During its 50 years of operation by URI, the campus has been caught up in some rather strange events. Perhaps the most famous of these occurred in 1976 when then-Governor Phillip Noel planned to visit the campus to speak at a meeting of the Providence Newspaper Guild. As the governor’s helicopter was approaching campus, its tail rotor malfunctioned and flew off the aircraft, causing the helicopter to plunge into the forest below. According to Wheatley, the helicopter went straight down and was impaled on a tree trunk that went between the seats occupied by the governor and the pilot. Neither were seriously injured.
Lesser known is the story about the day when the State Police used the conference center facilities as a safe house to hide an important organized crime informant. The conference center received a call from State Police Superintendent Walter Stone, who was looking for an isolated place to use as a temporary hideout. “They kept him here for about a week, and they strung trip wire around the building to keep everyone out,” Wheatley recalled. “One of our workers walked over there and accidentally tripped it, and they came out with their machine guns.”
Excerpt from Rhode Island’s Natural Laboratory: A History of URI’s W. Alton Jones Campus by Todd McLeish
-Whispering Pines Conference Center