As the passing of the late Birch Bayh, 91, former Democratic senator of Indiana hit the news waves on Thursday, many have been wondering about the infamous plane crash, which saw him and Sen. Ted Kennedy almost lose their lives. Bayh had served Indiana from 1963 to 1981. His plane crash marked a significant and tragic incident in both his and Kennedy’s lives, but they remained triumphant over the crash.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Sen. Ted Kennedy and Sen. Birch Bayh Flew on a Plane That Crashed in 1964
On June 19, 1964, the weather was stormy.
Bayh was flying with his wife, Marvella Bayh, and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy to a Massachusetts State Democratic Convention.
Reports state that their plane crashed into an orchard.
The Bayhs survived, but the incident was traumatic.
“We’ve all heard adrenaline stories about how a mother can lift a car off a trapped infant,” Bayh said of the incident when he spoke to The Hill in 2009. “Well, Kennedy was no small guy, and I was able to lug him out of there like a sack of corn under my arm.” Bayh had considered leaving Kennedy in the wreckage to look for help, but that superhuman adrenaline strength forged through, he said, according to reports.
Despite the plane crash incident, Bayh remained steady on the job and worked on two constitutional amendments–one of which had been spawned by President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, just the year before. There was no mechanism in the Constitution to replace a vice president who became president; so Bayh got back to work changing that. “We were confronted with the stark reality that the president is human,” Bayh said of the process, according to reports, in 2011.
2. Sen. Birch Bayh, Sen. Ted Kennedy, & Their Wives Were Hurt During the Crash
When he was alive, Kennedy reportedly said that the final seconds before the 1964 plane crash were “like a toboggan slide.”
Kennedy reportedly said that their plane broke through the stormy overcast clouds at 600 feet and was skimming over trees.
“It was apparent we were going to crash,” Kennedy reportedly said, as he tightened his seatbelt. Kennedy had held a pilot license himself, according to reports, so he knew a thing or two about the plane’s behavior and flight altitudes.
Kennedy recalled, according to reports, that the plane crashed with a “terrific impact.” According to reports, Kennedy said that Bayh and his wife were thrown against the ceiling, before “complete silence” befell upon the passengers.
“We were bounced around so much we couldn’t see the moon in any steady way,” Bayh said, according to The Hill. “Then I looked out and saw this black line coming. I thought it was another storm, but it was the tops of trees.”
Bayh recovered first, Kennedy said, and checked on everyone, according to reports.
“He called my name,” Kennedy reportedly said. “I could hear but I could not respond.”
“I could hear that,” said Kennedy, “and although I knew that there was something seriously wrong with me, I started to crawl face down toward a window.”
Bayh had injured his left arm, but pulled Kennedy to safety; he found that the latter could not move from the waist down.
3. Sen. Birch Bayh & Sen. Ted Kennedy Had Been on Their Way to a Convention
Kennedy & Bayh had been on their way to a Democratic State Endorsing Convention at West Springfield, Mass.
Their crash happened the night the Senate passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act–they had been delayed by the vote and were on their way to the convention.
Their pilot, Ed Zimmy, had managed to fly the plane out of the trees as the flight came crashing initially, but reportedly lost control of the aircraft again, causing them to crash into an apple orchard.
4. There Were Other Reported Fatalities During the Senators’ Crash
The trip to the convention had been arranged by an administrative assistant/aide of Kennedy’s, Edward Moss, despite the storm.
Not everyone made it out of the crash.
Moss reportedly died from the crash, and Edward Zimmy, the pilot, was also killed in the crash, reportedly near the Easthampton area.
Bayh and his wife’s injuries were relatively more minor.
5. Sen. Kennedy Spent Five Months in the Hospital Following the Crash
While Bayh reportedly said he thought the plane had been hit by lightning, and also said he believed he was already dead, he, his wife, and Kennedy, in fact, survived.
And, while the pilot and Kennedy aide, Moss, died, Kennedy himself had not been sufficiently responsive, according to reports.
Kennedy spent five months in the hospital once they were retrieved from the grounds, according to The Hill. Kennedy also won his reelection bid that November 1964.
“A lot of the older senators were wondering if they were going to have to kiss his ring,” Bayh said of Kennedy’s injury, according to The Hill. “I mean, he could have been a pariah. But he had no airs, and just did a remarkable job of ingratiating himself not only to his new colleagues but the older members.
“He was a Kennedy, and you could say he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but he was determined to spend his life helping the little people,” Bayh said of Kennedy, according to reports. “That tells you what he was made of.”