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Planes Collide Over New York - History

Planes Collide Over New York - History

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(12/16/60) On December 16, two airliners collided over the skies of Brooklyn, NY. The two planes involved were a United DC-8 and a TWA Super Constellation. There was only one survivor. The DC-8 was scheduled to land at Idlewild, while the Super Constellation was going to land at La Guardia. This crash, and a previous crash over the Grand Canyon, spurred the government to overhaul the national air traffic control system.

The Boy Who Survived a 1960 Midair Crash

The midair crash of two airliners over Staten Island on Dec. 16, 1960, killed 134 people. See a PDF of the front page from The New York Times the following day.

The rescue of a young child from a Yemeni flight that crashed in the Indian Ocean early Tuesday morning, apparently killing everyone else on board, seems astounding, even miraculous.

But such a thing has happened before, in Brooklyn in December 1960, when an 11-year-old boy was the lone survivor of what was at the time the deadliest flight disaster in history.

On Dec. 16, 1960, a Friday, a United Airlines DC-8 and a Trans World Airlines Constellation collided in midflight. The TWA flight crashed on Staten Island the United flight came down in Park Slope, starting a fire that also killed six people on the ground. In total, 134 would die from the crash.

In the two boroughs, bystanders witnessed a vivid and terrifying scene, The Times wrote the next day:

Through every personal account there ran the same thread of surprise and horror.

The scene in Brooklyn, where one plane fell in a densely populated district, reminded one witness of the bombed and burning villages of the Korean War.

In Staten Island, where the wreckage narrowly missed a community of wooden homes and a public school, witnesses said the blood-drenched snow and the bodies made them think of a battlefield.

Associated Press Stephen Baltz of Wilmette, Ill.

One boy was found alive in the snow in Park Slope: Stephen Baltz of Wilmette, Ill., a suburb of Chicago. He had been flying alone his parents rushed to his bedside, The Times reported:

“This was his first excursion alone,” Mr. Baltz told doctors. … He said his son had tried to smile but could not.

“We are grateful to the Almighty for this miraculous thing that has happened to our son and we have heartfelt sympathy for all those who are not as fortunate as we are,” Mr. Baltz said.

The boy’s face was covered with medication for the burns suffered in the crash, and his left leg was broken. The burns also were on his chest, left arm and back.

Churchgoers on that Friday night, during the Christmas season, carried newspapers with Stephen’s picture and prayed for him. Calls flooded the hospital from New Yorkers offering their blood for transfusions for the boy. Throughout the night, the nurse at his bedside would later remember, he would wake up and speak, sounding healthy.

In the end, Stephen was too badly burned to survive. He remained the crash’s sole survivor for only a night, dying at 10 a.m. Saturday morning. But for that one night, he was the source of hope for a city where two planes had gone down.

United Press International The tail section of a United DC-8 jetliner, at the intersection of Seventh Avenue and Sterling Place in Park Slope, Brooklyn, on Dec. 16, 1960, after the plane crashed with a TWA Constellation over Staten Island.

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Thanks to Libby Nelson for this touching acocunt. I was a schoolboy in 5th grade at St. Francis Xavier School on President Street, about six blocks away, when the plane passed low overhead on that snowy day. How we prayed for that boy to survive.

Another incident with a sole survivor, also a child, was LANSA flight 508 which was struck by lightning over the Peruvian amazon in 1971. Werner Herzog made a documentary about the girl, Juliane Köpcke. It’s truly an incredible story.

Stevie landed in a snowbank in front of the Pillar of Fire Church. Stevie’s broken watch pinpointed the moment of the crash. If I recall correctly, a Daily News photographer recorded the boy lying there in the snow, a woman passerby holding an umbrella over him. Death was caused by scorching the lining of his lungs, the macrophages no longer capable of extracting oxygen. A miracle with a sad ending.

Given the outcome, let us hope that this is not a fair parallel.

Very sad. I hope the child from the Yemini crash is well.

There actually was a crash in Arizona – I believe in the 1980s – of a Northwest jet on take-off, where only one 2-year old child survived. Her family perished in the crash.

There are still more examples. One Wener Herzog documentary, “Julianes Sturz in den Dschungel” aka “Wings of Hope,” follows the sole survivor (a 17 year old woman) of a plane crash in South America as she returns to the site of the crash years later.

i was at the navy station at the end of New Dorp Lane that evening outside the fence and found an opening and went to the crash site – the snow was in fact bloody – everywhere – parts of the plane and baggage inside and outside the fence – never saw a body – i remember picking up a small piece of aluminum from the planes support structure and took it home – i was twelve years old at the time

I was a college freshman boarding a bus to return home for the Christmas holiday when I was told that a plane had crashed in Park Slope, my destination.
Later emerging from the Grand Army Plaza subway stop, I learned just how close it had been.
I remember my father, like so many, was particularly moved, and then saddened, by Stephen’s story.
And of course, to this day anyone who lived in Park Slope at the time can not pass that spot on Seventh Avenue without thinking of that day.

JB, the crash you are thinking of was in Detroit in August 1987. I was a few miles away at the hospital with my dying grandmother the lone survivor was named Cecilia Cichan and she was the same age I was at the time. Even though I was very young I have very clear memories of that night. The flight was en route to Arizona.

In 1977, I rented an apartment at 179 St. John’s Pl, just around the corner from where the above-referenced picture was taken. A lovely studio ($190/month, utilities included!), it had a terrace facing the gardens in back. When I asked the landlord about the little hole in the terrace, he explained that a piece of fuselage from that crash went through it. Calling Kevin Bacon.

Isn’t there a follow up to this story – the boy had a nickel and a penny in his blazer pocket during the crash. His parents donated it to the poor box of a church in the city where the congregation was praying for him. The coins were put into some sort of a frame commemorating him after he passed. I feel like I read about this story in the Times coverage about NYC disasters after 9/11.

You are a close reader. It appeared in an article by David W. Dunlap in early 2002.

I remember this crash pretty well. My mother often mentioned it as an example of God’s cruelty, allowing the boy to suffer for days and then killing him anyway.

No one dies against their will, ebbolles. And I find it hard to believe that God “killed” Stephen Baltz. If anything, God brought Stephen home. And I believe no one is in a position to question the path of a soul.

I agree with Gerry God did’nt make him suffer and then killed him He saved the boys life, something must have gone wrong

“macrophages no longer capable of extracting oxygen”, you should know that macrophages are immune system cells and are not involved in respiratory function.

I was seven years old, and my aunt, uncle and cousins lived on Sterling Place at the time of the crash,. My family lived not far away, in Carroll Gardens, and I remember my mother worrying about our relatives’ safety. My cousin, who was eight and in a nearby Catholic school at the time — St. Augustine’s, I believe — and has told me that the plane flew right past the school, and that the kids in her class first ran to the window, and then hid under their desks in terror, as the plane came down.

My cousin and her younger brother slept in their parents’ room that night. Her mother, ordinarily a sharp-witted, clear-headed woman who brooked no nonsense, was so rattled by the tragedy — the plane had crashed just feet from their apartment, and bodies of victims were being removed as the family tried to sleep– that she hung heads of garlic around the kids’ neck — the centuries-old Southern-Italian formula for warding off evil — before putting them to bed. That their American-born, intelligent, stylish mother appeared to have lost her mind, did not do much to calm my cousins’ fears.

I remember how sad I felt when Stephen Baltz died. This story brings back many memories.

I lived at 65 Eighth Avenue at the time (at Union Street) and was at work at Mt. Sinai Hospital when the crash occurred. But I had this recurring dream for several weeks before the accident about two planes colliding and falling between two buildings–it bothered me so much𠄻ut after the crash, the dreams stopped. I never went down to view the accident site. It was just too overwhelming for me.

