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The Wichita Eagle from Wichita, Kansas • Page 8
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The Wichita Eagle from Wichita, Kansas • Page 8

The Wichita Eaglei
Wichita, Kansas
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A THf WICHITA IAGLE Mondoy Jmm 19 1971 Recovery workers lean over the side of their boat to haul two bodies out of Pomona Lake during dragging operations after a tornado capsized the showboat Whippoorwill 4P Photo Could Hear the Storm I Try to Get Out there I thought it was someone else at The scuba diver pulled Pressgrove out and he was taken ashore by one of the rescue boats that had gathered nearby His galley companion and the crew member trapped in the boiler room also were saved Pressgrove who has worked in the summer theater on the Whippoorwill for the last three summers will be a junior in music at WSU this fall While Pressgrove was on the lower deck when the tornado hit Tom Mitchell 21 of Topeka was topside with the guests been out about 15 minutes By JOHN PETTERSON Staff Writer started coining in and I felt myself swimming for a long time I was under water I don't know for how next thing 20-year-old Larry Press-grove of Topeka remembers is gulping breaths from a tiny airpocket that had formed under water when the 65-foot showboat the Whippoorwill was capsized on Pomona Lake Saturday night He breathed from that limited air supply until rescuers arrived more than half an hour later knew the air eventually would run out I yelled a little but I knew no one could hear the Wichita State University student said in an interview Sunday The showboat trip had begun as usual Pressgrove and a fellow crew member James Olson were working in the galley preparing to serve dinner to the 46 guests seated on the level above them Then the tornado struck the boat only minutes after it left the lake's south shore was in the galley and all I knew was that the boat was tipping he said With his head protruding into a cubic yard of air and with water lapping at his body he tried to remain calm was thinking about the other fellow in the galley and I spent a lot of time figuring out which was the front of the boat so I could get out if I had to wanted to wait and make sure someone would come but if I had to I think I could have gotten out by myself I heard another person pounding who was in the boiler room Also I could hear the storm outside and that's one reason I didn't try to get out because I didn't know what it would be like out he said Pressgrove said it may have been 25 minutes later a friend said it was closer to 45 that a hand grabbed his leg just grabbed me and I grabbed him and then I realized he was breathing under all About a minute before we saw a water spout Other than that I have no idea It just turned into a funnel wind started picking up all of a sudden and the boat slowly said Mitchell who also is working for the third summer on the floating theater He was near the railing and as the boat tipped just sort of stepped off" A volunteer rescuer grabbed him and hauled him aboard a private boat the passengers got on the hull It just flipped over and floatal" he said had one boy (Pressgrove) in the cab missing He showed up 45 minutes later He'd been under the boat in an airpocket" Heroism Sleepless Night Follow Sudden Tragedy keep fit Stadel would be thankful for that before the night was over When he pulled alongside the Whippoorwill he saw people scrambling into boats Like the other boaters Stadel figured that those on the upturned craft were the only ones who had survived But he decided to check further Wearing a scuba outfit he went into the water He knew there were at least two compartments in which air pockets might have formed One was Staff Photo by Robert Stone was completely black down there and I was completely disoriented RESCUERS CARRY ONE OF FIVE BODIES FROM LAKE Victim was among those found by divers Sunday morning Death Toll Climbs to 14 In Pomona Boat Disaster From Page 1 He ordered the pilot to head for shore but it was too late Funnel and spout roared past the boat roiling the lake into huge waves Wind tore at the awning The Whippoorwill began to roll over TABLES AND CHAIRS slid into the water Silverware cameras food and clothing went The awning filled with water before it was crushed by the 25-ton boat rolling on top of it Passengers and crew were under dark murky water floundering among the debris Back at the marina owner Lawrence Stadel 50 had seen the funnels Now a passing boater offered him a frantic message: The Whippoorwill had overturned Stadel tall with gray hair and beard setting off skin deeply burnished by the sun cranked up the 85-horsepower engine on his 28-foot pontoon boat and sped off