On Sunday, the Journal Star told the story of Braniff Flight 250, which plummeted to the ground near Falls City 50 years ago, and introduced you to some of the people whose lives are forever connected to Nebraska’s deadliest commercial air disaster. Here are more of their stories.
The husbands and sisters and sons gathered that night to greet Flight 250 were kept waiting, and waiting, and they didn't understand the delay.
And they couldn't get anybody at the Omaha airport to explain.
“The plane was late and we were wondering what was going on and nobody was telling us anything,” said Bob Gummers, whose mother and uncle were flying home after burying an aunt in Tennessee. “They asked us to be patient.”
Lynnda Chamblin Wise and her husband had driven from Lincoln to pick up her sisters, who were coming from Arkansas to see their new niece.
“It was long, it was way too long,” she said. “We started asking questions and they just didn’t have any answers. We all kept looking out the windows, waiting for something to come down out of the sky, and it didn’t come down.”
But it already had come down, 100 miles to the south in a field near Falls City.
The Braniff Airways flight carrying 38 passengers and four crew members left Kansas City just before 11 p.m. on Aug. 6, 1966. The British Aircraft 1-11 was less than a year old and airworthy, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Its crew was qualified, the captain and first officer logging more than 30,000 hours of flight time combined.
Still, the airliner didn't hold up to the line of storms stretching from Pawnee City to Des Moines, and the turbulence ripped it apart. Its 10,000 pounds of fuel exploded a mile above Richardson County, and what remained of Flight 250 -- and all that it was carrying -- fell through the rain in a shower of flames.
None of this was immediately known in Omaha, where more than half of the passengers were scheduled to deplane before the jet finished its route to Minneapolis.
“Everybody was waiting for someone to get off that plane,” Wise said. “And we just kept waiting and waiting, and they didn't give us any information.”
Then an Omaha World-Herald reporter showed up and told those waiting at the airport what he knew. Tragic news to have to break, but Wise was grateful then, and she still is.
“The newspaper people, they were our lifeline to finding out what was going on.”
That night 50 years ago, the soybean field northeast of Falls City would become a magnet of activity, attracting firefighters, federal investigators, news crews, National Guardsmen and airline officials. But also that night, a number of cars would depart the Omaha airport, their occupants solemn, their seats unfilled with the passengers they'd planned to pick up and carry home.
Bob Gummers was 15, and he and his father returned home in silence.
“We drove home in shock, not knowing what was going on or what to do next. It's something you can't prepare for and never expect.”
Their rabbi would later go to Falls City to identify Lottie Gummers and Adolf Mayer.
Bob Gummers' parents had escaped the Nazis separately, Lottie before she ended up in a concentration camp, Richard after he was freed from one. They met in New York but found their community, and their commerce, here in the middle of America.
Uncle Adolf had loaned them money to buy the restaurant at the Conant Hotel in Omaha, and later they started Gummers Coffee Shop in the Doctors Building at 42nd and Farnam, working side by side.
Lottie's death changed the dynamics of their family, her son said. His sister Claire had just finished her first year at Missouri, but she would stay home to help, transferring to the university in Omaha.
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Claire was on a date the night her mother died, and when she heard about the crash on the radio of her boyfriend's Impala, they headed for the airport. She didn't know where else to go.
“I didn't want to believe it happened,” she said. “I was definitely in denial back then.”
Their father was devastated and would sell their coffee shop to go to work for others.
For most of his life, Bob Gummers has panicked on planes. He never visited the crash site, and he never felt like he said goodbye to his mother.
He hopes that changes Saturday, at the 50th anniversary ceremony in Richardson County.
“I was at the hospital when my father died. There was closure. With my mother, I never saw a body, I never saw anything.”
But there was this: The searchers who scoured the site found his mother's charm bracelet, a gift from his father. His sister has that now. They found her engagement ring, too. His daughter wore it at her wedding.
That night 50 years ago, Lynnda Wise had to call home to Arkansas.
Her father was an only child, her mother one of two. They had wanted their four kids to have lots of babies, to fill their house at the holidays. Now they'd lost Nancy, 18, and Susan, 15.
“I told my dad that the plane was down and the girls were gone,” Wise said. “It was the most horrible thing.”
Lynnda and her husband, Marion, returned to their duplex near Eden Swimming Pool in Lincoln. They'd moved there a few months earlier to take over a vacuum distributorship, and her sisters had planned to spend a couple of summer weeks with them and Anne, their newborn.
“They just wanted to be with the baby,” Wise said. “They loved babies.”
The sisters couldn't have been more different from each other. Nancy had just graduated. She was tall, laughed a lot, had so many friends. Crazy, Wise said, but cool.
“And Susan was a strange little person,” she said. A Junior Olympics swimmer. Headstrong. “Nobody made her do anything.”
Their parents flew to Nebraska the next day with friends who identified the bodies.
The crash changed Wise's family, too. She and her husband moved back to Arkansas to be closer to her parents. Her mother stopped getting the mail after the trauma of finding college letters for Nancy.
“For the rest of their lives, when they were introduced to someone, they'd say, 'Oh, you're the family that lost those girls on the airplane?'”
They did what they could to honor the girls. They named their houseboat “The Sunan.” But there was no real danger of forgetting what they lost so quickly so long ago.
“I still think about them every day,” their older sister said. “After 50 years, it's like it was a dream. Were they really here?”