God didn’t kill him or save him. He died solely because of multiple mistakes made by the flight crew of one of the aircraft, who chose to fly into instrument conditions despite one of their main instruments being out of order and who missed the holding point they𠆝 been given. He lived for a day simply because his injuries weren’t severe enough to kill him immediately. He wasn’t the only passenger to not die instantly, but he was the only one to survive more than a few minutes.

The aircraft accident report including medical details is available at the Department of Transport Special Collections.

under “Historic Aviation Accident Reports” for the year 1960.

I was almost twelve when this accident occurred, and was so horrified that I swore never to step into an airplane. (I changed my mind six years later.) One item from the news reports right after Steven’s death gripped me: his question, as the ambulance sped him to the hospital: 𠇊m I going to die?”

What a sad story! I truly hope that the girl who survived the Yemeni crash is doing well.

This also is a sad testament to the fact that no matter how much we would like to believe it works, “prayer” merely expresses a collective human wish, not actual physical reality.

I was 9 years old. I was born and raised in Brooklyn. In fact, I wa born in Park Slope but moved to East Flatbush section of Brooklyn in 1952 at the age of 2yrs. I remember it well, I remember Stephen’s picture on the front page of The Daily News. His face was so frightening. I also rememer seeing the downed plane from a Flatbush Avenue bus which I was a passenger on and wishing I could see my grandmother who lived not far from the crash site ( we couldnt go to visit her because they weren’t letting any vehicles down that area for weeks after the crash).
Years later, I was visiting a family member at Methodist Hospital in Park Slope ( this is the hosp where Stephen was brought to for treatment after the crash), I , too, was born there.

I went to the chapel on the first floor of the hospital and in the rear of the chapel, there was a plaque dedicating the chapel to him and all of his change which he had on himself was placed in the plaque…..it was 43 cents.

I was 12 years old and had moved into a house on Miller Field the night before the crash and was outside shoveling snow when the TWA came apart over Miller Field. Our home, a quadraplex, was taken over by the Red Cross. I remember the emergency workers all over the field, sifting through the snow for days, searching for remains. It was truly horrific.

When we heard that there was a survivor in Brooklyn we all were amazed and hoped for the best. The crash brought out the best in the first responders and made neighbors closer.

My mother was a nurse at the time of the crash. For days before, a man would come into the doctors office asking if he were dying. After physical exam, he was found to be in excellent health. He died the day of the crash as he was selling Christmas trees on the corner, killed by the fallen plane.

I was 6 1/2 years old at the time, living in NJ (where I still live). My only recollection of this tragedy was a piece that was in an issue of Life magazine (my grandparents were regular subscribers). I remember the picture of the wreckage of one of the planes, a family picture of Stephen and his family and the picture of him, laying on the ground. That picture, in particular, has “haunted” me for a long time.

I believe that issue is still in my grandparent’s place (they’ve both passed away). I was determined to find something on this tragic event.

Airliner, plane collide 139 die in 'worst crash'

SAN DIEGO (UPI) -- A Pacific Southwest Airlines Boeing 727 with at least 136 persons aboard collided in flight with a small Cessna today and plunged into a residential neighborhood in the worst air accident in U.S. history.

Everyone aboard the jet as well as a student pilot and his instructor aboard the Cessna and at least one person on the ground were reported killed. Several others on the ground were rushed to hospitals.

The death toll of 139 was the worst for an airplane collision in U.S. history. In December 1960 two commercial planes collided over New York City, killing 128 aboard the planes and six others on the ground.

The worst air disaster in history occurred March 27, 1977, at Tenerife in the Canary Islands, when two jumbo jets collided, killing 582.

The PSA plane, Flight 182 from Sacramento to Los Angeles, was on its landing approach when it collided with the Cessna 150 two-seater at 3,000 feet, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

"I saw the jet plane . It was smoking on the right side," said Phil Hopkins, a witness. "The right inboard engine was burning and it exploded into a fireball . and spiraled to the ground."

The jetliner smashed into a row of houses along Dwight Street in the North Park district, about five miles from the city airport, Lindbergh Field. As it careened along the street wreckage was spewed across a wide area, injuring several persons. At least six homes were set afire.

"There were bodies lying everywhere," said Barry Fitzsimmons, a photographer for the San Diego Evening Tribune who was one of the first on the scene. "A block of homes was on fire. It was horrible. The only thing you could see of the plane was a PSA engine. All the other wreckage appeared to level the whole block."

Residents of the neighborhood were said to be mostly elderly persons.

Lynn During, a reporter for radio station KSDO, said the 727 crashed with a sound "like a sonic boom." The station is in a high-rise building a few blocks from the crash site, and in the plane's flight pattern.

"I looked out the window and saw people dodging the wreckage," During said.

PSA said the plane left Sacramento at 7:20 a.m. and made a stop in Los Angeles. It had at least 129 passengers and a crew of seven aboard and possibly more. The airline said there possibly were more individuals on board because there were 11 seats available for employees.

Among the passengers it was known there were 19 PSA employees.

A command center and temporary morgue was set up at St. Augustine's High School, several blocks away.

Rev. James Clifford, a teacher at St. Augstine's, said: "I was standing in the patio talking to two other teachers and looking up in the sky. I saw the 727 and the Cessna. The small plane looked like it was ascending slightly at the same time the 727 was descending for its approach.

"Right then I said, they look too close. The next thing they hit and exploded into a ball of fire."

He said the PSA jet "appeared to bank around and downward and then it crashed.

"At first, it looked like it was coming right at the school. I yelled for everyone to get out and run because it was coming right for us."

After the crash, Clifford said, "I got into a car with a Baptist minister and we administered general absolution after we got to the scene. There were bodies and parts of bodies everywhere. Everything was in flames in the street."

More than 200 police and fire fighters went to the scene, along with 20 ambulances. Rescue helicopters were using the schoolyard for a heliport.

Mrs. Georgia Miller, who lives two blocks from the site, said she was outside talking to her sister when she heard the noise.

"I looked at her to say 'run' but there was no place to run," she said. "It came down with flames and I heard a tremendous explosion. Debris flew all over."

The Red Cross issued an emergency appeal for blood donors. Many persons gathered outside the high school, praying for the victims.

The FAA and the PSA crew was able to alert ground controllers before the crash.

"The pilot called the tower and said he was going down," an FAA spokesman said. The spokesman said the PSA jet was making its landing approach to the airport's Runway 27 under visual flight rules, and said air controllers saw the Cessna disappear from radar scenes at the same time as the 727.

The National Transportation Safety Board immediately sent a team of accident investigators from Washington to take charge of the investigation.

A spokeswoman for PSA in San Diego said it was the first crash in the airline's history. PSA is an intra-state airline with routes connecting most of California's major cities.


The Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia) Boeing 747-168B, registration HZ-AIH, [5] was flying the first leg of a scheduled international Delhi–Dhahran–Jeddah passenger service as Flight SVA763 with 312 people on board [6] the Kazakhstan Airlines Ilyushin Il-76TD, [7] registration UN-76435, was on a charter service from Chimkent Airport to Delhi as KZA1907. [6] SVA763 departed Delhi at 18:32 local time (13:02 UTC). [5] KZA1907 was descending simultaneously, to land at Delhi. [6] Both flights were controlled by approach controller VK Dutta. The crew of SVA763 consisted of Captain Khalid Al-Shubaily [ar] , First Officer Nazir Khan, and Flight Engineer Ahmed Edrees. The crew of KZA1907 consisted of Captain Alexander Cherepanov, First Officer Ermek Dzhangirov, Flight Engineer Alexander Chuprov, Navigator Zhahanbek Aripbaev, and Radio Operator Egor Repp. [8] [9]

KZA1907 was cleared to descend to 15,000 feet (4,600 m) when it was 74 nautical miles (137 km) from the beacon of the destination airport while SVA763, travelling on the same airway as KZA1907 but in the opposite direction, was cleared to climb to 14,000 feet (4,300 m). About eight minutes later, around 18:40, KZA1907 reported having reached its assigned altitude of 15,000 feet (4,600 m) but it was actually lower, at 14,500 feet (4,400 m), and still descending. [7] At this time, Dutta advised the flight, "Identified traffic 12 o'clock, reciprocal Saudia Boeing 747, 10 nautical miles (19 km). Report in sight." [9]

When the controller called KZA1907 again, he received no reply. He tried to warn of the other flight's distance, but was too late. The two aircraft collided, with the tail of KZA1907 cutting through SVA763's left wing and horizontal stabiliser. The crippled Boeing quickly lost control and went into a rapidly descending spiral with fire trailing from the wing. The Boeing broke up before crashing into the ground at a nearly supersonic speed of 1,135 km/h (705 mph). The Ilyushin remained structurally intact as it entered a steady but rapid and uncontrolled descent until it crashed in a field. [10] Rescuers discovered four critically injured passengers from the Ilyushin, but they all died soon afterwards. Two passengers from the Saudia flight survived the crash, still strapped to their seats, only to die of internal injuries soon after. [11] [12] In the end, all 312 people on board SVA763 and all 37 people on KZA1907 were killed.

