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The Derry Pennsylvania Incident - The Town Has PTSD?

Discussion in 'Introductions' started by ridgerunner, Jun 12, 2007.

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  1. ridgerunner

    ridgerunner New Member

    Hello everybody. I come here not because I personally suffer from PSTD, but I believe that the entire town in which I reside suffers from it, and I really want to hear some outside opinions on this matter. Please bare with me, this is a complex situation and story.

    My wife and I live in the small town of Derry, Pennsylvania. Neither my wife nor I grew up here, however my father and most of his family did. I grew up in a town about 30 miles away from Derry, but I had fond memories of this town from visiting my grandparents (who are now deceased) as a child. This was part of the reason as to why my wife and I settled here. The other part was the fact that property is very affordable here.

    As a teenager I had many friends in Derry, and I even attended high school for several years here (I lived with my grandparents who reside within Derry school district for those years). During my time at Derry high school, I heard several people tell varying stories about some sort of aviation disaster "a long time ago" that involved a helicopter. I became curious and started asking questions, but got very few answers. I finally shrugged it off as an urban legend and left it at that.

    A few years passed and I was finished with school and had started my own business. One of my customers near Pittsburgh commented about the helicopter incident when he realized I had family ties to Derry. I asked him about it, and all he said was "there was a fair and a helicopter crashed and killed a bunch of people." Once again my curiosity spiked and I started asking questions, only this time I asked my parents too. They sort of down-played it and said a helicopter crash did happen, but it only killed a couple of people and it was a "long time ago".

    Fast foreward to about 8 months ago, at which point my wife and I have been living in this town for about two years. By now we are kicking ourselves for living here. The people are strange. They display a pathology that I have never expierenced anywhere else I have been. There just seems like there's a gloom hovering over this town like a thick blanket of toxic smoke. People are just very anti-social and quick to over-react to almost any stressful stimuli. The majority of the youth are ruining their lives by snorting heroin and nobody seems to care (just google "derry" "westmoreland county" "heroin"). I start to wonder what happened to screw this town up so badly. I guess I wasn't really paying enough attention when I hung out here and attended school briefly as a teenager, because apparantly (from what I've heard) this town has been "screwed up" for quite a while.

    Late one night I decided to use the internet to see if I could dig up any info on this mysterious helicopter incident that I had heard so many whispers about. I came up with nothing, which I though was very strange. Finally I broke down and paid $20 for a membership to a site which chronicles newspaper archives. I searched for hours and found nothing. Then finally I found it. Here's the real story...It will send chills down your spine:

    The article stated that on September 5th, 1978 (Labor Day) a helicopter crashed into a crowd during a fair in the parking lot of St. Joseph's Catholic church. Around 800 people (over half the population of Derry at the time) were present in the maybe 10,000 square foot parking lot. The helicopter was dropping numbered ping pong balls for some sort of raffle. Apparantly this was also done at the fair in previous years and had become somewhat of a tradition. The helicopter stalled and the rotor got snagged on a thick electrical line. The powerline spun into the crowd, subsequently killing 11 people instantly in a very grotesque manner. Without going into graphic detail, basically the powerline tangled with the rotor of the helicopter acted like a giant, maneating weed eater. 11 deaths occured instantly and several other people died later. This event happened in front of children, teenagers, and many other people who surely will be affected mentally for the rest of their lives. Soilders prepare for the carnage they will encounter in war, yet still are never truly ready for it, and subsequently suffer from PTSD. Imagine the mental impact on over half the town after witnessing this type of horror.

    A close friend who is a psychologist told me that he offered his services the following monday at the school, but was turned away and told "we're ok, we don't need any help. It's over and we just want to forget about it." Nearly 30 years after this horrible tradgedy, there still isn't (and will never be IMO) any type of monument or plaque erected in or near the parking lot where this event occured. I find that disgusting, considering the fact that it happened in the parking lot of a CHURCH!

    This town bottled up all that horror that day. I have a feeling that most of the people in Derry are permanantly screwed up because of what they saw that day. I also feel that it even affects the current youth in the town, who are being raised by parents who are whacked out and refused help (or were refused help by the school).

