New York, NY LaGuardia Airport Airplane Crash, May 1947

LA GUARDIA FIELD CRASH CAUSED BY FREAK WIND BLAST

New York, (UP) - A freak change in the wind while the plane was racing down the runway for a 100-mile-an-hour take off was blamed today for the crash of a Untied Airlines transport at La Guardia field Thursday night which killed 40 persons and injured eight others.
The 40th victim of the crash died today. He was CHARLES J. SHANNON, 27, (125-35 97th St.) New York.
Officials of both the Civil Aeronautics Board and the airline agreed after a preliminary investigation that the wind change, from a 19 mph south wind to a northwest wind of 23 miles velocity, probably prevented the four-engined plane from getting into the air after a normal run.

Positive Information
GEORGE GAY, chief of the first region of the CAB, said in his report that there was "positive evidence wind shifts occurred during take-off run." However, he added “pilot was advised of approaching windshifts prior to take-off."
"It is believed that a freak gust of wind slightly in advance of the approaching squall line was responsible for the accident," said J. A. HERLIHY, vice president, in charge of operations for United Airlines.
The pilot, Capt. BENTON R. BALDWIN, one of the survivors, said when he saw he wasn't going to make it, he ordered Co-Pilot R. E. SANDS to cut the throttles of the four motors, and applied the brakes in an attempt to ground loop (turn sideways) the plane.
Black tiremarks showed where the DC-4 skidded with locked wheels for 1,000 feet along the 3,500-foot runway before it went out of control and crashed.
The giant transport tore through a fence at the end of the runway, ploughed up a grassy incline, vaulted the heavily-travelled[sic] Grand Central parkway shearing off a light pole, ripped through another fence and came to rest in a shallow ditch.
The plane burst into flames almost immediately, turning the fuselage into a pyre for 35 passengers and two crew members. The pilot escaped through a window of the cockpit. Nine passengers and a hostess were dragged from the wreckage by rescuers. Three of those rescued died later, making the total death toll 40.
Of the eight survivors, two were reported still in critical condition. Another was reported in serious condition and the remainder were in fair condition.

30 Burned to Death
Thirty of the victims burned to death in the fuselage have been identified. Relatives, flown here by United Airlines, thekked[sic] through the makeshift morgue set up in the Academy of Aeronautics building yesterday, identifying the bodies. Most of them were burned beyond recognition and had to be identified by pieces of jewelry or other personal effects.
The accident was one of the few fatal crashes in which the pilot lived to tell about it, and BALDWIN'S testimony before subsequent hearings was expected to help to establish definitely the cause of the disaster.
"Evidently the windshift already had reached runway 18, but had not yet reached the tower," HERLIHY said. "Thus instead of a normal up-wind take-off, the captain, without warning, was taking off with a quartering tailwind.

Extremely Rare
"Take-off accidents, in themselves, are extremely rare," he added. "This particular type (of accident) in a transport is unheard of. I am sure the reason for the accident was the wind shift."
The plane never became airborne, investigators said. A survey of the ground over which the plane bounced showed no propellor[sic] marks. Indicating that the co-pilot succeeded in cutting the throttles before he was killed.
Still to be examined was the instrument panel of the plane which was found yesterday in the shallow water of the ditch, in which the plane came to rest. Investigators hoped it would yield still more clues.

One Was a Hero
One of the heroes of the crash was ED McGRATH, 38, a New York heating engineer. He rushed into the flaming tail section of the plane seven times to pull out four men and three women.
TED AWALT, a student at the Academy of Aeronautics, dragged two women and a man from the wreckage before the intense heat forced him to withdraw.
One of the three victims who later died of burns was THEODORE ALEXAY, 27, Yonkers, N. Y., who was en route to Cleveland where he was to have been married yesterday.

Dunkirk Evening Observer New York 1947-05-31

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