Captain Timothy J. Place, a pilot for the United States Air Force, was the sole eyewitness of the event. He was making an initial approach in a Lockheed C-141B Starlifter when he saw that "a large cloud lit up with an orange glow". [13]

The collision took place about 100 kilometres (60 mi) west of Delhi. [14] The wreckage of the Saudi aircraft landed near Dhani village, Bhiwani District, Haryana. The wreckage of the Kazakh aircraft hit the ground near Birohar village, Rohtak District, Haryana. [15]

Saudi Arabian Airlines Flight 763 Edit

The captain of the flight was a 45-year old veteran pilot with more than 9,800 flying hours. [15] An article published in The New York Times on 14 November 1996 stated that 215 Indians who boarded the flight worked in Saudi Arabia [16] many of them worked or planned to work in blue-collar jobs [17] as house maids, drivers, and cooks. The article also stated that 40 Nepalis and three Americans boarded the Saudi flight. [16] According to an article published a day earlier in the same newspaper, the passenger manifest included 17 people of other nationalities, including nine Nepalis, three Pakistanis, two Americans, one Bangladeshi, one Briton, and one Saudi. [4] Twelve of the crew members, including five anti-terrorism officials, were Saudi citizens. [18]

Kazakhstan Airlines Flight 1907 Edit

The captain of Flight 1907, aged 44, was also highly experienced, with more than 9,200 flight hours. [15] A company from Kyrgyzstan chartered the flight, and the passenger manifest mostly included ethnic Russian Kyrgyz citizens planning to go shopping in India. [4] [8] [16] Thirteen Kyrgyz traders boarded the flight. [18]

The crash was investigated by the Lahoti Commission, headed by then-Delhi High Court judge Ramesh Chandra Lahoti. Depositions were taken from the Air Traffic Controllers Guild and the two airlines. The flight data recorders were decoded by Kazakhstan Airlines and Saudia under the supervision of air crash investigators in Moscow and Farnborough, England, respectively. [10] The ultimate cause was held to be the failure of Kazakhstan Airlines Flight 1907's pilot to follow ATC instructions, whether due to cloud turbulence or due to communication problems. [9] [19] [20] [21] [ additional citation(s) needed ]

The commission determined that the accident had been the fault of the Kazakhstani Il-76 commander, who (according to FDR evidence) had descended from the assigned altitude of 15,000 to 14,500 feet (4,600 to 4,400 m) and subsequently 14,000 feet (4,300 m) and even lower. The report ascribed the cause of this serious breach in operating procedure to the lack of English language skills on the part of the Kazakhstani aircraft pilots they were relying entirely on their radio operator for communications with the ATC. The radio operator did not have his own flight instrumentation and had to look over the pilots' shoulders for a reading. [22] Kazakhstani officials stated that the aircraft had descended while their pilots were fighting turbulence inside a bank of cumulus clouds. [9] [20] [ better source needed ]

Indian air controllers also complained that the Kazakhstani pilots sometimes confused their calculations because they are accustomed to using metre altitudes and kilometre distances, while most other countries use feet and nautical miles respectively for aerial navigation. [11]

Just a few seconds from impact, the Kazakhstani plane climbed slightly and the two planes collided. This was because the radio operator of Kazakhstan 1907 discovered only then that they were not at 15,000 feet and asked the pilot to climb. The captain gave orders for full throttle, and the plane climbed, only to hit the oncoming Saudi Arabian plane. The tail of the Kazakhstani plane clipped the left wing of the Saudi Arabian jet, severing both parts from their respective planes. Had the Kazakhstani pilots not climbed slightly, it is likely that they would have passed under the Saudi Arabian plane.

The recorder of the Saudi Arabian plane revealed the pilots recited the prayer that is required, according to Islamic law, when one faces death. The counsel for the ATC Guild denied the presence of turbulence, quoting meteorological reports, but did state that the collision occurred inside a cloud. [22] This was substantiated by the affidavit of Capt. Place, who was the commander of the aforementioned Lockheed C-141B Starlifter, which was flying into New Delhi at the time of the crash. [10] The members of his crew filed similar affidavits. [23]

Furthermore, Indira Gandhi International Airport did not have secondary surveillance radar, which provides extra information, such as the aircraft's identity and altitude, by reading transponder signals instead the airport had primary radar, which produces readings of distance and bearing, but not altitude. In addition, the civilian airspace around New Delhi had one corridor for departures and arrivals. Most areas separate departures and arrivals into separate corridors. The airspace had one civilian corridor because much of the airspace was taken by the Indian Air Force. [10] Due to the crash, the air-crash investigation report recommended changes to air-traffic procedures and infrastructure in New Delhi's air-space: [9]

  • Separation of inbound and outbound aircraft through the creation of 'air corridors'
  • Installation of a secondary air-traffic control radar for aircraft altitude data
  • Mandatory collision avoidance equipment on commercial aircraft operating in Indian airspace
  • Reduction of the airspace over New Delhi that was formerly under exclusive control of the Indian Air Force

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation subsequently made it mandatory for all aircraft flying in and out of India to be equipped with an airborne collision avoidance system. This set a worldwide precedent for mandatory use of Traffic Collision Avoidance System. [24]

Miditech, a company based in Gurgaon, Haryana, produced a documentary about the disaster called Head On!, which aired on the National Geographic Channel. [10]

The disaster was also the subject of an episode in the documentary series Mayday (Air Crash Investigation) on 11 November 2009 entitled "Sight Unseen", also shown on the National Geographic Channel. [25]

Survival of the Bravest: The story of the 1965 Carmel Mid-air Collision

On the 4th of December 1965, an incredible drama unfolded in the skies above New York when an Easter n Airlines Super Constellation collided in midair with a TWA Boeing 707 at 11,000 feet. Both planes, severely crippled, hurtled onward, their crews working furiously to save the lives of their passengers. The 707, missing 25 feet off of its left wing, managed to turn around and make a harrowing emergency landing at New York’s JFK International Airport, narrowly avoiding disaster. The Constellation lost all of its pitch controls, and despite their best efforts, the pilots could not reach any airport. In a mind-blowing feat of airmanship, they made a forced landing on the side of a hill, where the plane slid to a halt relatively intact, but surrounded by fire. While others fled the raging inferno, Captain Charles White went back into the burning aircraft to save a man he knew was trapped inside. He never returned, perishing in the flames alongside three of his passengers. It was a story destined to become legend — and legend it has become. This is the story of the Carmel Mid-air Collision and the heroes who rose to meet its challenge.

Note: All intra-cockpit conversations reproduced in this article are based on the recollections of witnesses. The exact words were not recorded.

