Today, May 19, 2016, they announced the disappearance of the plane that
departed from Paris. All I could think of was the plane crash that killed “Little Joe” Barnett,
son of Cozette and Joe Barnette. Little Joe was a 1948 graduate of MHS and later graduated
from SMU. He was a commissioned officer in the Armed Forces and I think was a 2nd Lt. The
plane carrying Joe was on a flight from Houston to Dallas and ran into a severe storm,
crashing in Dawson, Texas, May 3, 1968. Joe’s Mother was my Stepfather’s sister and she
had lost Joe Sr. to cancer not long before. We had also lost Vivien and Mac a short time
before. The bodies of the plane crash (what was left of them) were housed in Dawson and
Cozette asked Paul to go to make the ID of Little Joe’s body. Joe was married to Sherry
(cannot remember her maiden name) and had one son, Randy (approximately eight at the
time). Mother, Paul, Paul Jr. (Bubba) and I traveled to their home somewhere in the Dallas
area. Paul and Bubba went to Dawson to I.D. the body. It was a terrible time and thinking of
this crash brings back so many memories. I can still see Little Joe’s son at the funeral,
seemingly too young to realize all of the ramifications of this tragedy.
In 2008 the following 40 year anniversary of the crash appeared in the Corsicana paper.
Below is the story as it appeared.
Dawson plane crash remembered
Article from the Corsicana Sun in 2008
Wikepedia Story of the Crash
By Janet Jacobs
May 3, 2008
May 3, 1968, a passenger plane flying from Houston to Dallas crashed in a pasture near
Dawson, killing all 85 passengers and crew on board. At the time, it was the worst aviation
disaster in Texas history, and is still remembered as the worst event in Dawson’s past.
However, many residents also remember it proudly, for, as soldiers and emergency crews
worked around the clock under cruel conditions to salvage the wreckage, and the high school
gym became a mass mortuary, the townspeople brought food and coffee, even their sheets
from home, the churches stayed open, all doing whatever was within their modest powers to
“It rallied the town,” said Conrad Newton III. “I can remember the ladies of the Garden Club
making sandwiches to make life a little easier for the solders, especially the soldiers.”
Braniff Flight 352 was a Lockheed Electra, a four-propeller airplane carrying 85 live
passengers and one body — a Vietnam casualty on its way home. As the plane met up with a
violent storm just east of Dawson, the pilot tried to go around, but lost the fight.
One of the first people on the scene was Doug Lenox, who was 24 in 1968. Lenox was out
spraying a field on that Friday afternoon when the storm came sweeping in from the north. He
took shelter in the Gulf gas station on the edge of town on FM 709, not far from where he now
He and some others rushed back outside when the explosion happened. “All you could see
was a ball of fire,” Lenox recalled.
Lenox and his friend Ronnie Chasteen went into the pasture, hiking through the mud until
they came over a small rise to find the still-burning wreckage.
“When we left the filling station, we thought it was a fighter plane,” Lenox explained. “I just
happened to look down, and Ronnie was about to step on a foot that had been cut off at the
ankle, and that’s when we realized what we’d walked into.”
As a member of the Volunteer Fire Department, Lenox helped with the recovery of bodies for
two more days. Lenox at 68 is a blue-eyed man, slow-speaking and tall, with a porch swing
that overlooks the crash site.
“I’ll never forget it,” he said.
Corsicana residents Dean and Lee Montgomery and their two small children were driving to
Waco along Texas Highway 31 in their 1967 Chevrolet station wagon when they pulled over
onto the shoulder, unable to continue in the storm.
“We were sitting still on the highway because it was too bad to drive,” Lee Montgomery
recalled. “We couldn’t have opened a door, the wind was that strong. It pushed that heavy old
station wagon back onto the highway.”
As they waited for the storm to abate, they saw an enormous flash of light in the sky “like the
sun was coming up in the clouds,” Dean said, and then the debris began to fall.
Lee stayed with the children while Dean went with a highway patrolman to look for the crash
site. Two days later, they couple returned in a small plane, and they described a wreckage
trail two miles long.
Dean was later called to testify in court about the crash. At the time, Dean Montgomery was a
pilot for Central Airlines, and he clearly recalled the FAA investigation’s conclusion — pilot
“When he went into the cloud it was almost a tornado. He tried to get out, and when he pulled
that split-S (maneuver), it tore the wing off. It just yanked the wings off it,” Dean Montgomery
said. Over the years, he’s wondered repeatedly about the passengers, and their last terrible
“They were alive until they hit the ground,” he said.
