Night reminds Missourians of Litton tragedy in 1976
Gov. Mel Carnahan's plane crash Monday night revived memories of a similar twin-engine plane tragedy involving another popular Missouri Democrat 24 years ago.
It was an August election night in 1976. Jerry Litton, a two-term congressman from Chillicothe, was winning the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate.
Litton climbed into a twin-engine plane for a short flight to Kansas City, where his victory party was planned. Shortly after takeoff from Chillicothe, the plane crashed into a field and burned.
"He was presidential material," a friend, Jim Stubbs, said the next day, as Democrats across the state grieved. Litton had beaten two strong opponents, Rep. James W. Symington and former governor Warren E. Hearnes.
Litton's wife, Sharon, their two children, the pilot and the pilot's son died.
Republican Jack Danforth, who at the time was Missouri's attorney general, won the election.
Pilot error and a problem with the crankshaft in the plane's left engine were blamed for that crash.
Decades later, Democrats in northwest Missouri said they still had not recovered from losing such a popular politician.
"He was one of the greatest young speakers of his time," a Northland civic leader, Jay Dillingham, was quoted as saying in 1990.