On July 27, 1960, a shuttle helicopter making the 11-minute, 6-mile flight between Midway and O’Hare airports around 10:40 p.m. was seen by witnesses zig-zagging and then seeming to stop in the air over First Avenue in Maywood. It then burst into flames and fell to the ground in the western section of Forest Home Cemetery.
According to reports of the crash, pilot Robert Meyer, 37, of Worth, was thought to have maneuvered the 12-passenger Sikorsky S-58 away from a residential area in Maywood to bring the helicopter down. Thirteen people died in the wreck, which produced a ball of flames. Because of the heat, firefighters were unable to approach the wreck for more than an hour.
“I was standing in the kitchen washing dishes looking out the window overlooking Yuba [Street] and I saw it fly by very low and the water from the faucet began splattering as [the helicopter] began to disintegrate,” wrote former resident Diane Howard, recently, on a Facebook Forest Park page.
“We all ran down Roosevelt Road to see what had happened. The magnesium hull burning created the brightest white light I’ve ever seen. I’ll never forget that night!”
One of the first responders to the accident was auxiliary police Officer Bill Gauger of Forest Park, according to Review reports. He was patrolling The Park when he heard the sputtering copter overhead and jumped the fence at Forest Home Cemetery. According to the Review, every one of the 40 police officers and firefighters on the force, on or off duty, responded to the emergency.
Workers were just putting finishing touches on the Desplaines Avenue west section of the Eisenhower Expressway, set to open that Saturday. Emergency vehicles could not get through and had to travel local streets to reach the cemetery.
When they arrived, Forest Park responders found bodies and wreckage that spread over the length of several blocks. The tail of the helicopter (featured in the photo above) was separated from the aircraft and an official from Chicago Helicopter Airways Inc. said it appeared the tail might have fallen off in flight.
When the fire was under control, local police and firemen removed the charred bodies from the wreckage and wrapped them in tarpaulins. The Review reported that they were transported to the Cook County Morgue in ambulances and two trucks donated by the Roy H. Mohr & Sons Oil Co.
“When [Forest Parkers] Howard Mohr, Bill McKenzie and Sam Gillian arrived at the morgue with two truckloads of bodies, they were told to unload them because there was no one else available,” the Review reported. “This involved taking the bodies, and parts of bodies, off the trucks and emptying the tarpaulins onto trays. Mohr commented, ‘It was sickening.'”
The FAA determined the copter had structurally disintegrated in flight because of the fatigue fracture of a main rotor blade.