In 1965, the skies above our heads were still very much the wild west. Radar coverage was spotty, planes didn’t automatically broadcast their altitude to air traffic control, and traffic collision avoidance systems were still 25 years away. The law of the land was “see and avoid,” the obligation of every pilot to scan their surroundings and avoid other traffic. Near major airports, pilots could count on procedural separation for a certain margin of safety — that is, that air traffic controllers would always assign planes flying in certain directions to certain altitudes. But if the controller made a mistake or another crew failed to comply with an ATC order, it was the responsibility of the pilots and only the pilots to recognize the risk of a collision and take evasive action if necessary.

By the mid-1960s air safety experts already knew that the principle of “see and avoid” was fatally flawed. There were in fact plenty of reasons, other than inattention, why pilots might not be able to see each other in time to avoid a collision. In 1956, 128 people were killed when two airliners collided in uncontrolled airspace over Arizona’s Grand Canyon, a disaster that was the deadliest in aviation history at the time. Investigators found that the two planes had most likely been obscured by clouds until just seconds before the collision, leaving the crew of the overtaking aircraft without enough time to change course. Four years later in 1960, 134 died in another midair collision at 5,000 feet over New York City when one of the airplanes overshot its designated holding point. The collision occurred in dense clouds, and the two crews probably never even saw each other. These were but two of the countless midair collisions that occurred in the United States during this period, an epidemic that only continued to worsen as air traffic increased with every passing year.

However, despite the understanding that “see and avoid” was not going to be enough to guarantee separation in the dawning age of crowded airways, the technology to systematically prevent collisions simply wasn’t there yet. And until that technology began to arrive in the early 1970s, US airliners continued to catastrophically swap paint around once every 18 months.

On the afternoon of the 4th of December 1965, 49 passengers and five crew boarded Eastern Air Lines flight 853 from Boston, Massachusetts to Newark, New Jersey. In command were Captain Charles J. White, 42 First Officer Roger Holt, 34 and Flight Engineer Emile Greenway, 27. Captain White had a solid 11,500 flight hours and an even more robust reputation: after hearing about an Air Force pilot who had parachuted out of his crippled plane, leaving the rest of his crew to die, White was quoted as saying, “If a plane of mine ever goes down, even the dead men are going out on parachutes before I do.”

The plane they would be flying was a Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation, an iconic four-engine turbo-compound propeller airliner produced in the 1950s. Known for its unusual swooping profile and unique triple tail, the Constellation, or “Connie” for short, was sometimes compared to a flying fish. Not only was the plane pretty to look at, its design was also revolutionary for its time. It was the first large airliner to feature a pressurized cabin and hydraulically assisted flight controls, along with a number of cutting edge luxuries, such as air conditioning, reclining seats, extra lavatories, and sleeper bunks. The Constellation could fly higher and faster than any civilian airliner that came before it, and it quickly started setting speed records on routes across the United States both before and after its commercial introduction in 1945. But by 1965, the Constellation was on its way out, having been supplanted by something even more revolutionary.

By the second half of the 1950s, jet airliners had gone from an engineering pipe dream to an impending reality. In 1958, the Boeing 707 entered service with Pan Am, becoming the first American-built passenger jet to take to the skies. Just seven years later, the number of jet aircraft had multiplied to such an extent that the big propeller airliners of the previous era had become a dying breed. By December 1965, the jet was king, and only two years remained before the retirement of the Constellation from passenger service in the United States.

On the same day that Eastern Airlines flight 853 departed Boston, 51 passengers and seven crew boarded a Boeing 707 for a non-stop transcontinental flight from San Francisco, California to New York’s newly renamed John F. Kennedy International Airport. Under the command of 45-year-old Captain Thomas Carroll, 42-year-old First Officer Leo Smith, and 41-year-old Flight Engineer Ernest Hall, TWA flight 42 departed San Francisco at 9:05 a.m. local time (12:05 Eastern time). Now, a little over four hours later, it was dropping toward 11,000 feet on descent into New York. For pilots Carroll and Smith, who had a combined 31,000 flight hours, it was an approach just like any of the thousands they had flown before. Little did they know that it was about to take a turn for the terrifying.

By quarter past four in the afternoon, both Eastern Air Lines flight 853 and TWA flight 42 were converging on the Carmel VORTAC, a radionavigational aid located near Carmel, New York, about 75 kilometers north of New York City. TWA flight 42, the Boeing 707, had been cleared down to 11,000 feet in preparation for its approach, while the Eastern Constellation was cruising at 10,000 feet, still en route to Newark. Much of the northeastern United States was covered in a solid overcast layer with ragged cloud tops stretching to between 10,000 and 11,000 feet, and rising toward 16,000 feet in the northwest, near Syracuse. Flying along at 10,000 feet, the Constellation periodically moved in and out of the clouds as it passed through “fluffy” cumulus buildups rising above the main cloud deck.

At the New York air traffic control center, controllers could see the two planes approaching the Carmel VORTAC, both scheduled to cross it at 4:18 p.m. But just moments earlier, both crews had radioed that they were at their assigned altitudes of 11,000 and 10,000 feet respectively, so controllers did not believe there was any risk of a collision.

At precisely 4:18, the Eastern Air Lines Constellation emerged from a cloud and was greeted with the astonishing sight of a Boeing 707 coming at it from its 2 o’clock position. First Officer Holt, fearing that they were on a collision course shouted, “Look out!”

In fact, the two planes, separated by 1,000 feet vertically, were in no danger of colliding. But from the cockpit of the Constellation, it looked like they were, due to an insidious optical illusion. Pilots are able to instinctively judge the risk of colliding with another airplane by determining its position relative to a visible horizon. If the other plane is level with the horizon and not moving appreciably across the field of view, pilots (and indeed anyone who can see it) will almost instantly determine it to be on a collision course. When Holt shouted “look out,” he was seeing the 707 in line with the horizon and apparently stationary in the windscreen. However, what appeared at first glance to be the horizon was actually the top of the higher clouds located northwest of their position. Against the background of this higher false horizon, the 707, which was actually 1,000 feet above them, looked like it was at the same altitude.

Upon hearing his first officer’s shout and seeing the 707 apparently coming right at them, Captain White immediately pulled back hard on his controls and steered to the left to try to dodge the jet. In the cabin, a passenger with a camera spotted the 707 and attempted to take a picture of it, but before he could do so he was thrown aside by the violent escape maneuver. Shouts of surprise and shock erupted in the cabin as the plane zoomed into a climb of at least 6,000 feet per minute.

On the TWA 707, the pilots suddenly caught sight of the blue and white Connie, pitched up in a steep climb and headed straight for them. Captain Carroll banked hard to the right and pulled the nose up in an attempt to avoid the oncoming plane, but within seconds it was clear they were still on a collision course. In the cabin, several passengers caught sight of the Constellation and braced themselves for impact, as the sudden maneuver pushed them hard into their seats and sent clothing and luggage flying from the overhead bins. As the Connie rocketed toward him, Captain Carroll reversed his inputs, pitching down and to the left in an attempt to slip below and behind the other plane, but it was too late: before the inputs could take effect, the planes collided. Crossing each other’s paths at a 70-degree angle and climbing steeply, the tip of the 707’s left wing sliced across the Constellation’s distinctive triple tail, sending debris flying in all directions. Pieces of the two airplanes blossomed out into the sky, ricocheting past the windows of the stunned passengers on the 707.

The collision severely damaged both aircraft, but not quite so severely as to cause an immediate, irrecoverable loss of control. The 707 had lost 7.6 meters (25 feet) off of its left wing, and flying debris had scored deep gouges in the no. 1 engine nacelle and the fuselage. But with all four engines and all the flight controls still intact, it was just possible to maintain control of the airplane. Immediately following the collision, the 707 rolled hard to the left and plunged into a dive, but with both pilots pitching in, the crew was able to drag the plane back from the brink and return it to level flight, despite the damage to the left wing constantly trying to pull them into a spiral descent. Upon regaining control, one of the pilots got on the radio and declared an emergency, informing air traffic control that they had been involved in a midair collision and needed to make an emergency landing at JFK. At 4:39 p.m., 21 minutes after the collision, the crew of TWA flight 42 successfully brought their crippled jet in for a safe landing in New York City.

