The date was Feb. 6, 1992. Guests at the Drury Inn (now a Comfort Inn and Suites) at 3901 U.S. 41 N. were preparing for a full day in the city. But at roughly 9:53 a.m., the unthinkable occurred.
A C-130B plummeted from the sky landing on the backside of Jojo’s restaurant, now a Denny’s restaurant, sending a raging inferno into the Drury.
Military documents later revealed the military transport plane crashed due to pilot failure. Its five-man crew with the Kentucky Air National Guard was practicing pilot training at Evansville Regional Airport when the instructor-pilot simulated an engine failure that new pilot Lt. Vincent Yancar was unprepared for.
Engine failure and similar risky training exercises were illegal when a civilian was on board, but not illegal above areas where civilians are present — a fact which sparked anger in Evansville for many years to come.
Yancar, along with Maj. Richard Strang, Capt. Warren Klingman, Master Sgt. William Hawkins, and Master Sgt. John Medley, died in the initial crash. Evansville natives and Jojo’s employees, Lynette Scoot and Mathew Phipps also lost their lives at the crash site. This photo from the EVPL digital archives depicts the crash site after the fires had been extinguished.
Unfortunately, the tragedy didn’t end there. Back at the Drury, directly across for Jojo’s, fire was spreading.
When the C-130 made contact with the Earth it sent a wave of jet fuel and plane parts into the windows of the Drury. Ground zero for this flaming debris was Room 416.
Inside were guests from Plumbing and Industrial Supply, Co. attending a quality-control seminar. Only four out of the 13 employees left Room 416 alive that day.
Lynn Jackson and Bill Capodagli, who later married and founded a consulting firm in Michigan, Tom Welch, and Marilou Ohning survived the explosive blaze that claimed the lives of their friends and coworkers.
While more information and speculation about the actions of emergency responders and the safety of military exercises in populated areas would later come to light, the Tri-State community made efforts to focus on remembrance rather than negativity.
Room 416 is now an unmarked room used for storage — a silent, sturdy memorial to Darrel, Arnold, Charles Berqwitz, Robert Hays, David Horton, Ronald Keown, Matthew Prasek, Thomas Ruby, John Stallings, and Harry Tenbarge who died there. A Japanese maple tree and small plaque were placed outside Jojo’s to honor its lost employees. The plaque can still be found outside the restaurant, which became Denny’s in 2009.
While Evansville’s history seems plagued with devastating plane crashes — such as the University of Evansville crash in 1977 which killed the entire men’s basketball team and staff — the passionate, caring, and supportive community that prevails after each tragedy is what should really be remembered.
Photos provided by EVPL Digital Archives.