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Cudmore: 1928 plane crash in the town of Root claimed three lives

Cudmore: 1928 plane crash in the town of Root claimed three lives

The crash investigation was hampered in the first few days by what authorities said were thousands of gawkers and souvenir hunters
Cudmore: 1928 plane crash in the town of Root claimed three lives
Closeup of Bob Cudmore book cover "Hidden History of the Mohawk Valley."

WGY radio in Schenectady, which had been on the air for just under six years, broadcast an urgent appeal sometime after 6 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 8, 1928.

A new Fairchild monoplane was overdue on a flight to Buffalo.Telephone calls came in from radio listeners who had heard an airplane in distress about 3 p.m. near Rural Grove in the town of Root, on the south side of the Mohawk River between Fultonville and Canajoharie. A Mrs. Quackenbush reported she heard a crash and was convinced the plane had fallen.

The large single-engine craft, piloted by air veteran Raymond Henries, had flown from Mineola on Long Island to Albany earlier that day.  Despite fog, Henries and two passengers had taken off at 2 p.m. for Buffalo from the then Albany Airport on Westerlo Island in the Hudson River.

Henries was delivering the plane to Colonial Western Airways in Buffalo. One passenger was former pilot George Benedict, who worked for his family’s clothing business in Illinois. The other passenger, who got on board in Albany, was Gloversville native Capt. Edward M. Pauley.  An experienced aviator, Pauley headed Flyers Inc., Albany’s first commercial air service.

Pauley decided to fly with Henries and Benedict to Buffalo, where two planes ordered by Flyers were to be delivered. Pauley planned to make arrangements to have his new planes flown to Albany.

It was still foggy early Monday morning when Montgomery County Sheriff Seeley Hodge formed a posse of 30 men who began a ground search. Searchers did not find the wreckage until Tuesday morning in a buckwheat field near a farm being worked by J.E. Bartlett off what is today Route 162 between Currytown and Middle Grove.

A plane from Schenectady Airport doing an aerial search for the downed aircraft saw the activity on the ground and landed safely on a nearby field.

The bodies of passengers Pauley and Benedict were found crushed inside the plane.  Pilot Henries’ body had been thrown about 75 feet from the main wreckage.

The Albany Evening News lead on the plane crash stated: “Death rode on the wings of the wind with the three missing aviators whose bodies were found on a farm hillside near Rural Grove today.”

The crash investigation was hampered in the first few days by what authorities said were thousands of gawkers and souvenir hunters.  Investigators could not find part of the instrument board of the plane. It was located in the possession of a Gloversville businessman.

The cause of the crash was never pinned down. Fog was likely a factor but there were reports from people who heard a plane engine that seemed to be misfiring.

Pawley a World War I veteran

Born in 1895, Pauley served on the ground in World War I in the motor transport corps. After the war, he became a civilian pilot then joined the U.S. Army Flying Corps, earning the rank of captain. He married Marion Howarth of Johnstown. They had no children. 

With offices at the Ten Eyck Hotel in the 1920s, Pauley’s Flyers Inc. carried passengers and freight and flew racing editions of the Albany Evening News to Saratoga Springs for the 1927 horse racing meet. Albany Mayor John Boyd Thatcher mentioned Pauley’s name as the future superintendent of the almost-constructed Albany Airport in Colonie. Pauley was buried at Johnstown’s Ferndale Cemetery.

This story was researched by Pauley’s great niece, Frances N. Burnham of Scotia, with the assistance of town of Root historian Bill Maring.  Burnham died five years ago, just before publication of a version of the story in my book, “Hidden History of the Mohawk Valley.”

Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or [email protected].

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