For three minutes after the 707’s radio call, nobody heard anything from the Eastern Air Lines Constellation. In fact, the crew had much bigger things to worry about than declaring an emergency. The collision ripped off the rightmost of the Constellation’s three vertical stabilizers, taking with it part of the right elevator and a number of important hydraulic components. Most likely the damage led to a loss of pressure in the hydraulic system, because when the pilots tried to arrest their climb and level off, they found that none of the pitch controls had any effect. Completely out of control, the plane continued climbing for several seconds before rolling left and entering a dive. Captain White and First Officer Holt fought with all their might to pull up, but the elevators weren’t responding. The plane dived through the cloud bank and emerged below it, where passengers and crew alike could see the ground rushing up at them with terrifying speed. Realizing that his controls were useless and he had to take drastic action, Captain White decided to use the one thing he still had: the engines.

Accelerating all four engines to full power caused the plane to pitch up until it pulled out of the dive. The Constellation turned away from the ground and, like a rollercoaster, climbed straight back up into the clouds. Now Captain White pulled the throttles back again, and the nose started to drop. Little by little, he and the rest of his crew managed to regain the barest semblance of control: when descending, they could accelerate the engines to pitch up, and when they started to climb, they could decelerate to pitch down. Only now, after three terrifying minutes, did Flight Engineer Greenway get on the radio to declare an emergency. “Mayday, mayday, mayday!” he said. “This is Eastern 853, we have had a midair collision and are.. ah… in trouble. We’re out of control. We’re in a dive now, climbing now, we’re descending, we’re at 7,000 feet!”

Indeed, at that moment the Constellation had embarked on a dizzying phugoid trajectory, climbing and descending out of the clouds over and over again, many times per minute. And yet, slowly but surely, they were going down.

At 4:24, New York controllers attempted to give the flight a heading to the nearest airport in Danbury, Connecticut, but their chances of making it were doubtful. “We’ll just do the best we can, keep an eye on us, please, see [where] we’re gonna wind up,” Captain White said, providing a response for Flight Engineer Greenway to relay to the controllers.

Eventually Captain White and First Officer Holt managed to find a power setting that kept them in a relatively steady descent of 500 feet per minute. If they touched the throttles much at all, the plane would start to go out of control. The chances of this descent path lining up with the airport were slim to none. Anticipating a forced landing in the countryside, Captain White came on the PA and gave the passengers a no-holds-barred rundown of the situation. He said that they had been in a midair collision, that the plane was out of control, and that they would be making a crash landing. He told people to stay seated, fasten their seat belts as tight as possible, and remove all sharp objects from their pockets. The flight attendants scrambled to prepare for the crash landing, instructing the passengers to read their safety cards and find their nearest exits. Some quietly, others openly, the passengers prepared for the worst.

Moments later, flight 853 passed over Danbury Airport at a height of two to three thousand feet, way too high to come in for a landing, and they didn’t have enough control to circle around. Captain White knew that a forced landing was now inevitable, and that he would have only a couple of minutes to select a landing site. The problem was that the area they were flying over was not flat. The region around the border of New York and Connecticut is covered in hills, forests, and lakes, none of which presented an obvious landing site. They would have to pick the best of several bad options.

One option was a large lake, which was flat, but came with its own dangers. First Officer Holt recalled advising against it: “I don’t much care for the lake,” he said. “I don’t think very many would get out alive.”

They had decided they were going to put it down on land, but where? Directly ahead of them was Hunt Mountain, a large hill covered in farmland and forest. Half way up was a wide open pasture, running up the hillside on a 15% grade. It was a bad place to land, but it was what they had. “How about that field?” Captain White asked.

“Let’s do it,” said First Officer Holt.

Going on the PA one last time, Captain White announced, “Brace yourselves, here it comes!”

Coming in low towards the field, White made one last critical move: he increased engine power just seconds before touchdown. Normally a pilot will decrease power before touchdown, but by doing the opposite, he caused the nose to pitch up in line with the slope of the hill, preventing the plane from slamming down hard and cartwheeling. He had to get the timing exactly right, and he did. The Constellation touched down in the pasture with its landing gear stowed, just barely clearing several farm buildings and sending three local boys running for cover. The left wing clipped a tree and sheared off, sending flames trailing behind the plane as it slid up the hill, breaking apart as it went. The fuselage split open behind the wings like a hinge as the plane spun around almost 180 degrees. A plume of fire and smoke rose over the village of North Salem as the plane finally ground to a halt, surrounded by flames.

On board the Constellation, everyone had survived the crash, but their fight to stay alive was far from over. One passenger was flung out into the field during the breakup sequence, and another threw himself out through a broken emergency exit window while the plane was still moving, but everyone else remained inside the burning aircraft. Without hesitation, the passengers undid their seat belts and flooded out through the break in the fuselage and through the two forward exit doors. Many of them had been injured, some seriously, but with the fire rapidly spreading, their injuries were of secondary concern.

Those who escaped near the end of the evacuation suffered from burns and smoke inhalation on top of impact injuries, and within a couple of minutes the window of survival began to close. But one passenger was still on the plane: a soldier seated in the forward cabin whose seat belt had jammed. His friends had tried to extract him but were beaten back by the smoke and fire. One of them spotted Captain White leaving the plane and told him that the soldier was still trapped inside. White could have said it was too dangerous to return, and he would have been right, but that’s not the sort of captain he wanted to be. Braving the raging fire and the toxic smoke, White went back into the plane in search of the last passenger. Nobody ever saw him alive again, and we don’t know exactly what happened in those final harrowing moments inside the smoke-filled cabin, but it is thought that White managed to get the soldier out of his seat and had turned around to leave when smoke overcame them both. White’s body would later be found in the forward galley, while the passenger succumbed in the aisle between rows seven and eight. Two other passengers also died of their injuries in a hospital several hours later. But of the 54 people on board, 50 made it out alive — an outcome which, in light of the circumstances, can only be considered miraculous. Without White’s quick thinking and excellent judgment, far fewer, if any, would have walked away.

Responsibility for investigating the collision fell to the Civil Aeronautics Board, the precursor to the NTSB (which wouldn’t be created until 1967). When investigating a midair collision, the CAB would normally have started out by trying to determine which plane was not at its assigned altitude, or, if they were both assigned to the same altitude, which one was off course. Usually this had to be reconstructed forensically, but in this case both crews, except for the Constellation’s captain, were still alive and could testify about what they saw and did before the two planes collided. This would be especially crucial as neither plane carried a cockpit voice recorder and only the 707 had a flight data recorder. The readout of the simple, four-parameter recorder showed that the 707 never strayed from its assigned altitude of 11,000 feet. So was the Constellation at 10,000 feet or not? First Officer Holt and Flight Engineer Greenway both insisted that it was. They had reported as much to air traffic control when they entered the sector, and the flight engineer’s navigation log also put them at 10,000 feet about 20 minutes before the collision. An examination of the altimeters ruled out the possibility of a faulty reading. In the absence of any plausible reason why all the crewmembers would have thought they were at 10,000 feet when they weren’t, the CAB concluded that the Constellation almost certainly was at its assigned altitude until shortly before the collision.

