New York City, NY Plane Crashes On Rikers Island, Feb 1957
20 KILLED, 82 SURVIVE N. Y. HORROR.
New York (AP) -- Six official agencies -- with help volunteered also by the FBI -- joined today in an effort to peg the cause of last night's crash of a Northeast Airliner carrying 102 persons. Twenty persons died in the flaming debris.
The big four-engined craft, laden with passengers happily contemplating reaching balmy Miami in few hours, thundered to earth moments after taking off from La Guardia Airport in a swirling snowstorm.
Of the others aboard, 64 were taken to hospitals, 18 more went home after being attended for injuries. The remainder emerged unscathed.
It seemed that only a miracle prevented all from perishing.
Had the giant craft gone down anywhere else in the vicinity, it would have dropped into the East River or heavily populated residential areas.
It smashed into an open spot on tiny Rikers Island, situated in the river between New York's boroughs of Queens and the Bronx. The island is about three-quarters of a mile from La Guardia and the city penitentiary is located on it. Prison inmates did heroic rescue work.
Bodies of the 20 dead were taken to the Bellevue Hospital morgue in Manhattan early this morning. Police said identification could be made only from jewelry, dental plates and descriptions supplied by grieving relatives.
Meanshile, six separate investigations were under way in an effort to pinpoint the cause of the crash. FBI chief J. EDGAR HOOVER voluntarily offered the agency's assistance and it was accepted.
The six-member crew of the plane survived. The pilot and co-pilot said they believed the craft struck a pole on Rikers Island.
A theory, also expressed by others was that exhaust from one of the engines might have ignited alcohol used before the takeoff to remove ice coating the plane's wings.
The flight had been scheduled to leave La Guardia at 2:45 p.m. There was a long delay because of the snowstorm, which officially totaled more than five inches but reached greater depths in some places. The plane, a DC6A authorized to carry around 100 persons, was trundled back into a hangar to de-ice the wings.
Finally, according to official records, the plane was cleared for takeoff on runway No. 4 at 6:01 p.m.
It roared down the lane and lifted into the storm blackened sky. The control town caught its last glimpse of the craft about 30 seconds later over the field's northeast boundary. It crashed between 6:01:30 and 6:02 p.m.
The plane was believed to have reached an altitude of about 200 feet.
The co-pilot told investigators after the crash something loomed ahead through the driving snow. He said he had only time to cry out to the pilot:
"Ground coming up ..."
Persons watching from the ground reported a bright light, orange or red. Some, including several inmates of the city prison, thought the glow came before the smashup.
Rescuers from the prison raced to the spot and found men, women and children tumbling through cracks and doors of the plane. Some with clothes afire fell in the snow. Others staggered away. A few seemed too paralyzed to move, once out.
Northeast Airlines had just inaugrated the service from New York to Miami on Jan. 9, winning over opposition of two other lines already providing such service.
The four-engined plane had been leased recently from the Flying Tiger Line, a cargo carrier.
ANGEL GORBEA, confined in the penitentiary on the tiny island, gave a vivid account of the resounding crash of the four-engine plane.
Two explosions, the second louder than the first announced the crash, GORBEA said. Watching from his vantage point in a prison window, GORBEA related this scene:
"The whole sky, even through the snow, was lighted. We (the prisoners) stood at the windows. We saw people tumbling our of that ship -- they were all lighted, too, by the flames. We saw them and their shadows. We saw them stumble."
"We saw some fall, we saw some just jump out, land on their hands and knees and then get up and run. They beat at themselves because maybe their clothes were burning. Some just ran a few feet from the plane and rolled in the snow, as if they were trying to smother the fire on their clothes."
Six children were aboard and at least one died. One survivor told of kicking a hole in the fuselage to escape. He turned towards the plane for a second and saw a child thrown at him. He caught it and ran to safety.
