackened bedspring lies nearby. Ashes of papers and pictures are all over. A green and white box used by a Cobb Center department store at Christmas time, lies by itself among the ruins, apparently unharmed.”
Following the crash, Admiral David L. McDonald, the Chief of Naval Operations, issued a statement to Capt. J.N. Durio, the Commanding Officer of Naval Air Station Atlanta, which read –
“Please pass to the mayor and officials of Marietta, Georgia, together with the members of the Navy League Chapter, my deepest personal regrets over the tragedy of this afternoon, which resulted in the loss of life to local residents. They may rest assured of the Navy’s wholehearted assistance as may be necessary.”
Later that evening, Capt. Durio issued his own statement, which read –
“On behalf of the officers and men of the Naval Air Station Atlanta. I wish to express my wholehearted sympathy and personal regrets to all who were involved in the day’s tragic crash. The Navy/Marine Corps team strives constantly to operate our aircraft with the maximum degree of safety and consideration for the civilian community at all times. Please be advised that an immediate and thorough investigation will be conducted and all claims for damage will be handled as expediently as possible. The timely assistance of local law enforcement agencies and fire departments at the crash scene were greatly appreciated. Again, I join the Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. David L. McDonald, in expressing the deepest sympathies of the U.S. Navy in your community’s loss.”
In the Monday, July 27, 1964 paper, Cobb Commission Chairman candidate Ernest Barrett was reported as having called on the federal government to buy homes and property in the Fair Oaks area in a move to prevent a repeat of the disaster. Barrett, who operated a laundry in Fair Oaks, said he would call Sen. Herman Talmadge and Rep. John Davis to urge the initiation of the plan. Barrett’s plan involved the government buying all property in the landing pattern between South Cobb Drive and Old Highway 41.
The following day, Tuesday, July 28, 1964, it was reported that Rep. John Davis called on the Air Force to investigate immediately the feasibility of taking steps at Dobbins Air Force Base to prevent future accidents. In a telegram to Air Force Secretary Eugene Zuckert, Rep. Davis asked if the property at runway approaches couldn’t be bought by the federal government.
Damon Poirier is the Newsroom Administrator for the Marietta Daily Journal.
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