Several small boats hovered around the upturned bottom of the Whippoorwill where lucky survivors stood shivering One by one survivors were plucked off the overturned steamer VEDA ROGERS was at the playhouse a large red bam near the park entrance a few miles from the scene She and Bruce Rogers lived in Winfield Bruce taught music at the high school she taught voice at Southwestern College Both had resigned this year to work full-time on expanding the playhouse which they've owned since 1970 A MAN LN A TRUCK wheeled into the playhouse parking lot and yelled boat has capsized in the middle of the lake" husband and daughters Cathryn and Margaret were on it She was unable later even to remember who had yelled at her Lawrence Stadel was in pretty good shape A son had urged him to jog and the boiler compartment near the bow the other was the engine compartment in the stem HE FOUND ONE young man in each first one (in the boiler room) was in an area big enough so that we could surface and Stadel said "We talked over the possibilities of buddy-breathing or getting another tank of air But I thought time was of the essence We got our signals straight and 1 had him grasp my foot" Stadel led the way through the maze of debris was completely black down there and I was completely disoriented" he said But they made the surface Stadel was impressed with the calmness of the passenger "He was very much in charge of himself He'd probably been under 25 About 10 minutes after they surfaced Stadel heard a tapping coming from the stern He went under again THIS TIME HE couldn't talk with the trapped survivor so he had to make of the biggest decisions I ever had to make in my he said He decided simply to grab on and pull the survivor out Stadel didn't know whether the trapped man would have time to take a breath before being yanked under water But in the engine room Stadel thought air was stagnant and foul and he didn't have much time "I just hauled him down and out" Stadel said It worked Fifteen others were dead or missing including one crew member Within 45 minutes of the time the Whippoorwill went over the shore teemed with Osage County sheriffs officers Kansas Highway Patrol officials and Salvation Army workers from Topeka TWENTY VOLUNTEER civil defense divers from Shawnee County were on the scene by 9 pm along with 15 divers from Lee's Summit Mo The Whippoorwill had drifted about 300 yards back toward the marina The scene on shore reflected the grisly aftermath of a tragedy: Floodlights were rigged to cut through the darkening sky small craft formed a semi-circle focusing their lights on as the Whippoorwill as it was hauled toward land campers swarmed on the shore The Salvation Army set up food trucks for law officials game wardens and spectators Two large wreckers with winches were used to attach cables to the side of the boat to right it When that was done several bodies were found SALVATION ARMY Major Dale Horn began counseling survivors and relatives of the dead difficult to find the words to he said Sunday were all stunned They couldn't believe this thing had happened" Reports of the number of dead missing and injured fluctuated throughout the night But by early morning nine were known dead six still missing A temporary morgue was set up in the Army Corps of Engineers office a few miles from the park Injured passengers were taken to hospitals in Topeka and Emporia Sunday the sun was out over Pomona Lake Divers who had searched until 2 am were back in the water by 7 am They went into the 25-foot depths beyond where the Whippoorwill rested a few feet off shore IS PITCH BLACK out said diver Steve Swim To search eight or 10 divers held hands forming chains which swept over areas in circles one diver acting as a pivot point on tiie surface By 1 pm divers were called out of the water and small boats began dragging Pumps were sent into the Whippoorwill's bottom to get the water out and try to raise the boat The dragging operation found five bodies Sunday afternoon One passenger was still missing when recovery operations were suspended Sunday afternoon MAP OUTLINES POMONA LAKE AREA Large arrow points to scene of tragedy Here Is List of Survivors From Page 1 lake excursions a year capsized when a slim tornado formed suddenly over the normally calm lake Many of the passengers and crew of the 65-foot showboat were saved by boats which rushed out from the shore almost immediately after the accident Divers rescued others trapped within the boat and kept alive by air pockets then began searching the water recovering nine bodies by 9 am Sunday Divers from Lee's Summit Mo had searched the tree-lined lake's 25-foot deep water for six hours Sunday before the dragging operations began and the scuba divers brought the latest victims to shore