In fact, while the two planes weren’t on a collision course, a reconstruction of the circumstances of the collision revealed that it probably looked like they were. First Officer Holt saw the 707 on a collision course not because they were at the same altitude, but because the jet was framed against a false horizon. Scientific studies showed that when two planes are on track to cross paths, pilots will make a snap judgment of the collision risk primarily based on relative vertical movement. If the angle to the other plane changed by more than nine arcminutes per second, pilots almost universally estimated that they would not collide. If the angle changed by less than six arcminutes per second, they could not notice the movement and generally concluded that the planes were on a collision course — but only if the second plane was roughly level with the horizon. A plane below the horizon was usually determined to be below the observer as well, and a plane above the horizon was thought to be above the observer. On a perfectly clear day, the 707 should have appeared above the horizon, even if its relative motion was initially too small to notice. But in this case, a false horizon existed due to the gradual upslope of the cloud surface to the northwest over New York State. Because the northwestern “horizon” was higher than the observer, it gave the impression that the 707, which was also at a higher altitude, was in line with the horizon and thus on the same level as the observer.

Unaware that they were seeing an optical illusion, the crew of the Constellation elected to take evasive action by pulling up to climb over the 707. Most likely they chose to climb rather than descend because descending would have put them inside the cloud bank, where they wouldn’t be able to tell whether they were still on a collision course or not. Neither Captain White nor First Officer Holt could have known that they were climbing directly into the path of the 707. The TWA crew, for their part, saw the Constellation coming and attempted to avoid it, but they were unable to change course quickly enough to get out of its way.

Independent of the CAB investigation, court deliberations stemming from lawsuits brought by crash survivors and the families of the victims led to a dispute over who was to blame for the accident. One side sought to blame the air traffic controllers for not informing the two crews of each other’s presence, but this argument did not hold water because there was no requirement to do so if the planes were at different altitudes. The other side argued that the Constellation crew were not in fact at their assigned altitude of 10,000 feet, and that they were therefore at fault in the crash. It was certainly true that the CAB could not prove beyond all doubt where the Constellation was located before the collision, and had based its determination off of circumstantial evidence, pilot testimony, and a weighting of the probabilities. But besides the fact of the collision itself, there was no evidence that the Constellation was not at its assigned altitude. After hearing arguments, the judge decided that in the absence of evidence to the contrary, it must be assumed that the Constellation crew had done no wrong. In the end he ruled that no individual or organization was legally at fault in the crash.

Indeed, the judge had realized what aviation safety experts already knew: that the system itself was not up to the job. The 1956 Grand Canyon collision had shown that pilots could not be counted on to see and avoid each other in time to prevent a collision. The 1960 New York collision showed that procedural separation would not prevent a collision in instrument conditions if a pilot made a navigational error while attempting to comply with a clearance. And now the 1965 Carmel collision had presented a case where pilots attempting to “see and avoid” created a collision risk where none previously existed. It was clear that “see and avoid,” while adequate as a primary defense, could not be the only defense. Without a second set of eyes on the sky, America’s increasingly crowded airways would become a bloodbath.

The Carmel midair collision was but one of several that ultimately spurred the development of modern aircraft transponders. In addition to the previously mentioned accidents, the following years featured more deadly collisions: in 1967, 26 died when a TWA DC-9 collided with a private plane later that year, 82 died in a collision between a Piedmont Airlines Boeing 727 and a Cessna and in 1969, another 82 people died when an Allegheny Airlines DC-9 collided with yet another small private plane. All these collisions led to the invention and installation of transponders that could broadcast aircraft altitudes directly to air traffic control, along with the introduction of special high-density airspace rules and more capable ATC radar. By the beginning of the 1970s, these improved technologies had entered widespread use across the United States, and still more layers of redundancy have been added since.

The effect of these changes was profound. In the two years between 1967 and 1969, three airliners were lost in midair collisions over the United States, compared with the same number in the 51 years between 1970 and today. Furthermore, the Carmel midair collision was the last in the United States involving two airliners, as opposed to one airliner and a small airplane.

But the Carmel midair collision is remembered today for an entirely different reason: the heroism displayed by both crews in getting their planes on the ground as safely as possible. Captain Carroll and First Officer Smith of the TWA Boeing 707 displayed exemplary skill in landing a plane that was missing 25 feet off one wing few airliners, if any, have landed safely after losing more. Captain White and First Officer Holt on the Eastern Airlines Super Constellation faced an even more dire situation, the loss of all of their flight controls, but held it together through excellence of airmanship. From the moment of the collision, they beautifully demonstrated the classic saying: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” When the elevators failed, they used the engines to control their pitch. When they couldn’t make it to an airport, they chose to crash land in the spot where they thought there would be the most survivors. And it worked — nearly everyone made it.

Captain Charles J. White could have lived to see himself become a hero. He could have gratefully accepted awards, given speeches, shaken hands with the president. Instead, he chose to risk it all to go back inside his burning plane, determined not to leave a single passenger behind. Many of those who survived the crash thanks to his airmanship wish that he could have lived — perhaps no one aboard that plane deserved it more. But while his death was a tragedy, the least we can do is ensure that his name and deeds will live forever.

Two airplanes collide mid-air

One of the planes, whose destination was Idlewild Airport (now John F. Kennedy International), was in a holding pattern waiting for permission to land. The second plane, flying into LaGuardia Airport, miscalculated the other plane’s path and ran into the first.

The two airplanes struck each other mid-air raining flaming wreckage and debris. The plane destined for LaGuardia crashed into Miller Field on Staten Island while the plane which had been in a holding pattern struck an apartment and church in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope. The disaster caused extensive fires which took 72 hours to combat.

Around 136 (sources vary) people died, all 128 aboard the planes and approximately eight on the ground. Stephen Baltz (11) initially survived the crash but died 26 hours later of extensive burns and inhaled flames. Before he died, Baltz recounted: “The plane started to fall and people started to scream. I held onto my seat and then the plane crashed.”

Honolulu Star-Bulletin. December 16, 1960

A memorial for the victims of the disaster, with the nickels and dimes Stephen Baltz had in his pocket at the time of the crash


LOS ANGELES, June 6—A DC‐9 airliner carrying 48 per sons and a Navy F‐4 Phantom jet with a crew of two collided today. Both planes crashed in flames in a rugged mountain area 20 miles northeast of here.

Sheriff's officers said appar ently all aboard the airliner and one of the Navv airmen had been killed. Nine bodies were seen around the still smoldering Hughes Air West airliner.

A radar officer, Marine First Lieut. Christopher Schiess, 24 years old, of Salem, Ore., ejected from the fighter plane and was picked up by firemen. He was taken to a hospital with head and leg injuries and was reported in good condition.

The pilot, whose name was not released, was believed to have crashed with his plane.

Had 5‐Man Crew

Names of the Air West pas sengers were not immediately released pending notification of relatives.

Air West in San Francisco identified the crew of the crashed liner, all from Seattle, as Theodore Nicolay, 50. cap tain: Price Bruner, 49, co‐pilot: and Helena Koskimies, 30, Pa tricia Shelton, 28. and Joan Pluylaar, 34, stewardesses.

The Hughes Air West jetliner was Flight 706, carrying 43 pas sengers and a five‐man crew. It was flying from Los Angeles International Airport to Salt Lake City, Boise and Lewiston, Idaho, and Pasco, Wash.

The plane took off at 5:50 P.M. The collision occurred about 10 minutes later, the Fed eral Aviation Administration said. The F‐4 was flying from Fallon Air Force Base in Ne vada to El Toro Marine Corps Air Station near Santa Ana, Calif., the agency said.

A spokesman said air con trollers saw the two planes on their radar equipment just be fore the crash. He said there were no radio transmissions from either plane before the crash.

The collision took place over San Gabriel Canyon, which au thorities described as “some of the most rugged area in Amer ica.” The nearest town is Du arte, about five miles south.

Fog Hampers Search

The airliner was spotted at the bottom of a gorge, while the fighter was reported on the side of a mountain about one mile away.

Fire officials said they were sending helicopters with search rescue crews into the area, but that the effort was being ham pered by thick fog rolling in. One spokesman said there ap parently would be no effort to remove any of the bodies until daybreak tomorrow.

