A moment that stopped time: Family still mourns deaths of 3 in plane crash

    HOPEDALE - The moment the lives of two local families changed forever is blazed on the
    blackened faces of two gold watches recovered from a deadly plane crash 30 years ago.

    The time is 4:10 p.m., Aug. 15, 1972, frozen forever on the gold watches that belonged to
    Kenneth Melin, 15, and his 13-year-old brother Philip.

    "It's sentimental, Liz," Helen Melin tells her sister as she carefully puts her sons' watches
    into a fresh plastic bag pulled from a kitchen drawer at her Hartford Avenue home in

    Liz Pasquantonio of Franklin lost the eldest of her six children, Paul, 13, in the same plane
    crash. Three decades later, she wonders why her sister holds on to those charred and
    sooty watches, suspending such a tragic moment in time.

    "I would throw that all away," she says, scanning the makeshift display of dilapidated
    coins, scorched dollar bills and clothing scraps, burnt Swiss Army knives and a warped
    measuring tape belonging to Philip, all salvaged from the wreckage.

    But for Melin they are not sentimental debris, but the tenderhearted links, riding that
    evanescent line between life and death where her lost boys come alive.

    "It's part of them," she explains. "I never want to part with that."

    The three teens died when a single-engine, four-seat Cessna plane crashed in the woods
    shortly after takeoff at the Hopedale Airport, footsteps from Melin's home.

    Pilot Stephan Cluett, 34, and Stephen Ivey, 15, both of Gloucester, also perished in the
    fiery crash, when the overloaded aircraft fell to the ground and burst into flames.

    "There was no hope of rescue as the engine quit and the aircraft plummeted to a silent
    death, ripping off branches from a large tree as it descended and then hitting the swampy
    ground with such impact that the plane was torn to pieces," the Daily News reported the
    following day.

    And just as there was no hope of rescue, the mourning parents say there was no hope life
    could ever be the same for their families.

    "A lot of people say to you they know how you feel, but they don't know how you feel,"
    Pasquantonio said, seated at the kitchen table in her sister's Hopedale home. "You can
    lose your mother and you can lose your father, but when you lose your son or daughter,
    your heart just breaks into a million pieces. There's no explaining it."

    "You can 't eat. You can't sleep," pipes up Melin's husband Ken.

    "It's never the same," Helen Melin finishes. And the conversation slips into a meditative
    silence for a while.

    Helen and Kenneth Melin had high hopes for their blue-eyed sons the summer they were
    taken away.
    One day before the plane crash, the family came home from their first family vacation ever.

    They traveled to Plymouth, N.H., for a weekend with the boys, their baby brother Richard
    and 12-year-old sister Susan. The family bought a freezer on that trip because Philip's
    appetite was outgrowing the refrigerator.

    Two days later, Kenneth Melin was racing through his Daily News paper route so he and
    Philip could take a scenic airplane ride at Hopedale Airport with their cousin,

    The day was windy and overcast with a slight nip in the air. Not an ideal day for a scenic

    "It was cool. That's why I wanted them to go the next day," said Helen Melin.

    But Pasquantonio was eager to take his first airplane trip before going going home.

    "Paul wanted to come because he wanted to go in that plane and he was afraid he wasn't
    going to be back here for a while," his mother said.

    The Melin boys weren't necessarily aviation buffs, but they would often cut through a path
    behind their backyard to the airport to take an airplane ride, their parents said.

    "I loved flying. I guess it sort of washed off on the kids," said Ken Melin, who completed 12
    hours of flight training after he was discharged from the army.

    Philip even had a part-time job, cleaning and mowing the lawn at the airport for then-chief
    mechanic Bert Marona.

    Helen Melin remembered the three boys sitting at a picnic table in the yard that afternoon,
    trying to figure out what to do. She suggested they set up the croquet equipment and play
    a match.

    The boys eventually decided to go ahead with their original plan to take the airplane ride.

    "They ran upstairs and got their money and off they went. Thank God their sister didn't go
    with them. But then again, maybe they wouldn't have gone up because there would have
    been too many people," Helen Melin said.

    In the meantime, Melin went to Almacs supermarket in Bellingham to pick up baby
    sausage and mashed potatoes for dinner. She was preparing Paul's favorite dish for
    dessert that night: chocolate pudding with cool whip.

    "I had them in their own dishes in the refrigerator on a tray. They were always here on
    time for supper. Always," Melin said.

    At the airport, the boys reportedly met Cluett who had landed in Hopedale 25 minutes
    earlier to look at a plane he was interested in buying. Ivey started talking to the teens, and
    arrangements were made for everyone to take a ride together.

    The flight was ill-fated from the start.

    "Bert Morona was trying to get him to stop because the tail was hitting the runway," Ken
    Melin said.
    Soon after liftoff, the plane crashed in the woods.

    Melin drove by the accident scene on his way home from the Milford High School
    construction site where he worked as a carpenter.

    "I drove out there and I saw them carrying the body out," he remembered.

