Posts Tagged ‘Prudential’

Wormwood

The Abandoned Rhode Island Plane Crash

Written by: Wilk

Photographs by: Lassie

“The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many died from the water, because it was made bitter.” It’s not often that I get the chance to quote The Bible. So I take every chance that I can get to do so. I’m not a religious person. But there’s no denying the power of the Holy Book’s language. Especially The Book of Revelation. There have been many different interpretations of this passage over the years. Most of these include some sort of grand plight about end-times and straying from God’s path. Appropriate, given what book of The Bible this quote is from. But the interpretation that I agree with most is that Wormwood symbolizes the infectious bitterness that comes to us all during times of hardship. We’ve all experienced loss. It’s one of the few things that unites us all as human beings. It can hit you like a sledgehammer. Pain. Anger. Sadness. These things can send you down a very dark hole. I know. I’ve been there. If you’re not careful, this darkness can easily consume you and send you down a path that is quite difficult to get off of. It feels like being lost in an endless world of night, where all forms of hope and light have been stamped out. And only darkness remains. When the sky falls, it feels like the whole world has ended. But it doesn’t have to.

And so, allow me to introduce our subject for this month – the abandoned wreckage of the infamous 1971 East Greenwich plane crash. On a cold November day way back in the long long ago, the President and Senior Vice-President of Prudential Financial boarded a small twin-engine Aero Commander in Chatham, Massachusetts. They were both accompanied by their wives, a pilot, and a co-pilot. Their destination was Newark, New Jersey. The weather conditions were poor. The Aero Commander was an outdated model. And things went south shortly after take-off. When the pilot realized the dangers of the situation, he attempted to put the plane down at the nearby Green Airport in Warwick, Rhode Island. But it was too late. En route to their emergency landing, Aero Commander 560A came down from the sky and crashed into the swamps of East Greenwich. They were mere miles away from their emergency landing site. The rescue effort was swift and courageous as the town rallied together to get to the crash-site. Five of the six on-board the plane survived. Sadly, one did not. The wife of the Prudential Senior Vice President succumbed to her injuries and was pronounced DOA at a nearby medical facility. While the tragic event made national headlines, the crash-site itself eventually faded from memory. Being so deep in the swamp, no efforts were ever made to recover the wreck. It slowly became the stuff of local legends. Lost in the woods.

This story has always fascinated me. I love forgotten pieces of local history. It is a place that we have always wanted to go see, but could never find the time for it. Given how deep in the swamp the wreck is, it can only be properly and safely reached during certain times of the year. The location has been kept a secret for good reason. I want to say this right now: do not ask us for coordinates or directions or anything like that. We will not be giving out any information on this location. The crash-site has been preserved in its natural setting for decades now. It has been almost virtually untouched by vandalism and I intend on keeping it that way. My apologies if this upsets anyone, but I believe this is the way. During the winter, we decided that this was the year we were finally going to find the wreck. You see, the land where the crash is located is slowly being taken over by developers. The beautiful woodlands of East Greenwich are slowly being destroyed to make way for more lavish houses and developments. And we honestly don’t know how much time the crash-site has left. Our February got busy. Then our March got even busier. And with only a few days left before our window of opportunity closed, we finally made our trek to The Ocean State in mid-April 2023. The sun was shining. There was a soft breeze in the air. We had our heading. We packed plenty of water and food. And together, we began our journey into the wild unknown of the Rhode Island swampland.

Finding this fallen angel was quite a challenge. The way in is littered with swampy wetlands, unforgiving swarms of bugs, and near impassable vegetation. I honestly wanted to bring my machete, but Lassie wouldn’t let me. Eventually, the glaring white fuselage loomed out of the swamp. When the plane fell from the sky, she flipped over and became wedged between two trees. And that is where she still stands. And let me just say, it is truly a sight to behold. The plane honestly looks like it could’ve crashed here just under a year ago, let alone several decades passed. Several large chunks of debris are scattered alongside the main hull. Some pieces have been submerged beneath the swamp water. Numerous old gadgets and artifacts stick out of the grimy muck. There are an unholy amount of bugs flying around. And a family of Eastern Blue Birds appear to be nesting within the fallen fuselage. There is plenty of rusted out equipment and machinery inside the wreck, which can viewed through several broken windows and the gaping hole at the front. Aside from this nasty damage to the nose, the port side of the plane is in much better shape than the starboard. Both the wing and landing gear are still intact. Though there was only so much to photograph, just being in the presence of the old wreck is quite moving. There is a strange sense of reverence and mystique here that I have never quite felt anywhere else. It was honestly hard to tear myself away from it.

I would like to dedicate this article to the memory of Julie Gerathy. She was the wife of Prudential Senior Vice President E. Carrol Gerathy and was tragically the only person to not survive the plane crash. She was 59 years old and lived in Summit, New Jersey. I haven’t been able to find an official obituary or anything like that. I’m not sure if she has any surviving family out there. But I want her name to be in this article, so that it does not disappear from the pages of history. She was here. And we need to remember that. My heart truly goes out to all who knew and loved her. One of my personal heroes, Mike Shinoda, once said: “The hardest part of ending is learning to start again.” And if that doesn’t perfectly sum up grief and loss, I don’t know what will. But when the sky falls on our heads, we cannot let the waters of our souls become poisoned and bitter. Like those from the story of Wormwood. We who remain have to take our hits, lick our wounds, and carry on. No matter how hard it is. Not just for ourselves. But for those that we have loved and lost. There are currently plans to erect a memorial for the crash-site in East Greenwich, and I for one am all for it. The natural world has taken in the wreckage of the fallen Aero Commander. The trees have regrown. The streams have found new paths. Birds and bugs have come to call the crash-site home. Life goes on. No matter how much it hurts, things do get better. Very slowly, sometimes. And we must all never forget that. For if this land can heal, then perhaps so can we.

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