KNOXVILLE (WATE) – A Fountain City native who saved people in a plane crash 66 years ago had a bridge named after her on Thursday.
Central High School graduate Mary Frances Housley was once described as the “bravest woman in America.” Housley, who went by “Frankie,” had just started working as a flight attendant on January 14, 1951, when National Airlines Flight 83 crashed after landing and skidding off an icy runway at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
“To me it’s a big honor. Mary Frances will always have her name up on a bridge in a community that she grew up with,” said her nephew John Housley.
When the plane crashed landed it caught fire. Frankie Housley, the lone flight attendant, quickly led 10 passengers to safety.
“She did her job. She was one of the best of the best at that time in ’51,” said her nephew.
After saving 10 people, Frankie Houseley courageously returned to the burning DC-4 to try to rescue a four-month-old baby. After the fire was extinguished, her body was found holding the tiny baby in her arms.
“And she was only feet from the doorway when they found here. She almost made it,” said John Housley.
The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission posthumously awarded Frankie Housley its bronze medal for her bravery. Chris Hammond and the Central High Alumni Association led the effort to name the bridge in Fountain City in her honor.
“She literally went to school about a stone’s throw away from this bridge,” said Central High School teacher Chris Hammond.
From now on, Mary Frances Housley’s name will be known to many who drive across this bridge. The story of her bravery made national headlines in 1951. A passenger called her a real hero, a congressman labeled her the bravest American, and Reader’s Digest wrote she was the “bravest woman in America.”
She was an honor student at Central High School and attended the University of Tennessee for one year, but left college to get married. She was only 25 years old when she died.