    His wife also heard about the crash before heading to her evening shift at New England
    Telephone on Water Street in Milford at 6 p.m. Her shift supervisor told her not to worry
    because the victims were allegedly from out of state, but Melin was still anxious. The boys
    hadn't yet come home for dinner.

    Her supervisor told her she couldn't take the night off because they were short-staffed for
    help that night. She asked if she could go home for her 9 p.m. break.

    "I said, 'Can I go? Can I go? I'll come back. I promise I'll come back," Melin recalled. "I
    couldn't afford not to work. They even docked me for the time."

    A single lawn light illuminated the Melin's beige house that night where the family kept vigil
    with the Rev. Francis Pitroff from Hopedale's Sacred Heart Church where Kenneth was an
    altar boy.

    "We were just praying and hoping it wasn't our kids. But as time went on we began to
    know. Especially when they didn't come home for supper, and knowing they would never
    run away from home...," Pasquantonio said.

    Dental records confirmed the boys' death late that night.

    The next day the Daily News reported the boys had hitched a ride with the pilot, a
    statement that always hurt the family.

    The boys' cousin Steven delivered those papers for Kenneth with tears in his eyes, Ken
    Melin said.

    "They were good boys. They were ambitious," Helen Melin said, explaining she always
    wanted to set the record straight on the detail she feels cast her sons in a negative light.

    It took six months for Helen to cry, but once she started during a family trip to Florida, the
    tears didn't let up.

    "I felt guilty going," she said, explaining the family never had the money to ever take the
    boys on such a vacation.

    The family never used the freezer they bought in New Hampshire and ended up selling it
    privately when the store wouldn't take it back.

    The community deluged the family with flowers, letters and words of support.

    Melin never forgot the letter the late Concetta Brucato sent her after the tragedy.

    "It was just beautiful," she exclaimed.

    Sometimes Melin would take Richard for walks in his stroller by the crash site.

    "I'd go over there and find pieces of clothing," she said.

    On her trips she found a piece of Philip's red and white striped shorts and a scrap of
    Kenneth's dark tan pants.

    At Pasquantonio's funeral, a necklace with a half-dollar was returned to his mother. It was
    a piece of jewelry the boy never took off.

    "Everything else was burnt to a crisp, but it was perfect," Pasquantonio said. "Someone
    said, '(Paul) wanted to give this back to you and that made me feel good.' "

    Though the Melins say they would love their neighbors and would never leave the home
    of 46 years, they often wonder what could have been for their boys.

    The loss also took its toll on the boys' brothers and sisters.

    An organ student, Kenneth was going to enter the 10th grade at Hopedale High School
    that fall. His brother Philip would have joined him at the same school as an 8th-grade
    student where he played the saxophone in the band.

    "(Philip) was looking forward to that because Kenneth could show him where to go," Melin

    Like their father, the boys were interested in carpentry and were always itching to build
    the game room across from the bedroom they shared on the second floor.

    The parents had already begun to save for their college educations.

    Pasquantonio was a comedian and a Boy Scout who would put together small shows in his
    mother's backyard to raise money for cancer research.

    "Paul was always with me. If I was sitting somewhere I'd be sitting next to him," his mother

    And 30 years later, they still think about the boys every day, even paying for a small
    advertisement in Thursday's Daily News to memorialize Kenneth and Philip.

    "You see other children grow up and you're almost envious. I don't know what. I thought
    they'd turn out OK in life," Melin said. "It certainly does affect the whole family. You're
    never the same." Milford Daily News, August 17, 2002.

    Memories of Dana Newcombe, the first to arrive on the scene.   

Now and Then - Hopedale Airport   

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Thanks to Bob Anderson for the articles above.

    From Dana Newecombe:

    Dan; I was flipping through the Hopedale related questions. I was shaken a bit to view the
    question about the Hopedale plane crash. If the reference is to the crash that took place
    around 1972, I was the first person to the scene of the crash. I was a freelance photographer
    for the Milford paper. It was just a couple hours after noon and I heard the call come in on the
    scanner in my car. I didn't have to go far, as I was right in front of the Texiera residence
    heading towards Mill Street. You have to bear with me for I've forgotten many of the street
    names in Hopedale. I looked off to my left and saw a cloud of smoke climbing from the
    wooded area  just below. I grabbed my camera and ran to the scene. The flames had almost
    subsided in the short time it took me to get there. I was shocked at what I saw.

    There were three very badly scorched bodies still in the seated position. I later learned that
    two of the bodies were students at Hopedale Jr.Sr. High. Kenny and Phillip Melin (of 65
    Hartford Avenue) were their names. The pilots name was Paul Pasquantonio. He was from
    Cape Cod. The boys weren't supposed to be on that flight. They had convinced the pilot to
    give them a ride. The pilot tried to climb in altitude too rapidly causing the plane to stall. I
    believe the plane went down approximately 300 feet from the runway.

Kenneth Melin

Philip Melin

Memories of Dana Newcombe, the first to arrive on the scene

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