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New York City, NY Plane Crashes Into East River, Feb 1959



New York (AP) -- A glistening new jet-powered American Airlines plane with 73 persons aboard plunged into the chilling, fog covered waters of the East River with a shattering crash late last night. Sixty-five apparently perished, despite feverish rescue efforts by harbor craft.
The plane's pilot, using instruments because of the murky weather conditions, was feeling his way gingerly toward a runway at LaGuardia Airport after a flight from Chicago.
But for some undetermined reason, the big four-engine turbo-prop craft smacked into the water and burst apart about half a mile from the shore end of the runway.
Some of the passengers and crew were flung from or floated out of the wreckage before it sand to the river bottom 30 to 36 feet below.
Tug Rescues Eight.
A tugboat chugging along a few hundred feet away cut loose two barges it was towing here from Connecticut and raced to the crash site. Crewmen leaped into the water or used boathooks to pull out the eight persons known to have survived. One was an eight year old boy.
A member of the tug's crew said the sights and sounds were something never to be forgotten.
"There seemed to be bodies all around, and there were continual screams for help," he said.
All through the night and ito a doleful gray, rainy dawn a huge array of boats searched the grimy river waters for bodies. By mid-morning only 10 had been recovered, leaving 48 still missing. The 8 survivors were in hospitals.
One woman, the mother of the rescued boy, also had been pulled from the water alive but died afterward. The boy said later his mother swam and held his head above water before he was rescued.
Bodies Swept Away.
Swirling river current, plus rain and wind up to 40 m.p.h., hampered the search for other bodies, and gave rise to fears that some of them might be swept miles out into Long Island Sound.
The site of the crash was marked by a few floating pieces of the $1,700,000 Lockheed Electra airliner -- a type put into service with great fanfare only a few weeks ago.
There also were some heartbreaking other reminders of the tragedy -- such as a baby's glove, a woman's shoe, a package of letters, a knapsack and a woman's dress.
It was a irony of fate that the tugboat happened to be near the crash. New York Harbor tugs, ordinarily scurrying busily up and down the river waters, are now tied up by a strike of crewmen.
The tug which raced to the rescue, however, was not affected by the tieup because it is based in Connecticut.
TV Producer Missing.
Among the missing plane passengers persumed dead were BEULAH ZACHARY, producer of the Kukla, Fran and Ollie television program and RICHARD WINN, director of facility planning for Amercian Airlines.
The new turbo-prop airliners were designed to combine jet power with the advantages of the propeller. The engines operate on the turbine principle.
The liner was easing toward LaGuardia through light rain and fog, in 38-degree weather with the ceiling about 300 to 400 feet.
It plummeted into the river between 2,500 and 4,000 feet short of the shoreline start of the runway. The force of the impact cracked the plane in two.
The disaster scene was only about half a mile from Rikers Island, where a Northeast Airliner crashed after takeoff in a snowstorm Feb. 1, 1957. Twenty of the 94 persons aboard the Northeast plane were killed.
The American airliner crashed at 11:54 p.m. (EST), 49 minutes after it was due at LaGuardia.
Saw Plane Crack Up.
A tugboat crew heading down the river heard the crash and rushed to the scene.
"We heard a terrific crash," said Everett Phelps, 48, coskipper to the tug. "The noise seemed to come from about 800 feet away. We turned on a searchlight and saw a plane cracking up in all directions."
He added:
"I pulled three persons out. There seemed to be bodies all around, and there were continual screams for help."
Phelps said his crew had picked up eight survivors using boat hooks for some, before the wreckage slipped away from them in the darkness.
Coast Guard boats raced to the scene and gave a tragic report of "picking up bodies everywhere."
A temporary morgue was set up at a nearby Queens Point, and survivors were rushed to Flushing Hospital. Seven were in critical condition.
Pilot Missing.
Among the missing was the pilot, Capt. ALBERT H. DeWITT of Decatur, Mich.
An official of the new Federal Aviation Agency said that "the last contact with the pilot was routine in nature."
Joseph D. Blatt, FAA regional administrator, said the plane was making a "standard instrument approach to LaGuardia from the northeast."
The last contact was made as the plane flew over a range station, 2.8 miles from the end of the runway.
"At this time the pilot acknowledged clearance to land," Blatt said.
Normal altitude for the plane over the range station would have been 800 feet.
Blatt said the plane was coming in on one radio beam which told the pilot if he was directly in line with the runway.
The pilot did not have a second radio beam, which operates at the runway's other end and which would have indicated whether he was too low or too high in his approach.
The FAA began an immediate investigation of the crash. In Washington, the civil aeronautics board said its two top investigators for New York were en route to the scene.
Members of Crew.
The airline identified the crew members in addition to DeWITT as:
FRANK S. HLAVACEK, the flight officer, Wilmette, Ill.
WARREN E. COOK, the flight engineer, Aurora, Ill.
MAE MARKIDIS, stewardess, of Rochester, N. Y.
JOAN MARIE ZELLER, stewardess, Riverside, R. I.
HLAVACEK, COOK and MISS ZELLER were among the survivors.
Another survivor was BOBBY SULLIVAN, 8, who was picked up swimming free. Phelps, the tugboat captain, said the boy "was numb with cold and unable to talk."
"If only there had been more boats around," Phelps said. "Survivors couldn't last long in that water. We waited until we were sure there were no more living around, and we started toward shore."

