New York, NY Idlewild (JFK) Airplane Crash, Dec 1962
25 KILLED, 26 SURVIVE CRASH.
Sixth Major Air Disaster Within A Week.
EAL Airliner Crashes On Landing At Fogbound Idlewild Airport.
NEW YORK (AP) -- An airliner groping through a fog crashed with a loss of 25 lives -- 26 escaped -- at Idlewild Airport Friday night in the sixth major aviation disaster in a week.
It boosted the total death toll to 206.
The latest in the series of accidents at 9:45 p. m., kept the airport closed until 7:10 a. m. today, delaying more than 50 flights.
Federal investigators converged at the airport to determine the cause. Another airliner had landed safely only 90 seconds before.
The plane, an Eastern Air Lines four-engined DC7B bound here from Charlotte, N. C., slewed into a marsh and burned.
Airport tower controllers sighted the plane about a mile from its runway and everything appeared normal, said Oscar Bakke, Eastern regional assistant administrator for the Federal Aviation Agency.
"From this point on, because of intervening ground fog, tower personnel were not able to see the aircraft," he related. "At approximate touchdown time, the tower saw an orange glow from the direction of Runway 4-R."
Investigators said the plane was coming in for an instrument landing, along with visual checks by the pilot.
They disclosed that one of two instrument approach landing systems was not working, but expressed doubt that this had anything to do with the crash.
William L. Lamb, air safety investigator for the Civil Aeronautics Board, said the precision approach radar system was out of operation because instruments were being moved from one room to another in the control tower.
A second system -- the instrument landing system -- was working.
Lamb said the pilot presumably knew that one system was out. He said that, when both were working, it was usually the pilot's choice which to use.
The city mortuary reported that 23 of the 25 victims were men and that the other two apparently were women.
Aboard were 46 passengers and five crew members. Three crew members perished and two, stewardesses, survived.
The crewmen who died were Capt. EDWARD J. BECHTOLD, 43, the pilot, of Laurel Hollow, N. Y.; JULES WAGNER, co-pilot of Cambria Heights, N. Y.; and ROBERT L. VORKEES, 31, pilot-flight engineer, of Comoack, N. Y.
Officials declined comment on the cause of the crash pending investigation.
Survivors scrambled through emergency exits, crawling and running from the flames that engulfed the forward portion of the propeller-driven Eastern Air Lines DC7B, arriving from Charlotte, N. C.
Idlewild had been completely covered by fog earlier in the evening and Capt. EDWARD BECHTOLD, a veteran frequently used as an export cross-examiner in government inquiries into crashes told the passengers he might try to land at Philadelphia.
"We don't know what made him change his mind," said LEONARD CLEMENTI of Huntington, Long Island, one of the injured survivors.
Another passenger, LOU LOUFT, a movie producer from Dover, N. J., recalled the pilot announcing: "We can make it. There is a little hole. We should be down in about six minutes."
On instrument control, the big airliner started descending from the eastern side of the busy airport on Long Island, the side toward Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan.
"We could see the lights as we came down," said HELEN FOURNIER, 21, of Forest Hills, Queens, one of the two stewardesses on Eastern's Flight 512. Both survived.
"Then we came down with a bang," she continued. "It was kind of quick. It seemed that the pilot was increasing the power, but we didn't get anywhere. Then there was a sort of flash. There was no explosion, though."
Several passengers recalled what seemed to be a desperate effort by BECHTOLD to get the lumbering aircraft back into the air.
"The tail end of the plane hit the ground and the plane slewed around," said M. V. LITTLE, 54, of Garden City, Long Island.
Hurtling across a reedfilled marsh, 200 yards west of the runway, the aircraft smashed to a half and burst into flames.
It split open down the back. Seats were tossed into the foggy darkness, some with bodies still strapped into place for landing.
WALTER MUELLER of Floral Park, N. Y., told of the thoughts burned into his memory: "The first thing that enters your mind is: 'I've had it.' You're not sure in your mind that you're living. You just do things."
"The flames came into the plane from the front end before we ever stopped," said LOUFT, producer of Louft Productions, Inc., a motion pictures firm.
He was returning from a commercial film assignment in Charlotte with his two partners, script-writer FRANK SMITH, 72, of Manhattan, and production manager FRANK KOLAREK, who lives near Idlewild. All survived.
Before leaving North Carolina, KOLAREK rehearsed how to open the emergency exit beside his seat.
"KOLAREK saved several of our lives because he got that window open immediately," SMITH said.
Passengers leaped and tumbled through the openings, driven by the flames and fear.
"We kept pushing passengers out," stewardess FOURNIER recalled. "First one out and then another one. We pushed them all out. When everyone was out that I could see. I jumped to the ground. I ran and ran and I stopped and I said, 'No, I can't do this. I must help them.'"
She returned to the flaming wreckage and helped drag and guide survivors away from the intense heat.
"One man was on fire," she said. "His whole body was burning. I put him out."
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