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Macon: The Great Air Derby Disaster

WGXA

MACON, Ga. -- On February 18, 1928 terror fell from the sky into the streets of downtown Macon.

A newly-discovered 1928 film shows the aftermath of the Cherry Street plane crash. The film was recently discovered at a local flea market by Macon's Pat Powell. That film captures the moments after what newspapers described at the time as Georgia's most spectacular airplane crash in the state's history.

Today, the only reminder of the disaster downtown is a small bronze propeller in the sidewalk in front of the Parish Restaurant with the date February 18th, 1928 inscribed on it. It's easy to miss. Most patrons of the restaurant have no idea it is there.

Macon Aircraft Historian Henry Lowe has his own memento of that day: a playbill for the Southeastern Air Derby.

The show featured dozens of stunt pilots and came at a time when the aviation craze was just sweeping the country.

"I'm sure it was excitement," Lowe said. "People who had never seen airplanes and they were able to watch pilots do loops and barrel rolls and they would do wing walking transfers and so it was pretty exciting at an air show."

The events that led up to the crash actually started at Bowden Golf Course. As plaque there says, at the time, it was the location of Miller Air Field and was the site of the show. Pilot Buck Steele asked fellow pilot Lucky Ashcraft to fly with him and throw out aerial bomb fireworks over downtown to attract attention for the show. The first two blasts did their job and drew a large crowd all looking up at the plane, but then something went terribly wrong with the third bomb. It blew back into the plane and exploded sending it spinning down and slamming into Cherry Street.

The two pilots died on impact. Spectator Clyde Murphey, a 34-year-old blacksmith, was hit by wreckage and had his arm severed at the shoulder and his ankle cut off. He later died at the hospital.

In the aftermath there was still more tragedy. As hundreds of people rushed around viewing the wreckage and trying to help out, the sidewalk collapsed. About a dozen were injured as they tumbled into the basement below. The disaster made headlines across the United States.

These days back at Parish Restaurant, the workers all know the story so they can handle when customers have questions.

"Actually we have a lot of people ask about the propeller," said Jordan Booker of Parish Restaurant. "Most of the time it's people who actually want to ask if we've done anything special."

They have. The restaurant's bar serves a drink in honor of the pilots called the "Lucky Buck".

In the back of the dining area hangs a painting by a local artist with the plane and the names of the pilots Buck Steele and Francis "Lucky" Ashcraft, along with Murphey.

For a full copy of Pat Powell's amazing historic film find, just check out this link. He has a few more pieces of historic film from that same era on his YouTube page.

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This story first aired on February 10th, 2016.

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