New York City, NY Plane Crashes Into East River, Feb 1959
BIG JET AIRLINER PLUNGES INTO EAST RIVER, KILLING 65 PERSONS.
PLANE MISSED AIRPORT IN DENSE FOG.
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."
"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.
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
HERE'S LIST OF DEAD, MISSING ON AIRLINER.
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.
LEWIS, ALBERT ALLEN, 59, Chicago.
MAGGIO, JOSEPH B., New York.
McGRATH, REV. FRANCIS E., 31, Elmhurst, Queens, N. Y.
SULLIVAN, MRS. LORRAINE, Hempstead, N. Y.
ZAHN, JOHN, Glen Cove, N. Y.
Missing And Presumed Dead:
BECKER, R., Clinton, N. J.
BENJAMIN, EDWARD N., New York.
CONRAD, R. W., Falls Church, Va.
COZIER, Master (child).
DeWITT, Capt. ALBERT H., 59, pilot, Decatur, Mich.
DILLER, A. N., New York.
FELS, MISS E.
GALES, B. G., New York.
GREENWALD, HERBERT, 43, Chicago.
GULLEY, RAY, Kewanee, Ill.
HENLINE, ROY, Park Forest, Ill.
HUNT, JOHN F., Chicago.
HUNT, MRS. DOLORES.
HUNT (Unticketed child).
KAYE, J., Wilmette, Ill.
KALNICKY, L. A.
KAY, MRS. J., same address.
MANICONE, C., North Babylon, N. Y.
MARKIDIS, MISS MAE, 22, stewardess, Rochester, N. Y.
MARTIN, B. J., Glencoe, Ill.
MEADOWS, REV. W.
MURPHY, N. P., South Bend, Ind.
PATTERSON, STUART, 28, Evanston, Ill.
PHILLIPS, JEROME, Great Neck, N. Y.
RENCNER, B., New York.
SEITER, MRS. HOWARD.
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.
WALTON, W. W.
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.
ZACHARY, MISS BEULAH, Chicago.
ZANE, RIA, New York.
ZEWISKE, HAROLD S., 59, Chicago.
ZIMMERMAN, RABBI D., Flushing, Queens, N. Y.
Oakland Tribune California 1959-02-04