On Sunday, November 7, 1937, a horrible plane crash in Shenango Township took the lives of two of the youngest aviation enthusiasts in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania. Those two men were twenty-six-year-old Daniel Burick of Chewton and twenty-one-year-old Alex Sroczynski of Shenango Township. The two young men had grown up during the Golden Age of Aviation and became swept up in the pursuit of flying.
Daniel Burick was the son of Mike and Anna Burick, sometimes given as the traditional Burik, who had emigrated from Austria-Hungary (modern-day Slovakia), were joined in marriage in 1895, and settled in the small village of Chewton. Daniel was born in Chewton on December 24, 1911, the tenth of eleven children born to Mike and Anna. He attended the Chewton Public School, was mechanically-minded, and became interested in aviation at an early age. He later went to work at the Shelby Tube Plant in Ellwood City. He even built his own plane in a barn in Chewton, which was completed in the summer of 1935. He was only an aspiring pilot though and would never have a chance to fly his self-built plane. Daniel Burick is a distant relative of mine, as his father was the half-brother of my great grandmother Mary (Brinczkova) LaPatka.
Alex Sroczynski was the son of Pete and Katie Sroczynski, who had emigrated from Poland, were married in about 1911, and eventually made their home on Route 65 (Ellwood Rd) in Shenango Township. Alex, one of two siblings, was born (possibly in Allegheny County) on March 7, 1916. He graduated from Shenango High School in 1935 and was a qualified – albeit inexperienced – pilot.
Apparently their love of aviation brought them together and on Sunday, November 7, 1937, the two friends planned to rent a plane for an afternoon of flying. Alex made his way to the Burick home on Reserve Square in Chewton. From there they borrowed the car of Daniel’s brother Joseph and made their way to Bernard Airport in nearby Youngstown, Ohio. They rented a small monoplane from Harold H. Hinkle, an accomplished aviator and manager of the airport. Alex piloted the lightweight plane and they took off at about 3:10pm bound for New Castle.
They overflew New Castle and did a little stunt flying along the way. They then proceeded southeast towards Castlewood, where Daniel’s brother Steven had a farm on Hollow Road. They circled over the small community of Castlewood, just west of the intersection of Route 65 (Ellwood Road) and Route 388 in Shenango Township. Alex was apparently doing some stunts at low altitude, about 500 feet, when the engine sputtered out. The plane quickly banked towards the ground and plunged nose first into an orchard on the property of Leo and Florence Sochia.
An eyewitness account appeared in a New Castle News article the next day and read in part, “…the pilot had been stunting, and had just completed two complete loops, and apparently was going up for a third loop, when the engine started missing, and went into a sideslip, from which the pilot was unable to recover it, and it glided sideways, crashing into the hillside in back of the Sochia home, hitting a small apple tree and plunging its nose into the ground.”
The plane was severely crumpled and both men suffered fractured skulls and numerous other major injuries. Daniel was killed immediately, while Alex was clinging to life and in grave condition. A group of youngsters playing football nearby at the Castlewood playground were among the first rescuers to arrive at the scene of the crash. Alex was pulled from the wreckage, placed in the automobile of Castlewood resident Walter Sontagg, and rushed to Jameson Hospital in New Castle. Unfortunately, Alex, who was unconscious since the crash, died en route.
Daniel’s remains were badly mangled and his identity was far from certain. The pilot license belonging to Harold Hinkle was found in the plane and initially it was believed Daniel’s remains were those of Hinkle. Later, at a morgue in New Castle, some paperwork was found on Daniel that helped officials learn his true identity. His family was notified and they made a positive identification of his remains.
The scene of the crash was cordoned off and an investigator from the U.S. Department of Commerce arrived later that day. It was determined that the cause of the crash was due to Alex flying at too low an altitude while performing stunts. When the engine sputtered out Alex had precious little time to restart it as the plane plummeted towards the ground. Alex was flying at about 500 feet, when the minimum altitude to start a stunt is recommended at 2,000 feet. The plane was determined to be total loss and was hauled away by personnel from Bernard Airport.
A memorial service for Daniel, presided over by the Reverend Francis A. Maloney, was held at St. Monica’s Catholic Church in Wampum on Wednesday, November 10. Afterwards, Daniel was interred in St. Joseph’s Catholic Cemetery in New Castle. My uncles Joe and Steve LaPatka were among the pallbearers that carried his casket. Daniel’s parents were both deceased at the time, his father having passed away less than two months earlier. They were both buried in St. Teresa’s (Hoytdale) Cemetery near Koppel. I am not sure why Daniel was not buried there as well.
Alex was also memorialized that same morning in the S.S. Philip & James Catholic Cemetery in New Castle. The Reverend Vincent V. Stancelewski officiated over the service, after which Alex was interred in the S.S. Philip & James Catholic Cemetery in Slippery Rock Township. His parents were later buried by his side.
To read the obituaries of both young men click on: OBITUARIES.
Daniel Burick (right of fuselage looking at camera) posing next to his plane on Reserve Square in Chewton. I believe that is Robertson’s general store (later Kubinski’s) seen in the background. (1935)
The large Burick family stone in St. Joseph’s Cemetery in New Castle. Daniel’s burial marker is visible on left behind the the large stone. It appears he is the only Burick buried in this plot. (Jul 2010)
Closeup of Daniel’s marker. (Jul 2010)
Sroczynski plot at S.S. Philip & James Cemetery in Slippery Rock Township. Alex’s marker is at bottom right, while the large stone marks the burial spot of his parents Peter (Piotr) and Katie. (Nov 2010)
Closeup of Alex’s marker. (Jul 2010)