Reporting a Story: Edna Buchanan, on Facebook, About Covering a Plane Crash in Miami

Close Call #1. If you’ve been here a while you may remember that day. A cargo plane took off, made it into the air over Miami, but the cargo shifted as it climbed. The load, not properly secured, was Christmas trees, I believe. The pilot struggled to keep climbing but lost it. The plane fell from the sky until it crashed, then continued to careen along 36th Street in broad daylight on a busy weekday. The two-man crew died. So did innocent victims in the plane’s path. I was the Miami Herald police reporter and raced there. One of the dead was a young man who saw the plane skidding directly at him. Other drivers were panicked. The street was impassable. Trapped, with nowhere to go, he bailed out of his car and ran for his life. His fast reflexes failed to save him. The plane cut him in half. Another victim, a darling, much loved young boy who would have been in school, but it was a teachers’ work day. So the boy, a very young teen or pre-teen, happily went to work with his Dad who owned an auto repair shop or something similar — on 36th Street .Part of the plane crashed into the shop which burned. Everyone else in the building escaped alive — except the owner’s young son.

The full tank of jet fuel set the street afire. Seeking a good vantage point, I spotted three county homicide detectives on the second or third floor balcony of an aging apartment house. They watched, waiting for the fires to subside so they could recover the remains of the dead. I joined them on that balcony. One was Detective Arthur “Artie” Felton. I knew he was a good cop because he was smart, sure of himself, and never afraid to talk to me. He might not tell me what I wanted to know, but was never afraid to speak to me. The cops who are — either have something to hide or are unsure of themselves and afraid to say anything at all for fear of misspeaking.

The view from that balcony was unforgettable. The Herald city desk had beeped me over and over. No cell phones then. I can’t remember now, but I either stopped at a pay phone on the way up to the balcony or had a walkie talkie type radio I could use to call the Herald’s city desk. They wanted me to provide the exact path the plane took through the city. And they wanted it NOW so a Herald artist could begin to put together a map of its deadly route.

So, as I asked the detectives questions, I tried to map out the precise course the downed plane took. With my notebook and pen in hand, I leaned out over the balcony railing to make out the streets below.

I couldn’t quite read one of the street signs. So I asked the detectives, “What’s the name of …” and the old wrought iron railing gave way. I pitched forward. But something pulled me back. I wore a dress with a belt that day. And in the fraction of second Felton had reacted by grabbing the back of the belt and yanking me back from a sure fall into the burning street below.

As he did, I finished my sentence “…that street over there?”

“Are you crazy?” Felton shouted. “You almost got killed just now!”

I persisted and asked the other detectives to help me accurately identify the streets for the artist.

Then I continued to report. I never felt fear when deadline was coming at me like an avalanche. And I’m pretty sure I never even thanked Artie Felton for saving me. I swear, I forgot it in all the chaos of that day and the pressures of returning to the newsroom and putting the story together. I worked late, went home exhausted. Didn’t see Artie Felton again until I made a routine visit to headquarters days later.

When I walked in to the homicide office, he began to shout again, “You’re crazy! You almost got killed!”

“Oh, yeah,” I thought, and suddenly remembered. I’d forgotten it happened until that moment.

That’s the way it always was on deadline. I was on a mission, had tunnel vision. The light at the end of that tunnel was my story and nothing else could interfere. I never learned that, or consciously decided it would be that way, that’s just how it was, always.

Artie Felton’s shouts of dismay never troubled me either because I had immediately made him as a tough, bombastic guy but a teddy bear at heart. He had a little girl he doted on and often mentioned her and his wife in conversation.

Detective Felton died young several years later. I went to his wake. Can’t remember his age then, it’s been so long, but he was probably in his 40’s. Heart attack I think. I’m not even sure. Wish I had properly thanked him for the years since. Wish he’d been acknowledged in some way. It didn’t matter to him, I know.

I mentioned it briefly in one of my books, I think. If any of you out there have access to a photo of the late Metro-Dade Homicide Detective Arthur Felton, wish you could post it here to accompany this story. Thanks, Artie. There have been so many things I have been able to do, thanks to you. Hope your family is safe and well. God bless. RIP
Some of the comments:

Tina Cheleotis Sunderland Great story Edna.

Patrick J. McGeehan I worked that scene.

Bob Mayer That’s the event I was going to guess. Around lunch time or shortly after… June 23rd, 1969… my FIRST day as a news intern at WTVJ, Channel 4. Horrific scene.

Bruce Buchmann I was a neighbor of Artie’s and worked with him in Warrants along with another legend Gary Minium. Glad Artie was there for you Edn

Paul Hampton Crockett The Miami Herald, Apr.18, 1976.
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Mike Myers The June 1969 36th Street plane crash was carrying automobile parts. The Xmas Tree crash happened during December 1973.

Dennis L. Valdez And I was a rookie cop for the city of Miami then. I had grown up in Grapeland Heights just south of 36 street. Three of the people killed were from the Neff family. Clyde was my schoolmate through elementary including kindergarten. His father owned the break shop. He and his younger brother as you reported had the day off and was with Clide and his dad. All three perished in the plane crash.

Tom Shroder It damn near hit the Herald building.



  1. Alicia Smalls says

    Artie Felton was my uncle. I have been going through old family photos and would be happy to provide you with some. My grandmother (his mother) had all of your books and spoke of you quite frequently as I was growing up.

    I will sort out, scan and upload photos as soon as I can.

    Or you can find me on social media and we can discuss family history!

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