Among the dead were several doctors and their wives, returning home to Dallas from a
conference in Houston; Joseph E. Lockridge, one of the first African Americans to be elected
to the Texas House of Representatives since Reconstruction; a number of federal
government workers; oilmen with Mobil, Continental and General American Oil; five
crewmembers, four other Braniff employees, half a dozen soldiers with the U.S. Air Force and
U.S. Army, and the office manager for the Great National Life Insurance Company of Fort
Charles Renfro, now 73, was the mayor of Dawson in 1968.
“I remember hearing the noise, and we went to the site out there,” Renfro said. “We opened
the gym for them to bring the bodies in, and then it was total chaos. Everybody from nine
states came down and interfered with the rescue people.”
The high school gym, once filled with echoing cheers of pep rallies and basketball games,
became a temporary morgue as body parts were brought in for two days and nights, and the
work of reassembly began. Once a person was clearly identifiable, his or her remains were
taken across the street to the funeral home.
Hundreds of rescue workers and soldiers were brought into town to assist with the recovery.
Help came from the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Corsicana Emergency Corps, Texas
Department of Public Safety, ambulance workers from Corsicana, Waco, Hubbard and Mexia,
and soldiers from as far away as Fort Hood.
Conrad Newton III, now the bank president in Dawson, was a red-headed 16-year-old boy in
“If you recall, this was two weeks after Martin Luther King was assassinated. The Vietnam War
was at its height. The climate of the country was fractious,” Newton explained. But having
grown up in sleepy Dawson, he and his friends found the excitement of the crash fascinating,
and they were in the middle of it whenever the adults weren’t looking.
The plane went down in late afternoon, while it was still daylight, and Newton and a friend
went out immediately to view the site. It didn’t take them long to realize they didn’t belong
“It got to be a haunting mess,” he said.
His father, Conrad Newton II, was president of the bank then, and he kept the bank open all
night long to allow access to telephones for the people flooding into the town. The aftermath
was almost as bad.
“On day two and three, the town had a horrific odor,” Newton said, explaining: “The gym was
not air conditioned.”
The workers, at least some of whom Newton recalled were student morticians from Waco, put
screens on the windows, and smoked cigars to mask the smell of decay.
One of the rescue workers in Dawson that week was James Sykes, who was a volunteer with
the Corsicana Emergency Corps. Forty years later, he’s still a volunteer with the corps.
Sykes said he got the call to respond to a plane crash in Dawson at 5:15 p.m. on a Friday.
Like Lenox, he also expected a small wreck, until he got to the site.
Over the course of the weekend, the volunteers and soldiers marched in straight lines up and
down the rolling hills of western Navarro County with sacks, picking up anything that might be
connected to the crash.
“We did that for two or three days, picking up every little part we could find,” Sykes said.
One person was pulled almost completely intact from the wreckage, Sykes recalled. It was the
body of the soldier killed in Vietnam earlier, protected from the impact by his coffin.
When people in Dawson think about that crash now, they refer questions to Margie Hill, now
81, who still lives in her same house across the street from the crash site. However, when the
plane went down that Friday afternoon, Margie wasn’t home.
Her husband worked at a lumber yard in Hubbard in 1968, and as the weather turned black
and frightening, she fled west with her 10-year-old son, she explained. She got as far as her
mother’s house before her husband arrived and they all went home. The plane crash was
evident from their front yard.
“It was something else, I tell you,” Hill said. “By the time we got here, Doug and Ronnie had
already been up there and they said ‘you can’t help anybody.’”
She sent her daughter to the store and made coffee for the rescue workers and reporters
who came throughout the night to use the phone.
Hill’s family now owns the pasture where most of the wreckage fell. Her daughter has a trailer
home within a stone’s throw of the site, and they’ve occasionally plowed up what are clearly
airplane parts that embedded themselves into the mud on that rainy day. Hill said she still
gets the occasional visitor, who wants to see where it happened.
Besides the curious and reporters, she’s also been visited by the adult son of one of the
people killed in the crash. Another time, the wife of a victim showed up with a concrete bench,
to be placed under the shady oaks in the pasture.
It was a major event in Dawson’s history, but it didn’t change the town significantly, Renfro
“It made lots of people afraid to fly, but back then, not many could afford to fly,” he said. “The
people who worked in the gym, the volunteers who worked with the bodies, they were
affected. It changed it for a while, but now there’s nothing but us old people around who
remember much about it.”
The permanent reminders do exist in Dawson for the next generation. There is a marble
marker in the city park, surrounded by blooming roses. City hall has a wooden plaque with the
names of each of the people killed on the plane. And downtown, as a subtle reminder of
Dawson’s best and worst hours, still stands the gym, almost unchanged since 1968. Only the
flooring was replaced.
Janet Jacobs may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is Joe Barnett Jr. Senior picture in
the 1948 Yearbook
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