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Tuesday, May 31, 2016
News of Yesteryear
Plane crash 60 years ago stunned Wantagh street
By Laura Schofer
Wantagh Citizen File Photo
The Mitchell Field colorguard marched in honor of the pilot who crashed on Denver Street in Wantagh in 1954.

Denver Road in Wantagh is lined with manicured lawns and scattered with stately trees. It’s part of a quiet neighborhood that includes Roxbury and Dover roads, just a few blocks from Wantagh Avenue to the west and Oakland Avenue to the east. It is close enough to Sunrise Highway to hear the distant hum of traffic.

But around noon on Aug. 3, 1954, this suburban community was ravaged when a F-84 Thunderjet plunged into the middle of Denver Road. The Wantagh Citizen reported at the time that Frank Snyder of 1867 Denver Road was standing with his daughter on his front lawn when the crippled Air Force plane crashed into the street. Billowing flames, which scorched neighboring houses, enveloped Snyder and his 4-year-old daughter, Geraldine. Snyder later died from his injuries, and Air Force Captain William Weiland died instantly upon impact.

News reports said the jet scattered wreckage for several blocks and upon impact with the street, created a seven-foot crater gouged by the jet’s nose. Red-hot chunks of metal littered the street; three houses were engulfed in flames and 12 other homes were seriously damaged; shrubbery immediately turned black.

It was later learned that the pilot suffered from hypoxia — a loss of oxygen while flying at 30,000 feet and recovered to find that he was too low to avoid a crash. The U.S. Air Force conducted an investigation and concluded that he looked for the widest street he could find where there would be the least amount of loss of life and property.

Within minutes, more than 200 volunteer firefighters responded to the scene, according to Newsday. There were five fire departments on site — Wantagh, Seaford, Bellmore, Levittown and Massapequa. Additionally, a New York City fireman, Capt. John J. Higgins, was visiting his aunt two blocks away and quickly organized a first aid station, reported the Brooklyn Eagle.


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