The Times Record Troy New York 1959-02-04


New York, Feb. 4 -- (AP) -- The following are dead or missing and presumed dead in the midnight crash of the American Airlines plane here:
COZIER, PHILLIP H., Fairfield, Conn.
EVANS, EVAN, 43, actor, Chicago.
HOWLETT, CHARLES, 39, Danville, Ill.
JANES, W. W., Upper Montclair, N. J.
KASS, HOWARD, New York advertising man.
KATZENBERG, MAURY J., 52, Chicago.
McGRATH, REV. FRANCIS E., 31, Elmhurst, Queens, N. Y.
ZAHN, JOHN, Glen Cove, N. Y.
Missing And Presumed Dead:
BECKER, R., Clinton, N. J.
CONRAD, R. W., Falls Church, Va.
COZIER, Master (child).
DeWITT, Capt. ALBERT H., 59, pilot, Decatur, Mich.
DILLER, A. N., New York.
GALES, B. G., New York.
GULLEY, RAY, Kewanee, Ill.
HENLINE, ROY, Park Forest, Ill.
HUNT, JOHN F., Chicago.
HUNT (Unticketed child).
KAYE, J., Wilmette, Ill.
KAY, MRS. J., same address.
MANICONE, C., North Babylon, N. Y.
MARKIDIS, MISS MAE, 22, stewardess, Rochester, N. Y.
MARTIN, B. J., Glencoe, Ill.
MURPHY, N. P., South Bend, Ind.
PATTERSON, STUART, 28, Evanston, Ill.
RENCNER, B., New York.
SHEVELSON, HARRIS, 42, Westport, Conn.
SHEVELSON, MRS. MARY JANE, same address.
STRECKER, CHARLES E., 35, Danville, Ill.
SULLIVAN, JOSEPH, Hempstead, N. Y.
SULLIVAN, PATRICIA, 13, same address.
SULLIVAN, JOAN, 5, same address.
TAYLORSON, JOHN E., Woodcliff Lake, N. J.
TAYLORSON, MRS., same address.
WEINSTEIN, MR., Chicago.
WILLEMIN, ROBERT D., SR., 33, LaGrange, Ill.
WILSON, MRS. MARJORIE, 39, wife of singer ALANDUS WILSON, Chicago.
WINESTOCK, M., New York.
WINN, RICHARD, 41, Norwalk, Conn.
WOODBURN, R. H., Nashville, Tenn.
ZANE, RIA, New York.
ZEWISKE, HAROLD S., 59, Chicago.
ZIMMERMAN, RABBI D., Flushing, Queens, N. Y.

