Donald Stokes, one of the organizers of the special commemoration in Lynchburg (as the one in Charlottesville was canceled) for sole survivor Phil Bradley, penned the following account of the May 4 festivities at Liberty University:
The weather in Lynchburg and Charlottesville was perfect for the occasion. I will say it was the best spring day so far— with crystal blue skies, low humidity (82 degrees), and a nice breeze. Everyone lamented that it would be a great day to fly. Oh well.
We began with an early dinner in a private dining room at one of my favorite restaurants. Eighteen guests assembled— some from as far as Pennsylvania. Barry Moore, the vice president of Outreach, Liberty University and his wife were there along with many of the volunteers who graciously helped with the event. Yes, I decided to wear my Presidential Airways uniform after all.
After introductions and acknowledgments, Howard Gregory gave grace, and I thanked everyone for their presence and to those who contributed their time and talents as volunteers. I had prepared a souvenir package for each guest marking the occasion and including some details of the event, historical references, and a nice 8 x 10 glossy of N44V in flight.
Wally, I informed them of what you had planned to do onboard with a niche bag and gifts. You were there in spirit I assure you. Carol, you too were included in thought and spirit and will be remembered should we undertake a future flight endeavor.
We moved on to the university in convoy style, set up our table for book sales, and enjoyed a wonderful program. There were 300 or more students, faculty, and staff assembled plus some local citizenry. The low turnout was the result of low media attention due to the cancellation of the airliner I believe.
Professor Kurt Reesman began by showing slides on a huge projection screen of the flight path, air charts, and statistics. He did a split screen with one side reflecting the CAB findings and the other a combination of Phil’s eyewitness reports, Skip Degan’s findings, and the ALPA findings which conflict with the government’s conclusion.
Next, he showed pictures of the crash scene and rescue efforts. The room fell silent. Several pictures were of Phil being removed on the stretcher. One memorable picture showed Christ against a brilliant lighted background with arms outstretched exactly as Phil described in his book. That was surreal and brought tears to my eyes. The words Christ spoke to Phil were depicted against a black screen, and Phil was brought on stage to a rousing round of applause.
Phil began by thanking his hosts and those who had organized, volunteered, and made the event possible. He brought Howard Gregory, John Barksdale, and me on stage and thanked us asking for a round of applause from the audience. A nice gesture!
Phil did a wonderful job of detailing his flight experience, injecting some humor and capturing the attention of this mixed crowd. He got choked up when he spoke of seeing his vision of Christ at the moment of impact. It was an emotional moment for many especially two family members of the victims who debated on coming to the presentation. Ellen Findlay Cowan, who lost her father and Lanny Whitehouse, who lost both grandparents, were very glad that they had come to hear the story.
Afterwards, Phil took questions from the audience. Most questions were from the aviation students concerning technical issues, but amazingly to me only one centered around his vision of Christ. Retired General Dave Young, Dean of LU’s School of Aeronautics, concluded by reminding the audience of the contributions and sacrifices made by Phil’s generation in protecting America during WW II and Korea. He presented Phil with a gift of an aeronautical clock made to resemble an altimeter. Phil retired to the foyer where he engaged in conversations while autographing his books.
We were too anxious to let this this night end, so we went to a nearby restaurant on campus to have dessert and celebrate life, friendship, and a very special evening.
Everyone was so disappointed at the absence of the Piedmont DC-3 that would have swelled the crowd and allowed us to continue on to Charlottesville. Personally, I feel so badly for my new friends in Charlottesville who worked hard to organize and promote the event only to have it canceled so abruptly. I wish the inspiration, joy, and energy we felt could have been shared with all three cities on our planned tour.