Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Events that shape city history (or, The Plane! The Plane!)

(Originally published in The Forum October 21, 2009)

by: Chad Quinn

History is about shared experiences; some good, some bad. Some seem frightening at the time, yet years later provide for pleasant reminiscing. Take for instance the dramatic “emergency landing” (I’ll explain in a moment why that’s in quotes) that took place in Tamarac in the early 1970’s.

At approximately 7:25 on a lazy Sunday evening in early August 1973, the 5th to be exact, a plane dramatically crashed, uh I mean “emergency landed”, into an empty field off University Drive and Commercial Boulevard (where the Denny’s on 57th and University stands now). The plane, owned and operated by Happy Hours Air Travel Club, was a twenty-two year old Lockheed Constellation that flew a route between the Bahamas and Ft. Lauderdale. Toward the end of the trip, and relatively close to its final destination, the “Connie”, as Constellations are known, lost power in all four engines [due to fuel “starvation”]; the pilot choose to glide the plane in for a wheels up landing in an empty field.

About a year or so ago I received an email from a resident commenting on an article he had read in the Tam-A-Gram (Tamarac’s official publication) – in referencing how long he had been a resident he stated that he was “here when that Constellation crashed off University…”

What, a plane crash in Tamarac? As someone fascinated with airplanes, I had so many questions, and a morbid curiosity. Unfortunately he did not remember details. I immediately did a search on the internet: Tamarac+plane+crash. Nothing. Tamarac+Constellation+crash. Nothing. A few more key word searches and still nothing. Defeated I thought surely he was mistaken; maybe he had gotten the location wrong.

Fast-forward to June of this year. After one of the initial articles about the new Tamarac Historical Society was published I received a call from a wonderful woman, Betty Porter. Betty had a story to share with me and an old newspaper article to back it up. “I have an article about that plane that made an emergency landing back in 1973.” I was excited, could this be what I was unable to find a year earlier? “Really! I heard about a plane that crashed, but I couldn’t find anything…” She interrupted me, “You’re not listening, it didn’t crash, it made an emergency landing. It flew right over my house I could look in the windows of that plane and see the people. It was really frightening.”

Now you see why I wrote emergency landing in quotes. I had it wrong.

This event touched many lives. I’ve spoken to many residents who remember that day, the landing, and being able to tour the plane as it sat in the field for several days before being dismantled and removed. Jane Coco, a long-time employee of the City, shared a photograph with me of the plane lying in the field and remembers taking her daughters to tour it. Commissioner Diane Glasser recalled seeing the plane “off University” as well. Others shared their recollections and even though I was not there to witness this part of Tamarac’s history first-hand, it is now part of my shared experience [and the newspaper Betty donated is one of my most prized items in our budding collection]. Many people remember hearing the plane, watching it fly in above the roof tops and land in the empty field. Many more remember driving by, taking photos and even touring the plane.

A total of eight people were on board the plane that evening – five crew and 3 passengers – and all survived uninjured. Believe it or not, other planes have landed in our City (the most recent being a single-engine just a few months ago off the Sawgrass Expressway), and although these type of events don’t shape our City’s politics, boundaries, growth or demographics, they do shape what we experience together – good or bad, tragic or triumphant, they become a part of our story and a stitch within the fabric of our community.

Do you remember the plane that made a wheels-up emergency landing (which, for the record… seems like a crash to me) back in August 1973, or any other story? The Tamarac Historical Society would love to hear from you – share your experience, photos and memorabilia by calling (954) 597-3523 or email