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More about the Reiss plane crash saga

January 15, 2011

Hardly ever do we get to tell "the rest of the story," a line made famous by the radio mogul and king of our Winter Carnival, Paul Harvey.

In October 2010, I wrote about a plane crash involving Julian Reiss and his daughter Patti on Halloween night, 1958. Lake Placid may have had the "Miracle On Ice" hockey game in 1980, but this plane crash I am dubbing the 1958 "Miracle on Moose Mountain."

Julian and his daughter walked out of the woods onto Averyville Road in Lake Placid without a scratch; the plane was demolished in the crash.

Article Photos

Lt. Peter Reiss, 1958
(Photo provided)

Now I have heard from Julian's son, Peter, who was a flyer and a lieutenant in the Air Force in 1958 and has provided us with this great follow-up story and pictures.

His e-mail is as follows:

"Dear Mr. Riley,

"I read your piece on the plane crash of my father Julian and sister Patti. I thought I would write to you and add some more details about the event.

"The night of the accident I was stationed at the Plattsburgh (Air Force Base) but was TDY at the Burlington airport. I decided to fly home; I had a date that night. I had my own airplane, a Mooney Mark 20, and because it was dark I had to fly to the Saranac Lake airport.

"On my flight home I could see flashes of lighting over the southern range of mountains and commented to myself, 'Boy, I am glad that I don't have to fly through that storm.' I also was concerned about how I was going to get a ride to LP, because the Saranac Lake airport terminal was locked up at night, and was thinking that I would have to hitch-hike (no cell phones yet).

"When I landed and taxied to the ramp, I saw my mother waiting in her car. I said to myself, 'What luck, but how did she know I was coming?' I found out that she had been waiting several hours for my dad and sister. I told her of the storm I could see in the distance while flying in and that he must have turned back and was probably trying to call home to let her know he wasn't coming. We got home, and I stayed in my mother's bedroom waiting for the phone call, and after several hours and no call we became very worried. It was not like him not to phone if there was some sort of trouble.

"At around midnight I called the CAA to see if a flight plan was filed. It wasn't, and so I reported that I believed they had crashed somewhere between Glens Falls, his last stop, and the Saranac Lake airport. I also called the Plattsburgh AFB and asked if they would join in the search and rescue. At sunrise I went to get my airplane to fly to LP and was surprised to see how many people and airplanes were flying into LP airport to join in the search and rescue.

"I asked for a volunteer to fly with me to help spot the downed airplane, and because I was flying so low and winding in and out and around the mountains, the observer was always getting sick, and I would have to fly back to the airport for another volunteer. I felt I was wasting precious time, and after this happened several times I decided 'to heck with an observer' and decided I would fly alone. Sometime in the late morning, as I was aloft, I heard an exhilarating call on the radio that they had just walked out of the woods. I, of course, was elated.

"A few days, later Fred Fortune (Junior), who worked at Santa's Workshop, and I decided to find the plane and see if anything was worth salvaging and bring back some personal belongings. We found the plane and could see that the radios and instruments as well as the engine were intact. We discussed how we could retrieve them and thought about getting a helicopter, but decided that we would launch the effort in the spring as there was already snow on the ground. We all marveled that they survived such devastation and with no broken bones.

"Having found the plane from the ground, I decided to fly over the wreckage site to see what it looked like from the air. The plane was in a small ravine, heavily forested, and the silver plane was hard to see in the snow. I thought how lucky they were to walk out because it would have been next to impossible to spot the plane from the air. I obviously was wrong, and the thief did exactly that. I would have liked to have talked to him as to how he accomplished that feat.

"I have nothing to add to finding the thief, but felt happy that he did the heavy lifting in bringing out all the salvageable parts and also he completely reassembled the engine. The sad ending to this event: My father was not well due to cancer, not the accident, and decided he probably would not fly again. He put up for sale all the retrieved parts, and sold and delivered them, but the check bounced and that was the end of the crazy story. My father died the next year.

"I have some excellent picture of the accident, and before the thief got there, if you would like.

"In your article you say next week there would be more. I have not seen your second part; could you e-mail it?

"Again, thanks for the article.

"Peter Reiss

"P.S.: That night at the Burlington airport, a pilot came to me and asked if I would fly his passenger to Hanover, N.H. because he did not have an instrument rating, only a VFR rating, and the current weather required one. He knew I had one and also had an airplane that was IFR rated. I told him that I was going the opposite direction, LP, and if I flew his passenger to Hanover I could not get back to LP before bad weather set in. He pleaded with me and then asked me to meet his passenger. I met him, and he told me he was in Burlington to give a speech and wa scheduled to speak that night at Dartmouth College. I said I was sorry for his predicament, but I did not want to break my date that night. He pleaded some more but to no avail, and I don't know what he ended up doing that night.

"We both came out ahead: The stranded man became President John Kennedy, and I married Agnes Kendrick of Lake Placid."



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