Sunshine Skies Historic Commuter Airlines of Florida and Georgia, written by David P. Henderson

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The crash of Shawnee Airlines flight 103

I recently received a series of emails from Randy Jackson of Orlando concerning the crash of a Shawnee Airlines DC-3 in 1973. Mr. Jackson initially asked if I had any information on the crash, and I had to admit that I had never found a single mention of it in my years of research. Randy pointed me to where I found this single sentence: "Four of the 30 passengers on board a DC-3 of Shawnee Airlines were injured when the plane crash-landed near West Palm Beach, Florida on December 27, 1973." It turns out the aircraft (N19428 msn. 11648) was leased from Aviation Sales & Service Inc., which is why crash reports don't mention Shawnee Airlines.

Randy (and his wife Dee) was aboard the ill-fated aircraft, survived the crash, and sent these incredible photos along with his equally amazing recollections. Thanks Randy!

N19428 at Herndon Airport in Orlando. December 27, 1973

Here's Randy's story:

In 1973 my wife and I were aboard a Shawnee Airlines flight from Orlando to Nassau, Bahamas. The plane, a DC-3 (a real TANK - Thank God), had "fuel starvation" (it ran out of gas - more to this part of the story later) and was forced to crash-land just north of West Palm Beach. The plane we were supposed to have taken developed a problem on the way to the Herndon/Orlando Executive Airport. Shawnee had to change planes for us at the last minute. They pulled this plane from a storage area and rushed us all aboard to keep their flight schedule. This is why there were no names painted on this aircraft. (Not the best photos as I took digital picts of the old pictures.)

After our engines quit, the Captain told us to prepare for a "hard crash-landing". The airplane went totally silent, NOT a whimper until we hit the ground and trees, and then only a couple of very soft "Oh My Gods".  Total silence. You could hear the wind passing over the wings, but inside you could have heard a pin drop. The propellers were frozen, we heard a whooshing sound but not a single word, noise, cry or yell... the entire time of at least 6-7 minutes that we knew we were going to crash, and... nothing. The highway seen in the above photo is where the pilot wanted to land but had to veer off at the last second to avoid hitting a milk tanker truck.

Our pilot was credited with saving our lives due to his calm control, excellent emergency (in flight) planning , execution and training. Our pilot, however, had some last minute difficulties that caused last second changes in his initial crash-landing plan. As he was planning to land on a small road, he put the landing gear down. But just 40-50 feet before we touched down, a semi-truck came around a bend in front of us and we veered to the right, into a swampy area with trees.

With cool calm (at least from our perspective) he both banked right, and attempted to raise the nose of the plane which would allow the plane to "slap down", digging the landing gear into the mud and water then bouncing to a stop rather than sliding into the trees where certain death would have been waiting.

Our plane actually stopped with two trees hitting the nose, one on each side directly in front of the pilot and the co-pilot. Had we slid another 6 inches, they would have both been killed. 

Our impact was so hard, it split the soles of my wife's shoes. There were many other weird facts, but I just can't remember them right now.

Our pilot's quick thinking and cool control saved 30 passengers and we only had minor injuries. A few did have serious injuries but recovered.

Yes, we are very happy to be alive!!!
Randy and Dee Jackson
December 27, 1973

Thanks again to Randy for his amazing story and photos!