June 3, 1962 - Paris, France - The twisted remains of an Air France Boeing 707 jet are scattered over Orly Field near Paris. The tail section is the only recognizable part of the plane after it crashed on takeoff.
Photo: AP FILE
Photo: AP FILE

AJC Archives: Atlanta arts patrons die in 1962 Paris plane crash

NOTE: It’s been 56 years since Atlanta and the local arts community suffered a devastating loss. 103 of the city’s most prominent arts patrons were killed in the crash of Air France Flight 007 near Paris. ‘Visible Empire,” Atlanta author Hannah Pittard’s fourth novel, was inspired by the 1962 crash (read our May 2018 review here). Here, we look back at how the tragedy unfolded and how the AJC, and photojournalists of the time, covered the story.

The 113 Georgians who died at Paris' Orly Airport on June 3, 1962, all meant something to someone -- their families, their friends, the Atlanta arts community -- but one man couldn't really grieve his losses privately. His position required him to serve as the public face of a city in mourning.

» LEARN MORE: Click here to view the Orly plane crash photo gallery 

The most important plane crash in Atlanta history did not happen in Atlanta, it occurred June 3, 1962, as Air France Flight 007 departed Paris' Orly airport. The Boeing 707 charter flight was headed to Atlanta via New York when it crashed, killing 130 of the 122 passengers and 10 crew on board. It was the first civilian jet disaster with more than 100 deaths. More than 100 of the passengers were art patrons from Atlanta returning from a monthlong tour of Europe.

Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen Jr. knew many of the dead. He'd seen them off on their trip in early May; a month later he faced the grim task of helping identify victims and accompanying their remains home from Paris.

"This was my generation... ... these were my friends," the mayor, his voice breaking, told the Atlanta Constitution shortly after hearing of the crash.

103 members of the Atlanta Art Association never made it back from their month-long tour of famed European art galleries. They were among the 130 people killed when Air France Flight 007 crashed off the end of an Orly Airport runway after an aborted takeoff attempt. Investigators later learned that mechanical failure caused the crash. It was the worst single airplane crash at that time.

Among the prominent Atlantans killed were Ruth McMillan, Atlanta's Woman of the Year in 1955; Frances Longino, a co-founder of the Davison's department store chain; C. Baxter Jones Jr., a lawyer who ran for Congress in 1952; and Del Paige, president of the Atlanta Art Association. One victim, Doug Davis, was the son of an Atlanta aviator who had himself died in a plane crash decades earlier.

June 3, 1962 - After flames are extinguished, two firemen climb over one of jet engines. The Boeing 707 just missed a house (extreme right) in Villeneuve Le Roi, near Orly Airfield.
Photo: AP FILE

THE CRASH: What happened?

Air France Flight 007 attempted takeoff from Orly Airport near Paris, France, on June 3, 1962, but the plane's landing gear remained on the ground even as the nose of the craft lifted off the runway. The pilots were beyond the maximum speed at which it was safe to abort the takeoff on the runway but they had no choice except to attempt to stop the plane. During the attempt to brake the plane, the undercarriage caught fire as the aircraft ran off the end of the runway. (PHOTO: AP FILE)

June 3, 1962 - Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen Jr. (left) and E.L. Sterne, assistant city attorney, accompanied the mayor on the sorrowful trip to Paris after the crash of an Air France jet which carried many Atlantans as passengers.

THE AFTERMATH: How did Atlanta react?

Mayor Ivan Allen Jr. (at left, in above photo) immediately flew to the crash site at Orly Airport in order to help identify bodies and to accompany the remains of Atlanta's victims home. With much of its major arts patrons deceased, the city quickly started planning for a memorial to the victims. Former Atlanta mayor William B. Hartsfield called the Orly crash "the greatest tragedy to hit Atlanta since the Civil War." (PHOTO: AJC FILE)

> READ “A Concentration of Grief,” Editor Ralph McGill’s column from The Atlanta Constitution the morning after the crash

1975 -- Former First Lady Lady Bird Johnson walks the grounds of the Atlanta Memorial Arts Center, now called the Woodruff Arts Center.

THE LEGACY: What was the effect on the arts community?

As Sam Hopkins wrote in a 1972 Constitution article commemorating the crash, "most of the Atlantans who died were long-time art patrons who had been the backbone of the cultural growth and activities of the city." The arts community did suffer from the loss, but in typical Atlanta "rising from the ashes" style, the city rebounded from the tragedy and worked hard to ensure that its arts community thrived, a civic commitment continuing to this day. The Woodruff Arts Center, opened in 1968, stands as a memorial honoring the dead of Orly. (PHOTO: AJC FILE)

» LEARN MORE: See the complete Orly plane crash photo gallery here

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