Eight aluminum skiffs had been dragging the 4000-acre lake for nearly two hours before finding the bodies which were transported to a makeshift morgue at the US Army Corps of office several miles away Lifevests were on the boat crewman said but the craft capsized too quickly for passengers or crew to don them Several survivors confirmed that the tornado appeared too quickly for any warning Boat owner Bruce Rogers who was in charge said he had ordered the boat back to shore under full power but that it capsized 100 yards from the lakefront The boat pilot was Bemie Wonsetier who had been trained by Rogers and had been operating the boat for about a year Rogers said that before the excur sion which left dockside at 7 pm he had asked for a weather report from park manager Streeter The park manager said later that he had received no warning of severe weather About 15 minutes later the boat lay upside down after at least me tornado had skimmed the water and had just missed 900 campers at sites along the shore A SPOKESMAN FOR the National Weather Service in Topeka said a severe thunderstorm watch was issued for between 7 and 11 pm for the Pomona Lake area but said a tornado warning was not issued until after the disaster The spokesman said the warning was issued after several funnel clouds were reported and said the tornado that caused the Whippoorwill to flip appeared too quickly and was too small to be seen on radar was the longest slimmest thing" said Charles Herschell who was on shore just kept bobbing up and Other witnesses said two toraadoe skimmed the lake's surface The resulting strong winds and turbulent water struck the boat and caused it to overturn throwing its passengers and crew into the water wind here had been wicked but before it (tornado) come down through here there was a dead calm not a leaf stirring" said Robert Green a camper from Bonner Springs Kan come right down the middle of the lake with the water just Green said else was smooth as WHILE DIVERS LATE Saturday searched for victims rescuers in boats pushed the Whippoorwill closer to shore Cables were attached from the boat to bulldozers and shortly before midnight the boat was righted Authorities early Sunday began pumping water from the boat which listed at a 30-degree angle Its high side faced the shore The caropy of the boat moored 10 feet off-shore os severely damaged Its boards were twisted into splinters Smashed chairs lay tumbled against the railing and card tables on the upper deck hung upside down from the awning Witnesses said most of the passed gers were on the top deck of the Whippoorwill preparing to eat dinner before a performance of at when the boat capsized Most of the bodies were recovered from the general area where the boat capsized The area was marked with bouys bearing bright orange flags Doctors nurses and volunteers Saturday night treated survivors of the disaster Of the 14 persons injured several were taken to hospitals in Topeka Emporia and Kansas City OFFICIALS AT TOPEKA'S Stor-mant-Vail Hospital said Earl Hodges 81 of Mountain Home Ark and Sandy Griffin 31 of Topeka remained in fair condition Sunday' wife Loretta was treated and released while Mrs Griffin's husband Charles was killed Two others Mary Adams 53 of Kansas City Mo and her husband Milton Adams 54 were admitted to Newman Memorial County r-ry itrJ at Emporia after the 1 i "clcerrl Csr -Viv Cthcre wrre and released Here is an incomplete list of the surviving passengers who were aboard the Whippoorwill Showboat when it was capsized by a tornado on Pomona Lake Saturday evening Officials did not have a complete listing of passengers 1 Bill Shelton Topeka 2 Barbara Hilmer 3 Tom Spencer 42 Topeka 4 Rita Spencer 5 Mary Hawthorne 6 Sandra Griffin Topeka 7 Donna Jamar 8 Joann Aker Topeka 9 Frank Holen 45 10 Terry Utsunonizi 11 Mike Patterson 32 Topeka 12 Richard Jepson Topeka 13 Aria Weiss Topeka 14 Earl Hodges 81 Mountain Home Ark 15 Loretta Hodges 72 Mountain Home Ark 16 Jane Jepson Topeka 17 Lindsey Pherigo 18 Vivian Pherigo 19 Villo Schwartz 20 Mary Adams 21 Milton Adams 22 Anne Foults 23 RR Reiling Kansas City Mo 24 Mrs RR Reiling Kansas City Mo 25 Wallace List Topeka 26 David List Topeka 27 Betty List Topeka 28 Lynn Vogel 65 Topeka 29 Milton Vogel Topeka 30 Allen Wright 6 Topeka Here is a list of the surviving crew members who were aboard the Whippoorwill 1 Bruce Rogers 43 Winfield 2 Catherine Rogers 19 Winfield 3 Debbie Cramer 18 Quenemo 4 Paul Redding 15 Williamsburg 5 Patricia Redding 17 Williamsburg 6 Bemie Wonsetier 20 Hutchinson 7 Arron Gregg 18 Quenemo 8 Margaret Rogers 18 Winfield 9 Larry Pressgrove 20 Topeka 10 Tom Mitchell 21 Topeka 11 Jim Olson 17 Pomona 12 Linda Waltz 20 Baldwin City.

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