PETERS TOWNSHIP (KDKA) It’s a Christmas that a family will never forget, even 50 years later.
On December 25, 1971, the Voshell family decided to fly their single-engine Beechcraft Musketeer to Connellsville, PA from their home in Dover, Delaware to visit family.
The plane’s pilot and owner, Willis Voshell, and his two daughters, Jeri Spiker and Velvet Siegal, unloaded on Christmas afternoon, along with Jeri’s then-boyfriend Warren Spiker, who was working on the plane. Air Force.
“I had to work that day. So I started working and around noon my boss told me that because work was so slow I had to take the day off,” said Warren Spiker. “So I went out to visit my girlfriend and when I was there her dad said, ‘Hey, you want me to fly you home to see friends,’ and I said sure.”
After a brief visit, around 8 p.m., the family headed back to Connellsville to fly home.
“We needed fuel but because it was Christmas Eve, everyone went home and the bunker was closed,” Spiker said.
“Dad, no big deal. There is another airport, but not far from where it took off. So he said we were going to go there, get fuel and then go home,” Velvet said.
Velvet was 10 years old at that time and loved to fly with her father.
Jeri is a senior in high school, looking forward to graduating.
“My father loved to fly. He has a hobby of flying his own private jet,” says Jeri.
The family said Willis intended to go to an airport in Morgantown to refuel the plane, which was supposed to fly for 15 minutes.
“We quickly realized that something was wrong and he (Willis) thought, ‘I just can’t see the runway,’ or you know because he started talking to people at the airport. And I don’t know, I guess the air traffic controllers were convinced that we were close to them, and they told us to take the right route where we were almost there,” Velvet said.
“They kept saying we should see the runway lights and we didn’t see them and we didn’t see them,” Jeri said.
The family didn’t realize they were actually heading towards Washington County but knew they were running out of gas.
“He was telling him how long and how much time he had left and as it (gas gauge) got lower and lower, you know, we realized that was going to be a problem, but I mean, I’m 10 years old, so in my mind, I’m not panicking. It is my father. He will take care of us. It’s a child’s belief,” Velvet said.
Velvet said her father reported to air traffic control that the plane had run out of gas and that they would have to land it.
“So we were looking at the highway and suddenly he saw the parking lot and he said, ‘Okay, better yet,'” Velvet said.
The family discovered the Donaldson Crossroad parking lot was empty at the time, with no cars in the parking lot because it was Christmas.
The parking lot was lined with lighted poles, forming a makeshift runway for their landing.
That’s when they said they were out of gas.
“I called mayday, mayday and gave the plane number and said we were going down. We are going down. Mayday, mayday,” Warren said.
“Suddenly, it clicked. I like, Thursday?! Dad said Mayday! That means we are going down! ‘ said Velvet.
“As we entered the landing, there was a lamppost at the end that was not lit,” Jeri said. “It hit our right wing and pointed the total plane. It was like flipping us and flipping the whole plane. “
On duty that night was Officer Scott Patton, a part-time Peters Township police officer. He said he was the only officer on duty that night because it was a day off.
“Dispatch called me. I’m heading north on 19th Street almost in Upper St. Clair, I got a call from headquarters. The quote from headquarters is, ‘There was an accident with a small ‘aircraft’ in the parking lot behind Vitte’s Hardware. Check it out,” said Patton.
At first, Patton said, he assumed it must have been a small child playing with a new toy, an airplane on a rope.
He said that it wasn’t until the dispatch called back that he realized it was an actual plane that had crashed.
“She meant a plane crash! Why didn’t she say a plane crashed? I put the pedal to the metal I’ve put the siren on and all of a sudden, my brain is processing what am I going to see now? Patton said.
When he first arrived at the scene, he said he did not see any flames or debris.
He said that it wasn’t until he became Vitte’s Hardware that he saw an airplane in the nose with worn wings.
“Dad said prepare yourself. We were in the back and Jeri pushed my head down in her lap and covered me,” Velvet said. “And suddenly, we exploded. Frown. It was like, what happened? “
“After we stopped and she (Velvet) sat up, we both looked at each other because my dad and Warren were in the front and they came forward and headed,” Jeri said. “They just fell over and you know, there was blood everywhere, and Velvet and I remember we looked at each other and we were like, they’re dead, right? We just don’t know.”
They all survived.
The family said Willis kicked open the door of the plane and started to get people out. Warren suffered a head injury and ran to the street for help.
“That’s when Jeri said, I thought my back hurt and broke,” Velvet said.
Patton said he went to the scene and helped them get off the plane and into an ambulance.
50 YEARS AFTER
Christmas this year marks 50 years since the accident happened. Patton said he decided to try to locate the family after someone on Facebook posted about the crash and whether anyone remembers it.
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In November, Warren and Jeri Spiker flew to Pittsburgh International Airport to meet again at the crash site.
Velvet and her husband Andrew Siegel are from Dover, Delaware.
“We exchanged greetings and hugs. Because even though we haven’t seen each other in 50 years, we’ve had this long-term connection,” Patton said. “Just remember and bring it all back to the front again. And I said it was a Christmas miracle that circumstances brought them to safety without divine intervention.”
“It brings back a lot of good memories and a lot of bad memories. But it was great to get to know each other and finally meet him under different circumstances,” Warren said.
The lamppost the family said they hit that night is still on the ground at Donaldson Crossing.
“I’m surprised they never replaced that,” Warren said.
The family said their lives were forever changed after the accident.
“A year after the accident, I decided I was going to get my private pilot license so I wouldn’t have to be at the mercy of anyone on board,” Warren said. “I’ll be able to, you know, figure out what’s going on, fly the plane and land the plane.”
“Big change to my life? I have never enjoyed flying the way I did before. I mean, I love it,” Velvet said.
Velvet said she ended up flying on her dad’s plane to overcome her fear.
“I went up a few more times but it never came back. I was like, no, I know what could happen now,” Velvet said.
“To this day, I have a very large lump in the middle of my back. It is remarkable to feel. I had no trouble with it at all,” says Jeri.
“This is the greatest of miracles. They showed me pictures of their family. God and she’s right, I mean, all the kids and nieces. They’re beautiful people and that’s the magic of getting that plane down to the ground,” said Patton.
Jeri and Warren got married a few years after the accident. They now have two children and six grandchildren.
Velvet and Andrew have five children and seven grandchildren.
Patton told him that Christmas day was a day he would never forget.
“During my time as a police officer, I wrote a lot of crime and accident reports – too many to remember. But this one – the one about the Christmas miracle – this one I will never forget,” said Patton.
Jeri and Velvet said they never lost faith in their father when the incident happened and believe God will let them get through it.
“My family is a family of faith. Faith is very simple. So only God gives and God takes. Bless the name of the Lord, you know? It’s just that sometimes things go well. Sometimes bad things happen, but God is always in control,” Velvet said.
“I really have to believe that it was his hand that protected us and kept us safe,” Jeri said.
The family said Willis died in August 2001 from complications from a stroke he had suffered several years earlier.
According to Bud Neckerauer, manager of Connellsville airport, the fuel station is always open from now on, including holidays.