    My dad said that after that, this town just went downhill. I would just like some insight from some neuteral sources here. Can an entire town be affected by PTSD? Can the pathology that was born that horrible day still be affecting people who weren't even there..or even born yet for that matter?

    Thanks for taking the time to read this. I look foreward to your responses.
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  3. anthony

    anthony Silently Watching Founder

    It goes something like this... those that witnessed the act could very well have PTSD, and if never resolved, never diagnosed, never acted upon for treatment, would then mean that their children have grown in emotionally abusive households, which means these children would know what is wrong with their parents, because it would have been mentioned behind closed doors, which means the children would have then been abused for an easy term, emotionally, maybe physically also, which equates to an entire town of which is in denial that anything is wrong, bad to begin with, and then their children would have either PTSD themselves, or what is called secondary PTSD, being the symptoms and actions of a sufferer, though don't actually have the disorder because they never witnessed any true trauma, maybe not even abused, just simply replicating what they seen their parents do and say.
    littleoc, ToughCookie, Muse and 6 others like this.
  4. auggie02

    auggie02 New Member

    Hi Ridgerunner!

    I find your username absolutely striking, since I've referred to myself as a "ridgerunner" for many years, specifically because I grew up playing barefoot near Chestnut Ridge. I wish that I had seen your posting some time ago. I notice that it has been several months since you posted. I would have like to have discussed some of these issues with you.

    I am 33 y/o. I lived in Derry and attended St. Joseph's Church for the first 18-20 years of my life. I can't go into details without revealing to others who I am, and it is my wish to avoid any embarrasment to my family and friends who still reside in Derry and are actively involved in the parish. At the time of the incident, I was nearly four y/o. I vaguely remember having a blanket (or something) thrown over my head by my grandfather and being rushed away from the festival; however, I have heard various stories; so to be truthful, I don't really know if I was there or not. I assure you, I am not crazy! The entire tragedy was shrouded in so much mystery as I was growing up, I hated to ask if what I thought I was told was reality! I certainly remember the shame endured by the priest at that time (Fr. Wilt)....He was my favorite, a cigar smokin', Harley ridin priest. It just seemed like he was some how blamed for the incident and never forgiven; nor did he forgive himself. You are absolutely correct about the whole vibe you feel in that town. There is affection and nostalgia for the past, but something weird goes on. Perhaps you are correct that PTSD is the culprit. I can attest to the heroin problem affecting the town. Thankfully, that addiction skipped my cohort, but seems to plague my successors. I truly loved my town, but there was definitely a sense that people did not welcome newcomers and had MAJOR issues. I am okay today, but it has taken a long time to shed a lifetime of mental illness and flattened affects. You really raise some interesting questions. I am a graduate student now in the social sciences and am intrigued by the possibility of your theory. Thanks for posting. I've never been able to find any background about this incident, in historical terms or other, online. I appreciate it. Take care.
    littleoc, ToughCookie, Muse and 3 others like this.
  5. linasmom

    linasmom Well-Known Member

    Hi Ridgerunner,

    Interesting - I'm originally from Monessen, PA - which is just outside of Pittsburgh, in Westmoreland County. So is my entire family.

    I don't know if the accident caused PTSD amongst the whole town of Derry but I do know this: most of Westmoreland County is poor and addicted to heroin, my father included. I would take into serious consideration how the once affluent towns surrounding Pittsburgh when the steel mills were opened turned into piles of dirt and dust when the steel industry moved out of the area.

    I have noticed, just as you have in Derry, an over-reaction to stimuli and what I like to call "a black hole in the earth" whenever I refer to Monessen. It is depressing and I've never seen anything like it. It's as if a nuclear bomb exploded over the entire county. Have you also noticed that few ever leave, even as bad as it? It's like an abusive relationship.

    Anyway, I never knew about that story - it's interesting. BTW - I DO have PTSD, but not from living in Westmoreland County.

