Funeral preparations were being made for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Harry S. Truman had been sworn in as our 33rd President. American troops were liberating the first Nazi concentration camps as the US 7th Army and allied forces seized Nuremberg and Stuttgart in Germany. Across the Pacific, U.S. forces captured the Motubu peninsula in Okinawa and American planes bombed Tokyo. It was Saturday April 14, 1945, and a hopeful world watched as WWII was nearing its end.
The Pittsburgh skies were gray with drizzling rain and thunder. Laura Taber Barbour had been visiting her mother and was aboard a Pennsylvania Central Airlines DC-3 scheduled to return her to her family in Knoxville, Tennessee. In the late afternoon, with 17 passengers and a crew of 3, the airliner passed through the turbulent West Virginia sky as electrical storms ripped through the Coopers Rock State Forest just a few miles northeast of Morgantown. The plane crashed into the rugged terrain of Cheat Mountain. All on board perished.
Laura Taber Barbour was the beloved wife to the Reverend Dr. Clifford E. Barbour and the adoring mother to her only child, Cliff. As Pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Dr. Barbour was so much more than a minister to a church. His nurturing spirit and strength of character inspired people throughout the region. Both he and Laura, hand in hand, were active in serving the needs of the community. The city had embraced them and now their dear Laura, the love of Dr. Barbour's life and the radiant magic they were together, was gone.
Together, the family escorted Laura's body back to Knoxville by train, where officers of Second Presbyterian Church gathered to meet them at Knoxville's L&N Station. The heart of the city was grief-stricken. A local newspaper captured the sentiment when it recounted the story of a four year-old girl sitting behind her house as she emptied the coins she had saved in her piggy bank to buy her "Dokker" Barbour two roses.
Two weeks passed and a bereaved congregation anxiously awaited Dr. Barbour's return to the pulpit. That Sunday morning, delivering his sermon, he stepped up and proclaimed, "The heart of the eternal is most wonderfully kind. If you want stability in a quaking world, if you want courage in time of trouble, accept Christ. Those who have done so have found that when the storms came, and the winds blew, and the rains beat upon their house, it did not fall."
The Accident Investigation Report released by The Civil Aeronautics Board in March of 1946, concluded the accident was caused by pilot error influenced by diminished weather conditions, a continually lowering ceiling and below minimum standards for the planned Morgantown landing.
In the years following, an award was established in Laura's memory by Dr. Barbour and his son, Cliff. Flight Safety Foundation, in the persons of Jerome Lederer and Gloria Heath graciously agreed to administer the Award. The Award recognizes notable achievement in the field of aviation safety, civil or military, in method, design, invention, study or other improvement.
Since 1956, with great purpose, the Laura Taber Barbour Air Safety Award continues to spotlight those champions who pioneer breakthroughs in flight safety.