Oakland Tribune California 1959-02-04


Stuart Patterson

Stuart Patterson has a surviving identical twin brother Wallace Patterson, Glenview IL (posted Jan 29, 2009)

New York City American Airline Crash, Feb. 4th 1959

Feb. 4th, 2009

Regarding Deceased Passanger Mrs Howard Seiter:

As a boy of 16 with a invalid father and no siblings or nearby realitives, the impact of that crash that took my mother's life will forever be imprinted in my mind and I will forever morn her loss.

To this day I have never flown American Airlines - they offered no or little help after the crash and for ten years admitted no responsibility while doing their best to ensure that my mother's estate received as little money as possible for their negligence. The behavior of the American Airlines after the accident was criminal.


My mother was a friend and roommate of one of the stewardesses killed in this crash. Can anyone tell me about the family of Mae Markides or where she might be buried ?

NYC AA Crash, 2/3/59

I'm sorry for your loss. We lost our uncle (Capt. Albert Hunt DeWitt) that day, too. For years, AA tried to lay the blame on pilot error, however, it was later discovered that the Electra's altimeter was faulty and that LaGuardia's "back door" runway 22 was equipped with only a radio localizer enabling pilots to line up their planes with the 5,000-ft. runway, lacked the glide-slope signal and the brilliant neon approach lights of instrument runway 4. In 'Fate is the Hunter', Ernest Gann spoke about the crash: "…fooled by the stupid instrumentation in a brand new airplane."

Mae Markidis

My mother Mary was her sister. She had three brothers and one sister, all which have passed. Im not sure where she was buried but am sure it was in Rochester, NY. I never met her because I was born in 1961, but was told she was beautiful.

I am grateful to know more

I am grateful to know more about Mae Markidis, my mother was an American Airlines stewardess and a very good friend of hers. My mom spent years after the crash dealing with a fear of flying and she really missed the friendship they shared. Did your mom tell you anything about Mae (whose name I carry as my middle name) ?

I am thrilled to know that anyone related is still living. My mom talks of the time that all of Mae's airline friends went to the family home and that they were allowed to pick out one item of Mae's as a keepsake. My mom was allowed to take her nameplate and her AA wings.

Can we connect online ?


My mother's uncle, Robert Sands, was a co-pilot on this plane and his name has been forever lost from the listings. My family lived in Clason Point at the time and heard the boom the crash created. Many people, unfortunately, used this event for their own purposes and "The Ghouls Of Clason Point" was the next day's headline in the Daily News because many residents robbed the corpses and the luggage that floated up to the shores of Soundview/Clason Point in the Bronx. It was a few days later that my mother was informed that her uncle was in the pilot's cabin. I was born 2 weeks after the event.

My father, John B Maggio,was

My father, John B Maggio,was one of the victims on this flight. His name is listed as Joesph which is incorrect.

Id like to know more about

Id like to know more about my Aunt Mae myself. My mother never spoke much about her family life but I am doing a family tree and am very interested in the past. I would love more info for myself and my grandchildren so they will have some of the past to be proud of. You can contact me a anytime. I would also enjoy hearing about her and it is so great you carry her name as your middle name. Thank you and sorry it took so long for me to reply but I dont go on this page often. Thank you

Mae Markidis

Mae Markidis is buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery very near the Elmwood Avenue entrance near Strong Memorial Hospital. I believe that the gate is not open much anymore, because too many people visiting the hospital were parking for free. You would have to go in the main entrance and find your way over there. It is along that main road in the cemetery, just a few rows in, but you can see it from the road. (near the gate on Elmwood, on the east side of that main road directly by the gate). It is a rose-colored stone, shaped as a cross and there is a big picture of her right in the middle of the cross with her stewardess uniform and hat. She was so beautiful. My husband (Stephen) is her nephew (born in 1965 so he of course never met her) and she has two great-nieces who resemble her a lot (my daughter, Christina and my husband's cousin's daughter, Caitlin). Caitlin resembles her more, as she is Mae's twin brother (Stephen's) granddaughter. They are both beautiful young women.

article | by Dr. Radut