But there was one: The story of a dog named Boeing

Powerful thunderstorms moved through our area on the night of May 22, 1962. As threatening weather passed, my father went outside, came back in later, and said, “I heard something, and I don’t think it was thunder.”

Within hours we heard via my Uncle David, who was county sheriff, that a big plane had crashed north of town. I tagged along with my dad, and we headed that way in the pre-dawn hours. I could never be prepared for what I was about to see and would never forget.

Off Highway 5, north of Unionville, we turned onto a gravel road leading to a clover field, and there, strewn on this rural northern Missouri hillside, lay pieces of a giant broken airplane: a Boeing 707 commercial jetliner.

Robert Fowler’s school photo from 1962.
Shutterstock image

With the moon shining brightly on a partially intact right wing, I climbed onto the wingtip. Walking the length of the wing toward the blown hole in the fuselage, I could see hundreds of dangling wires and a reddish pink dust covering the exterior and interior cabin. At eight years of age, I was not fully cognizant of the tragedy surrounding me. Quickly realizing this was no place for a little kid, my father whisked me away back home.

The next day, onlookers spotted a German shepherd dog with a sizable gash on his chin wandering around the crash site. They noted he was quite distressed and wondered if his best friend had just died in the crash. None of the law enforcement or National Guard at the site reported having any canine with them, and no one locally knew this German shepherd.

My dad told my uncle, the sheriff, that I loved dogs and would take good care of him until his rightful owner claimed him. And so, this black and silver dog entered into my life. The local veterinarian, Doc Owings, treated and bandaged the gash on the dog’s chin and found him to be otherwise in excellent shape. Doc believed him to be two or three years old.

Days and weeks followed, and no one ever claimed ownership. Continental Airlines would neither confirm nor deny that a dog was aboard Flight 11.

In honor of the thirty-seven passengers and eight crew members who lost their lives that night, I named this affectionate dog Boeing 707. One of the first things our family and friends noticed about Boeing was how closely he would walk by your side, mirroring every step. Then I came to discover he would obey numerous commands: “Down,” “Stay,” “Wait Here,” “Drop It,” “Shake and Spin,” and “Shake and Twist.”

No matter who did the tossing, Boeing would fetch whatever you threw and bring it back and place it at your feet. Boeing was a large dog and stayed in our unattached garage. On the inside back wall of that garage—to this day—written by me in black shoe polish, is his name. We became more convinced Boeing had been aboard that Continental Flight 11 crash, which was caused by a loud explosion, when at the loud clap of thunder on two separate occasions he jumped through a window into our basement.

Over the years, I would hear or read something about Flight 11, and they would say all forty-five souls aboard perished. I would always say to myself, “But there was one …,” and I believe that one was a German shepherd I named Boeing 707.

Our local newspaper, The Unionville Republican, inquired about doing a story on this intelligent dog, but my father wouldn’t consent out of concern that if too many people learned about this amazingly well-trained dog, someone would steal him. Aaron Stuckey and George Choate, co-publishers of the paper, respected my father’s wishes and no photo or story ever appeared.

My father’s concern was a foreshadowing of what was to come. Word got around about this fully trained German shepherd—“that dog they found at the airplane crash.” Indeed, many people knew of this extraordinary dog, including relatives, friends, and grade school buddies. People would ask me, “How’s Boeing?”


For a summer and fall, I was best friends with a handsome German shepherd. One day in the late fall when I got home from school, I didn’t immediately see Boeing, so I began to search all over our thirty-acre farm. I searched on my bike, riding two miles into town, where everybody knew everybody, asking everyone I met if he or she had seen Boeing. Back then there was little connection or communication between local law enforcement agencies, and without any local animal care and control, there was no way to file a report on a missing dog.

There was no formal search, but for weeks and months afterward, my mom, dad, and I would drive around northern Missouri and southern Iowa in search of a dog named Boeing 707. We always believed this very special dog had been stolen.

Someone told us they read about an Iowa dog breeder who sold a young, fully trained German shepherd to an Ohio county sheriff. We never knew if that was really true. Back then, we couldn’t “Google it.” There weren’t such things as cell phones, and long-distance phone calls were quite costly. 

Even though a joyous reunion with this courageous dog never came, I couldn’t help but think he had been saved on that May night in 1962 so that he could later save others.