New York, NY Jet Crash over New York, Dec 1960
TOLL RISES TO 134 IN COLLISION OF PLANES OVER NEW YORK CITY
Debris Fires 10 Buildings
Jet Narrowly Misses School; Worst Crash in Aviation History
NEW YORK (AP) â€“ Two airliners, one a jet, collided in the air Friday and plunged down into New York City. There were 134 persons killed in the worst disaster in the history of aviation.
Of 128 persons aboard the two planes, the sole survivor was one small boy.
The jet plunged into a crowded Brooklyn neighborhood, killing a street cleaner at work and six other persons. A block-wide area was scourged with fiery death and destruction.
The other plane, a four-engine propeller-driven craft, apparently exploded and came down in flaming pieces on Staten Island, across the narrow neck of New York Harbor. It landed in an open field, sparing further tragedy.
Police fixed the collision spot above the Narrows, the heavily traveled steamship lane between Brooklyn and Staten Island. Federal authorities said the jet's last reported position was 5,000 feet over Preston, N. J., while the other plane was cleared over Linden, N. J., to drop down from 6,000 to 5,000 feet.
Until now, the worst air tragedy in history, was the death of 129 servicemen in the June 18, 1953, crash near Tokyo of an American Air Force transport.
Fire Commissioner EDWARD P. CAVANAGH, JR., said it might be many hours before all the buildings ravaged by the fallen jet could be thoroughly searched for bodies.
The awesome tragedy, occurring over a metropolitan area, pointed up the growing peril of overcrowded airways above the nation's larger cities.
It was only the second in-flight collision between commercial airliners. The last was over the Grand Canyon in Arizona in 1956, when all 128 persons died in a collision between a Trans World Airlines plane and a United airliner.
By grim coincidence, the same two airlines were involved in Friday's crash. It occurred at 10:34 a. m. in dirty gray skies that were further obscured by the falling snow. The two big planes were coming from the west for separate landings at the two New York City airports â€“ LaGuardia Field and Idlewild Airport, about 10 miles apart on Long Island. The ceiling was about 600 feet.
The two planes were supposed to have been at different altitudes. But for some unexplained reason, they weren't. Recorded conversations their pilots had with the control towers were being monitored for some clue to the tragedy. So was an automatic flight recording device carried by jets to list their action in flight.
Ironically, a part of the jetliner came to rest in the wreckage of a Brooklyn funeral parlor, with a score or more passengers entombed in the debris of the house of death.
Would-be rescuers told of seeing passengers' bodies held to their seats by safety belts they had affixed in anticipation of landing. In the past, many passengers' lives have been saved in air mishaps by just such belts. But this time the fury of the disaster made them worthless.
Many of the passengers were coming home for Christmas. They bore gaily wrapped holiday gifts for relatives and friends.
Hours after the crash, dusk's merciful effort to black out the horror of the Brooklyn scene was thwarted by the garish glare of huge police and fire department searchlights. They played over the wreckage as it was being probed for victims.
Residents made homeless by the crash were fed and sheltered at a nearby public school and in the auditorium of St. Augustine's Roman Catholic church.
In its anguished death plunge, the big jet narrowly missed St. Augustine School, adjoining the church. There were 1,700 pupils at classes inside. Brother BRENDAN of the school staff, said: â€œIt appeared the pilot made a deliberate effort to avoid striking the spire of the church.â€
The UAL plane was the first passenger-carrying jet to crash in this country since the inauguration of the jet age of U. S. commercial aviation two years ago.
The jet was UAL Flight 826 which left Chicago at 8:11 a. m. It was bound for Idlewild on the South Shore of Long Island, due there at 10:45 a. m. with 77 passengers and a crew of seven.
It came down in a crowded Brooklyn area of shops and apartments, setting 10 buildings afire and demolishing a church â€“ ironically named â€œPillar of Fire.â€ The superior of St. Augustine's, the spared Catholic school, saw the plane crash. He immediately took over the public address system and led the 1,700 pupils in recitation of the rosary for the victims of the crash.
A huge mass of flames and a billowing cloud of oily black smoke marked the jet's bier and spread fiery ruin through the area.
Incredibly, there was one known survivor among the airborne passengers â€“ STEPHEN BALTZ, 11, of Chicago, on his way here to join his mother in a visit to relatives. He was badly burned. His watch had stopped at 9:37, Chicago time.
Mayor Robert F. Wagner hurried to the Brooklyn scene, later to report: â€œIt was very bad. Most of the bodies are horribly mutilated.â€
The other plane in the collision, TWA's Lockheed Constellation Flight 266 headed for LaGuardia on the North Shore of Long Island from Dayton, Ohio. It took off at 7:40 a. m. and was due in at 10:40 a. m. with 39 passengers and a crew of five. Six survived the crash, but all died soon after.
As it came apart with horrifying force, the TWA plane spewed an area of Staten Island with flaming debris. It came down in an open area of fields and trees after skimming over a row of bungalows.
The horror of its plunge was graphically described by CLIFFORD BEUTAH, an oil deliveryman.
Falls in Flames
â€œI saw the engine of the right side blow up. Then the second engine on the right side blew up and as it did, it blew the tail section to pieces. I saw a couple of people falling out of the plane as it was falling. The plane was on fire from the time it blew up to the time it crashed.â€
The TWA plane was being monitored on radar during its approach to La Guardia. Suddenly its image disappeared from the screen.
The UAL jetliner was on instruments as it groped down through the murk toward Idlewild.
The criss-cross landing and takeoff operation is performed scores of times each day over New York as planes utilize its two busy Long Island airports. Normally, however, planes bound for La Guardia are assigned to a different altitude than those using Idlewild.
â€œObviously something went wrong, but we don't know what,â€ said an airport source at Idlewild.
An airline passenger agent at Idlewild, a red-haired young woman, said through her tears of the relatives: â€œWe told them what has happened, and they know that the plane has crashed. We have no details and so we can't tell them much more.â€
Details of the tragedy were indeed scant. GEORGE R. BAKER of the Civil Aeronautics Bureau, one of the investigators on the Brooklyn scene, said not only was the cause of the crash unknown, but so was the actual area where the two planes collided.
â€œWe have to start from scratch,â€ he declared.
As he spoke with reporters, firemen nearby tore at the wreckage of the United airliner in quest of bodies. They wore heavy canvas gloves to shield their hands from the hot and jagged metal.
Smoke, swirling this way and that from the plane and the burning buildings, obscured the figures of the fire fighters from time to time. Tongues of flame licked from windows in the burning buildings.
Continued, part 2 (below)