Published in the August 4, 1958 issue of Buffalo News


Writer: Unknown

A longtime flying legend was observed when Lt. John R. Dewenter heroically risked his life to crash-land a Blue Angels jet plane at Buffalo Airport at 5:04 PM Saturday. Officials said he probably saved many lives and made possible salvaging of the million-dollar ship.

Lt. Dewenter, a member of the precision flying unit performing at the Clarence sesquicentennial, chose to attempt the landing when his plane's engine "conked out" at 8000 feet. He was about to start his solo act when the engine quit after a muffled explosion.

The Grumman F11F Tiger Jet skidded off the end of an airport runway, across Genesee Street near Cayuga Road, Cheektowaga and came to rest at the entrance of Joseph DeLuca's service station. It narrowly missed Genesee Street traffic, which would have been heavier on a weekday.

"Too Many Houses"

The pilot said his only thought was to stick with the plane because "there were just too dog-gone many houses down there." Recommended procedure would have been to eject himself from the plane after aiming it toward the clearest area visible. About 2000 Clarence spectators were unaware of the heroic action after Lt. Dewenter pulled out of show shortly.

Adm. Arleigh Burke, chief of naval operations, said Sunday "the pilot's action was magnificent" and added the traditional compliment: "Well done."

He said it reflected the highest credit on Lt. Dewenter who could have parachuted to safety, but preferred to stick to the plane after considering the heavily - populated residential area.

Can Salvage Plane

Admiral Burke's message read:

"Your magnificent action this afternoon in landing your aircraft rather than hazarding the lives of the civilian populace reflects the highest credit on yourself, the Blue Angels and the Navy. Well done."

Commander Robert W. Weber, acting commanding officer of the Niagara Falls Naval Air Station, said preliminary examination of the wreckage indicated a good chance the ship could be repaired. The left wing tip was sheared off.

He added that an expert would be brought here to examine the engine to determine the cause of its failure.

1000 Degrees Temperature

Lt. Dewenter, 30, is from Bloomington, Ill., and is one of the six crack pilots assigned to the Blue Angels for 60 performances a year throughout the nation. He escaped injury in the landing which fliers said required the highest kind of courage and skill.

When he heard the engine blast, he saw that his tailpipe temperature gauge was rammed against the top gradation, 1000 degrees centigrade, indicating an even higher temperature. "That usually signals time to bail out or be blown up", Commander Weber said. Maximum safe temperature is 700 degrees, he said.

Commander Weber said the pilot's trouble was made worse by the fact that there was no wind, which helps slow a landing plane.

Missed Car By 75 Feet

The minimum runway length for the F11F is 7000 feet and the longest at the airport is 5624. The plane hit the runway at 125 miles an hour.

One motorist told Cheektowaga police the plane missed his auto by 75 feet as it skidded across the pavement. Electrical wiring smoldered, but there was no fire, Commander Weber said. However, volunteers from Cheektowaga's U-Crest Company and Buffalo firemen detailed to the airport poured foamite on the wreckage.

Lt. John Damian, another soloist, pulled out and accompanied the crippled plane to the airport after Lt. Dewenter radioed to his teammates that he was in trouble. Lt. Damian radioed the CAA control tower to stand by for an emergency.

First Crash In Two Years

When he saw that the landing flier was able to leave the plane, Lt. Damian returned to the performance. The other fliers did not know he was unhurt until later.

The wreckage of the first plane damaged by the Blue Angels in two years was removed to the Niagara Falls base. The Angels returned to their headquarters at Pensacola, Fla., Sunday.

The Niagara Frontier Port Authority has recommended lengthening the runway used by Lt. Dewenter to 8000 feet and the recommendation is part of an airport improvement program now being considered. Cheektowaga police, deputies and troopers handled traffic at the crash-landing scene.