Blizzard of ’77 Hangar Collapse

I dedicate this page to my sister Carol Payne Zagon for if it weren’t for her extraordinary photographic skills, this story wouldn’t exist.

Sometime between Friday night, January 28, and early Saturday morning, January 29, 1977, we suffered a devastating hangar collapse. The roof of the West building of our twin “North” hangars gave way to the snow’s tremendous weight due to the historical Blizzard of ’77. The valley between the two buildings quickly became impacted by the deep powdery snow transported from the frozen surface of Lake Erie by the daily peak wind gusts ranging from 46 to 69 mph.

The weight was too much for the large pine roof trusses, and the aircraft’s destruction below was inevitable. It breaks my heart to this day to see such devastation because these airplanes were not just machines for transportation. They became a part of each pilots’ life, a close family member, and a strange bond that develops, unexplainable except to another pilot.

My brother Doug Payne remembers that tragedy all too well, telling me, “I was at the airport on Friday, the day before, and received a phone call the next day on Saturday morning that the hangar collapsed. It was heartbreaking to see all the destruction.”

This view is from inside the partially damaged Eastside hangar looking towards the valley seam. We were able to save this side of the hangar.

I remember Doug showing me the hangar a few days later because of a travel ban and waiting for plow drivers to clear the enormous snowdrifts that once covered the streets. He wasn’t living with us then and was able to get to the airpark on Saturday. What upset me the most was the sight of just a tail sticking out of a snowbank where there should have been an entire airplane.

This view is from inside the collapsed Westside hangar that my sister, Carol Payne Zagon, bravely entered to capture the “perfect shot.”

Notice how the roof trusses split under the extreme weight of the snow!

And not only were the airplanes a casualty of this hangar collapse, but two local antique fire trucks that were stored were also victims.

What a shame!

To help you understand the twin hangars’ size, here are a few photos of when it was under construction in the late 1940s.

This photo shows the three hangar bays added to the large Eastside twin hangar’s apron side, replacing the original awning and probably taken in the late 1960s.

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