IAM Mourns Retiree and 1959 Plane Crash Survivor Phil Bradley

Former IAM member Phil Bradley at a monument marking the site of an historic plane crash in 1959. Bradley was the sole survivor of the crash and erected the monument at his own expense.

Retired IAM Organizer and sole survivor of the historic Piedmont Airlines Flight 349 crash of 1959, Phil Bradley, died August 23, 2013.

The 87 year old lost a six-week battle with pancreatic cancer.

It was more than 50 years ago when Bradley, returning from an IAM organizing trip, boarded connecting Piedmont Airlines Flight 349 from National Airport to Roanoke, VA, The flight would later slam into Buck’s Elbow Mountain near Crozet, VA, killing 23 passengers and three crew members. Three days later, rescuers found the wreckage, along with Bradley – still alive.

“The October 30, 1959 incident launched what was widely described as the era’s greatest search-and-rescue operation, as teams of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft spent the next 36 hours searching a multi-county swath of Virginia landscape,” reads a recent news story. “Belted into his chair, the rearmost seat in the plane, Bradley had somehow catapulted out of a hole torn into the aluminum fuselage and come to rest on the rocky forest floor near Shenandoah National Park.”

Bradley co-wrote a book in 1997, The Crash of Piedmont Flight 349 into Buck’s Elbow Mountain, and created a website, solesurvivor.info, to tell his story and to memorialize his fellow passengers.

In 1999, Bradley unveiled a memorial to the accident. Planned and built at his own expense, the memorial consists of a granite marker engraved with the names of all the victims underneath a small pavilion. It stands in Mint Springs Valley Park in Albemarle County, VA, within sight of the mountainside where the plane crashed.

Phil Bradley was born and raised in Clifton Forge, VA. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1943 and played a role in the Allied invasion of Normandy by making 11 trips ferrying men and equipment to Omaha Beach on the SS George E. Badger. He later completed machine apprentice work on the C&O Railway and became an IAM organizer.

“There’s a reason Phil Bradley was allowed to stay here on earth with us just a little while longer; for that we will forever be grateful,” said IAM International President Tom Buffenbarger. “He was not only special to the IAM, but he was special to the world. The IAM extends its condolences to the Bradley family. May he forever rest in peace.”