Fiery debris from the two aircraft started three small brush fires that were quickly extinguished by county fire men.

The collision was witnessed by several persons in Duarte.

“I heard a boom and saw two flaming objects going behind the mountain,” said Jim Frisbie, who lives two and one‐half miles away. “It exploded again when it was behind the moun tain. I was working in the store and the explosion shook the big picture window. Everybody thought it was an earthquake.”

Mike Zarate, a United States Forest Service fire dispatcher, said he heard a loud explosion and saw a “very large” flaming plane plummeting to the ground.

“It was tumbling,” said Mr. Zarate. “The plane had explod ed and when it hit the ground, very heavy black smoke carne from the site.”

Other Collisions Recalled

The crash yesterday of two planes was the latest in a series of midair collisions that have claimed the lives of hundreds of persons in the last two decades.

The worst on record invol ving a military plane and a commercial craft occurred on Nov. 1, 1949, when an Eastern Airlines plane and a Bolivian P‐38 fighter collided near Washington, killing 55 persons.

A collision over the Grandl, Canyon in Arizona on June 30, 1956, between a United Air lines DC‐7 and a Trans World Airlines Constellation took 28 lives.

That disaster prompted the aviation industry to begin what was to become a 10‐year, search for devices that could warn pilots against the apIproach of another plane. The devices have yet to be per fected.

Forty‐eight persons were killed on Feb. 1, 1958, when a military transport plane hit a Neptune patrol bomber over Los Angeles. Less than three months later, 49 persons died when a United DC‐7 and an Air Force jet trainer collided near Las Vegas, Nev.

The worst collision in United States history occurred on Dec. 16, 1960, when a United jetliner and a T.W.A. Super Constella tion collided over New York City. The 134 victims included six persons on the ground who were killed when the jet crashed in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn.

The collision was the first inflight collision in the United States involving a commercial airliner since Sept. 9, 1969, when an Allegheny Airlines DC‐9 and a student pilot's plane collided at Shelbyville, Ind., killing 83 persons.

When a TWA and United planes collided above New York City, crashed in Brooklyn and Staten Island leaving rubble and human remains in their wake

In the world's worst aviation disaster, two airliners groping through a snowstorm toward International Airport and LaGuardia Field collided over the city at 10:34 A.M. yesterday, killing at least 133 persons — including six in downtown Brooklyn, where one of the planes, a jet half the size of a football field, set a square-block area on fire. It was feared that additional bodies would be found.

Of the 77 passengers and seven crewmen aboard the jet, a United Airlines DC-8, which exploded near Sterling Place and Seventh Ave., Brooklyn, spewing metal and flames through the neighborhood, only an 11-year-old boy survived. He was critically burned.

Ten miles away, 39 passengers and five crewmen perished on the other plane, a Trans World Airlines Lockheed Constellation which partly disintegrated in air and fell in wreckage —right on a runway at little Miller Army Air Field in Staten Island.

In Brooklyn, where the frightening crash of the jet demolished a church, wrecked 11 other buildings and touched off a seven-alarm fire, six persons died on the street, in buildings and in a flaming auto.

As Mayor Wagner proclaimed the neighborhood a disaster area, he expressed official fears that the rescue army of 2,500 police, firemen, physicians and civil defense volunteers would find other bodies in the rubble of the flattened buildings.

The Previous Worst

Wagner called the collision "the worst air disaster in the city's history." Reckoning in the feared ground casualties, it also was the world's worst aerial calamity. The previous record toll was the 129-victim crash of a U.S. Air Force C-124 Globemaster near Tokyo on June 18, 1953.

For United and TWA, it was the second grim rendezvous with aerial holocaust. In what was previously the worst civil airlines accident, two of their plans collided June 30, 1956, over the Grand Canyon, killing 128.

Last night, the Civil Aeronautics Board assigned 31 top investigators — the largest such assemblage of experts ever assembled — to cover the two crash scenes. An appeal was issued to the public to report any apparent plane debris to authorities — but leave it undisturbed.

No One Saw Crash Itself

Though tens of thousands of New Yorkers heard or saw the flaming double climax of the collision, no one actually witnessed the crash itself, and federal aviation authorities, for the time being, refused to say more than "all the evidence points to a mid-air collision."

Neither plane had reported any trouble — both simply faded off the radarscopes at the International and LaGuardia control towers — and there was no immediate explanation of what had gone wrong to get them on collision course.

The feds promptly impounded taped transmissions from both ships in the hope of finding some clue to the disaster.

All that the sky detectives actually knew, however, was that the TWA Constellation, inbound from Dayton and Columbus, Ohio was coming toward LaGuardia on instruments for a 10:40 A.M. arrival.

And the United jet out of O'Hare Field in Chicago — first pure jet in aviation history to crash with passengers — was cleared for a holding pattern at 5,000-foot altitude. She was due five minutes later at International, where there was a 600-foot ceiling.

The TWA plane also was apparently cleared for this altitude, but the circles of their patterns should have kept them at least five miles apart.

Supposedly, authorities said, the two planes, laden with businessmen, holiday travelers and at least three infants, were safely separated for their arrivals at the two fields some 10 air miles apart.

Rescue Attempts Futile

What went wrong — whether it was ground or pilot or instrument error — could not be immediately determined.

As the wreckage rained down simultaneously many miles apart in Brooklyn and Staten Island — narrowly missing three schools — rescue attempts were prompt but futile.

The Hospital Department dispatched, every available ambulance, doctor and nurse in both municipal and private hospitals to the two scenes, including disaster units from Bellevue and Kings County Hospitals. Hospital Commissioner Morris A. Jacobs, who lives on Staten Island, personally directed medical emergency efforts there.

The Mayor hastened to Brooklyn, and sent his executive secretary, Frank Doyle, to Staten Island. As sightseers flocked to both sites, Police Commissioner Kennedy appealed to the public to stay away. Bridge and tunnel lanes were preempted for movement of emergency vehicles.

Direct Hit on Church

In Brooklyn, the wreck area looked as though a blockbuster had leveled the buildings. At 119 Sterling Place, the Pillar of Fire Church, a 2 ½-story brick structure, suffered a direct hit, and the explosion that followed dug a 25-foot crater, some 50 feet in diameter, where the edifice had stood.

An intact tail section landed right in the intersection of Sterling Place and Seventh Ave., while a 25-foot wing section knifed down through the roof of a four-story brownstone tenement at 126 Sterling, slicing the structure almost in half down the second floor.

At least 24 parked autos were destroyed, along with a funeral home, barber shop, bakery, garage and several 16-family apartment buildings. Screaming in terror, women ran into the streets with their small children. Some rushed to PS 9, which has 1,000 students, and St. Augustine's Parochial School, with more than 1,000. Both schools are close by. None of the debris hit the school buildings.

Saw a Boy Tumble Out

Mrs. Amelia Helmes, who was standing at a corner, saw part of the plane hit the top of a red truck — and then, to her horror, a boy tumbled out of the wreckage.

"I rushed to him," she said. "His name was Stanley, he said. But he was not talking clearly. His mouth was bleeding. His hands were burned and cut. His clothes were on fire.

"His face was badly burned, and the skin was peeling off. He had red curly hair and seemed about 10 or 11."

The victim, later identified as 11-year-old Stephen Baltz, the DC-8 survivor, who had been flying from Wilmette, Ill., to be with his mother for Christmas, was taken to Brooklyn Methodist Hospital. Last night, his condition remained critical.

Temporary Morgue

As police sealed off the stricken block to prevent looting, bodies were removed at the rate of ten an hour, to temporary morgues set up in a garage next to the demolished Pillar of Fire Church and in a bowling alley on Seventh Ave., near Flatbush Ave.

Later, they were transferred to Kings County Hospital morgue, and a seven-man disaster unit from the FBI aided police in the difficult task of identification.