    Good luck.

    littleoc, Muse, Rosewater and 2 others like this.
  6. spiritofnow

    spiritofnow Well-Known Member

    What a very interesting thread.

    I would like to add that I feel it would be very difficult to actually define what this town seems to be suffering from down to one incident. On face value and from the points that have been raised it does seem that there could be an association with the incident and subsequent behaviours.

    However, there are just so many other factors invloved; cultural, this could be affected by the roots of the town, how it served the community, employment, education etc. What type of people moved here, (their cultural influences) as they would of impacted on the social ethos of the town. ethnicty, religion etc etc.

    There is a town that I myself once lived in here in the U.K that also suffered from the same types of issues. It was also once a minning town and relied on this as its main source of industry. Once they shut the mines the area became very economically depressed. This town reminded me of a town lost in time. The commiunities seemed 'tight knit' in that they did not seem to welcome 'outsiders' but did not seem like well adjusted people. There was a big drug problem here as well.

    Obviously the lack of employment also affects the educational resources. Innadequate education has devastating effects on people. It all goes hand-in-hand really!

    I would suggest that there is a complexity of issues that are indeed multivariate in nature - rather like a domino effect. The helicopter incident was more than likely another major loss just as when their industy failed which would inevitably have devastating effects on morale etc etc. Perhaps what the youth are suffereing from is 'learned behaviour' learned 'self helplessnes'? How would they move away when they do not have aspiriations that are above numbing out the issues that they are probably not really aware of or even challenged on?

    I think the issue you have raised is not just something that is endemic to a particualr place due to the resources, cultural aspects etc etc that are available but, something that is becoming a pandemic disease.

    Spirit x
    littleoc, Rosewater and Anarchy like this.
  7. auggie02

    auggie02 New Member

    Your absolutely right!

    I would just like to say....in response to linasmom and the following. I completely agree with what you have said. Alcohol, drugs, and mental illness have had a profound effect on my family, as it has on many families in SW Pennsylvania and across the nation. None of this is to say that the incident (in isolation) caused these problems; as you say, the economy, culture, and other factors have contributed to such pathology. However, I think it is important to note that this was a unique, traumatic accident that was never recognized or addressed in a therapeutic manner and could possibly have had devastating effects that compounded these other issues. Obviously, PTSD in an individual could be detrimental to other family members, children, friends, etc. If this experience resulted in PTSD for nearly 800 people...imagine the repurcussions. Again, I completely agree with both of you....I just feel it is important to acknowledge that "ridgerunner's" interpretation of the town's response to he and his wife was real and accurate.
    littleoc and Abstract like this.
  8. Auburngirl

    Auburngirl Well-Known Member

    I have never been to Pensylvania but I have wondered about similar issues in Rwanda and elsewhere. What do you know when the majority of the population has been though, witnessed, or participated in atrocious acts?

    I actually feel quite guilty about what I'm going through because I know many who fled civil war and genocide and I know that I can't even conceive of what they've been through.
    littleoc and Abstract like this.
  9. WestmorelandKid

    WestmorelandKid New Member

    Derry Pa.

    SMOKIN WHAT??????
    Keep in mind the events of 30 years past do fade. Those 50 and older at this time are likely deceased, those younger that say 35? have only heard about it second hand. For those who lost family, friends, neighbors the reluctancy to discuss a tragedy is probably good judgement not a mental illness.

    Half the town being there is false, a 2000 sensus had the population at nearly 3000 and only 500 were in attendance that day. Many were from surrounding communities, your facts are BS. I can attest that more people lived there when Latrobe Steel, Standard Steel, Vulcan Mold, Derry Westinghouse was booming at this time. The general doom and gloom might have something to do with industry on a steady decline and the mean income of that general area being rater low. Paint the picture of a drug infested ass-backwards town but it has its quirks like anyplace else. Its small town USA where many just keep to themselves, and gossip about the neighbors. The lone traffic light is just a product of the last 10 years, however very few of the bars have ever closed. Maybe head south into some small places in Fayette county and see how alike many of these places can be.