For the living, St. Augustine's School was used as emergency headquarters, and police with loudspeakers directed bewildered residents of the neighborhood to report there. An estimated 300 homeless were given food and emergency medical treatment, and cots were brought in to house them overnight, if necessary.

At the Staten Island Scene

In Staten Island, the other half of the tragedy was played out less dramatically. A New Dorp housewife, Mrs. John S. Bailey, saw the stricken Lockheed "turning around just like a toy." City Councilman Edward V. Curry described it as "a ball of flame" that "streaked through the air like a comet."

Apparently, other witnesses added, fire in the air exploded the two right engines and blew off the tail section.

"I saw a couple of people falling out of the plane," reported Clifford Beuth, an oil deliveryman.

It was blazing all the way down, he said.

2 Off-Duty Police Help

Two brothers, off-duty Patrolmen Peter and Gerard Paul, who live on Staten Island and were Christmas shopping nearby, were among the very first on the scene. With a small ladder, they scaled a 10-foot fence and, with an Army lieutenant, ran to one piece of wreckage on the Miller Field runway.

"I saw someone move," Peter Paul said later. "We jumped in and started pulling the people out who were moving.

"By this time, other people had arrived, and I borrowed a knife to cut the safety belts. We took out two men and a woman who were still alive. They were moaning and groaning.

"There was a lot of smoke and the seats were on fire. One man was lying on his back and trying to rise. The other bodies were badly burned. In all, we took out about six people. We carried them to helicopters."

The victims were taken to the U.S. Public Health Service Hospital in St. George, but all were dead on arrival, or died shortly afterward.

"To me, it was nothing but a mass of rubble and human bodies," said Dr. Ernest Siegfried of the Public Health Service Hospital, who responded to the first emergency call.

A terrorist bomber begins his deadly rampage

Federal Judge Robert Vance is instantly killed by a powerful explosion after opening a package mailed to his house near Birmingham, Alabama. Two days later, a mail bomb killed Robert Robinson, an attorney in Savannah, Georgia, in his office. Two other bomb packages, sent to the federal courthouse in Atlanta and to the Jacksonville, Florida office of the NAACP, were intercepted before their intended victims opened them.

The FBI immediately assigned a task force to find the terrorist, naming their operation VANPAC (for Vance package bomb). The investigators used nearly every forensic method available: DNA profiles were made from the saliva on the stamps, and both the paint on the boxes and the nails that acted as the bomb’s shrapnel were traced back to the manufacturer. Finally, an FBI agent remembered that Walter LeRoy Moody had been convicted in 1972 for setting off a pipe bomb with a similar design to that of the 1989 bombs. A search of Moody’s home failed to turn up evidence linking him to the VANPAC bombs, but bomb experts compared his 1972 bomb to the VANPAC explosives and determined that there was little doubt that the same man had made them all. Purportedly, Moody was upset by the judicial system.

In June 1991, a federal jury convicted Moody on charges related to the bombings and sentenced him to seven life terms plus 400 years in prison. In 1997, an Alabama judge sentenced Moody to die in the electric chair for Vance’s murder. Moody was executed in 2018.

Airliners collide over New York City

NEW YORK -- A giant United Air Lines DC8 jet and a TWA Super Constellation with a total of 127 persons aboard collided in a snowstorm over New York City today and plummeted to ground 12 miles apart.

One 11-year-old boy, Stephen Baltz of Chicago, appeared to be the only survivor.

The huge DC8 on which he was one of the 76 passengers and seven crew members thundered in flames into a row of brownstone tenements in Brooklyn, setting an entire block aflame.

Victims killed in their homes added to the apparent death toll of 126 on the planes.

The TWA Constellation, bound from Dayton and Columbus, Ohio, to New York, fell on Staten Island 12 miles southwest of the Brooklyn crash. It carried 39 passengers, including two infants and a crew of five.

Six living persons were carried from the TWA wreckage to hospitals but all six died shortly after arrival.

Big Fire Started

The crash of the big United DC8 jet in Brooklyn set off a tremendous fire which spread to a row of brownstone buildings whose residents fled into the snow-filled streets. Fire equipment from Manhattan sped across the East River bridges into Brooklyn to fight the seven-alarm fire.

The pilot of the TWA propeller-driven craft apparently was trying to bring his plane down in an emergency landing. It crashed near Miller's Field, a small airport on Staten Island.

Police reported there were two survivors in the crash of the TWA plane on Staten Island.

Some injured survivors were reported in the United crash in Brooklyn.

The United plane started a five-alarm fire, setting office buildings aflame.

TWA reported that its plane was Flight 266 out of Dayton and Columbus, Ohio. It was reported to have been carrying 37 passengers and five crewmen.

The Coast Guard reported its helicopters had picked up six survivors of the TWA crash and taken them to Staten Island Public Health Hospital.

TWA said its plane was a Super Constellation.

All auxiliary police in Brooklyn were called out. The scene of the crash was on Flatbush Avenue between the downtown section of Brooklyn and Prospect Park.

The TWA plane came down near Miller's field, a small airport on Staten Island across the bridges to Brooklyn. At least three buildings were aflame.

United Air Lines said a DCS jet from Chicago was overdue at International Airport. Police reported the TWA plane might be a Boeing 707 jet.

"The crash shook my whole house. They can't get the fire under control. People are being evacuated and running around screaming. Homes and buildings are on fire."

A morning rain had turned to snow shortly before the collision.

An eyewitness to the Staten Island crash, Peter Bennett, said:

"Through the window of St. Charles Seminary, we saw a four-engined plane explode in the air. A wing came off. Then it crashed."

The Rev. Raymond Morgan, who was walking in Brooklyn, said:

"I saw something that looked like a guided missile coming out of the sky. I ran to the corner and as I was running I heard an explosion. I turned the corner and saw a large flame that went skyward.

"I ran into the rectory and told the other priests what had happened. I got some holy oil to administer the last rites. I got as close as I could, but the flames and heat were terrific. I saw three bodies in the debris."

The TWA plane -- in the words of one eyewitness -- "disintegrated" as it was gliding down toward the field on Staten Island.

Describes Scene

Mrs. Evelyn O'Keefe, who lives near the field, said"

"I was in the kitchen doing the dishes when I heard a terrible explosion. I couldn't make out what it was. There were other explosions that followed. This plane was disintegrating right before my eyes.

"Everything was blown apart. Parts of the plane were falling. It hit power lines and bounced to the ground

"I didn't hear any screaming I was hysterical. I ran out into the street. There was a fire across the street. The nose of the plane landed in front of the house."

The Douglas DC8 is a 575-m.p.h jet airliner half as long as a football field. It gets its power from four jet engines carried in pods under the wings. The DC8 can carry more than 150 passengers at altitudes up to 40,000 feet.

The United plane was scheduled to arrive at Idlewild Airport at 10:45 a.m. The TWA plane was headed for LaGuardia Field about 12 miles northwest of Idlewild, and was due in at 10:40. The collision occurred about 10:30.

Three Previous Crashes

There have been three previous fatal jetliner crashes. They involved two Boeing 707s and one Convair 880, but all occurred on training flights and no passengers were aboard. This was the first involving passengers.

The wreckage of the planes fell approximately 12 miles apart.

More than 100 firemen frantically pulled apart the mass of wreckage on Staten Island looking for possible survivors. Fire Chief John Savage said rescue squads were on the scene within minutes but the water at first did not quench the flames.

Twenty-three bodies were placed on stretchers in an orderly row just outside the rescue area. Others were taken to the Sea View hospital morgue.

In Brooklyn, snow was falling on the army of nurses, doctors, hospital attendants and firemen. Police Commissioner Stephen Kennedy pleaded with the public to stay away but a huge crowd surrounded the perimeter of the crash area.

Watch the video: Fatal Flaw - United Airlines Flight 585, USAir Flight 427, Eastwind Airlines Flight 517 (August 2022).