    Information on this crash can be obtained though many on-line reports, if you really need to know subscribe to a few and go for it but dont look for any locals to jump up and start spouting details. The town having some mass mental illness from a 1978 event is absolute crap.
    littleoc, CC13 and Hashi like this.
  10. graebrahm

    graebrahm Member

    I am by far no expert on the subject of PTSD, but I have been told that my situation - an auto accident involving 1 car with 3 people in that car resulting in 2 fatalities has had long term impact on many of the search and rescue people who spent many long hours throughout a night by raging water trying to find my babies. From what I have been told there are many, many that have needed long term counseling as a result of searching for my babies and vehicle.

    That said - I would imagine there has to be some impact on this town resulting in the chopper accident described - especially if they didn't get help. Very sad.
    littleoc and Abstract like this.
  11. sunnydaze

    sunnydaze Well-Known Member

    Wow, it's like right out of a movie. I was just in Pittsburgh 2 weeks ago and had no idea of this happening and how close I was to the area. How devastating for all. It almost reminded me of a movie, I think called 4th of July that has been out for awhile. I do not doubt this thing happened. How fortunate we are to not have witnessed such a event.
    littleoc likes this.
  12. sunnydaze

    sunnydaze Well-Known Member

    I found these statistics of the town,. It is rather small on crime
    Crime in Derry (2002):
    • 0 murders (0.0 per 100,000)
    • 0 rapes (0.0 per 100,000)
    • 0 robberies (0.0 per 100,000)
    • 2 assaults (66.6 per 100,000)
    • 7 burglaries (233.0 per 100,000)
    • 39 thefts (1298.3 per 100,000)
    • 9 auto thefts (299.6 per 100,000)
  13. FormerMedic

    FormerMedic New Member

    Derry Incident

    I hapened upon this site because I was trying to remember the date of the helicopter crash in Derry. I was wondering, because a helicopter dropping golf balls onto a golf course for a charity raffle crashed close to where I now live last Friday. (Unlike Derry, the balls were dropped over an empty green area, the closest numbered ball to the pin wins) The two people in the helicopter were the only ones injured. I immediatly thought that this was almost 30 years to the day from the Derry Incident.

    I was 17 at the time of the Derry crash, and had I not been at a family picnic on the other side of the county, I would have been at St Joseph's that day. I worked at the time as a photographer for the Latrobe Bulletin, the closest paper to the Derry Area. Upon returning from the picnic and learning of the accident, I went to the scene to see what was happening. I was surprised to see that by evening the scene was virtually deserted. The remains of the helicopter were tightly covered with tarps and roped off, but literally no one was around, I drove to within 15 feet of the wreckage.

    I knew many of the people affected, One of the victims was a teacher at our high school. Some were students. A local man that I remained friends with for years was on the helicopter with his daughter, neither was injured but his wife on the ground was killed. Even the newspaper accounts (my boss at the paper lived in Derry) were vaugue and restrained. There really seemed to be a reluctance to accept or acknowledge what happened. At the time, the closest ambulances were located at Latrobe Hospital (7 miles south) and Blairsville (9 miles north). This lack of a local ambulance response led to the formation of the Derry Area Ambulance Service in 1980.

    I was a founding member and one of the first paramedics to work for the service. I always found it odd that a group of volunteers working to help the community met so much resistance. Many prominent people fought against the service. After looking at things from ridgerunner's perspective, maybe they were against a cause that was born from a tragedy they wanted to forget. The service was a success, growing from responding to 600 calls the first year to over 3000 a year when I "retired" in 1990.

    I later became involved in Derry Borough politics (having moved into the Borough from the Township after getting married) because of the stagnant nature of the community and the unfriendly reputation it had gained. I again saw first hand the way residents overreact. I was an outsider and spoke my mind and had many supporters. However, those who were against me went to great lengths to oppose me. I could never understand why some people would lie and plot to oppose someone that was just trying to make the town better, but maybe ridgerunner's theory may explain it. I'd be glad to talk more about my experiences to those interested, just ask.
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