A prison trusty told of retrieving a mother and her 18-months-old infant from foot-deep snow that covered the crash scene, a field used by the prison to raise garden vegetables.
Near-blizard[sic] conditions prevented the plane from taking off for three hours and 15 minutes. At one point, the plane was towed back into a hangar to clear the wings of ice and snow.
Rolled back on the runway, it received clearance at 6 p.m.
At the controls was Capt. ALVA V. MARSH, 49, a veteran of 19 years with the airline.
MARSH said the plane was off the ground for about a minute when it started to flatten. He fought for altitude vainly.
Suddenly it heeled over sharply on its left side and plummeted earthward. MARSH and his co-pilot, GEORGE BASIL DIXWELL of Stratham, N. H., said they thought their plane struck a pole on Rikers Island.
Wing Torn Off.
The impact of the crash tore off the plane's left wing, and knocked its outboard engine from its mounting. The engine crunched into the ground, ripping off the left side of the aircraft, and burst into flames.
Cause of the crash is the object of a four-pronged investigation. By the City Police and Fire Departments, the Bronx district attorney's office, in whose domain Rikers Island lies, and the Civil Aeronautics Board.
Government sources said the plane was not overloaded according to the number of passengers.
Such type planes have been allowed aloft with 100 persons.
The crash might have turned into a far greater tragedy if the faltering airplane had veered in almost any direction other than it did.
It hit one of the few sparsely settled sections of Rikers Island, narrowly missing a row of five wings of the penitentiary. A bit shorter and it would have dropped into the river. A bit longer and it would have smashed into the heavily populated Bronx borough of homes and apartment buildings.
The island's inaccessibility hampered rescue operations. Doctors, nurses, firemen and police had to use ferry boats to get to the island, the only means of reaching it. There was a long delay in returning survivors from the island to the Manhatan[sic] shore.
50 Trusties Help.
Police planned removing the bodies of victims from the island today.
As soon as prison officials heard the crash 50 trusties were turned loose as rescue workers. Wardens turned on huge searchlights to light up the blackened crash scene.
The prisoners, working without outdoor clothing, pulled survivors from the plane and helped them across the snow-covered field to temporary first aid shelters.
Survivors huddled around the crash scene, stunned and shocked by the suddenness of the disaster. Many cried uncontrollably, seeking husbands, wives, children, relatives and friends.
Many survivors escaped through the huge gash torn in the plane's left side. They told of an immediate outbreak of fire within the passenger cabin.
"It's a miracle we got out alive," said CHARLES NAYLOR, a concert pianist from Roslyn Heights, Long Island. "It burst into flames so fast. We got out through a hole in the plane."
JULES WOLLOCK, 45, of Brooklyn, a set scenery manufacturer, said he kicked a hole in the plane's fuselage and jumped out.
MARSH had been in two other air crashes since 1952. Neither involved fatalities.
Missing List Given Out
New York (AP) -- Northeast Airlines today issued the followoing list of persons missing and presumed dead in last night's crash on one of its planes on Rikers Island:
ANDERSON, MRS. ROBERT HARTLEY, Montreal, Canada.
BRUSO, DR. A. J., Fitchburg, Mass.
CARTY, MRS. MARIE RUTH, New York, N. Y.
CHADWICK, NORMAN, Lowell, Mass.
DeROSA, MARIO, the Bronx, N. Y.
DOMASH, EILEEN, Plainview, N. Y.
FOX, E. R., Regent House, Lake Placid.
GIROUX, MRS. BLANCHE, Quebec, Canada.
LEICHMAN, IRVING, Glen Cove, N. Y.
LEICHMAN, MRS. IRVING, his wife, same address.
LESSARD, JOSEPH, Montreal, Canada.
McALOON, MRS. HELEN, 53, North Andover, Mass.
NIXON, MRS. LILLIAN, Worcester, Mass.
PETERSON, DAVID, Manchester, N. H.
RITMAN, MRS. ROSE, New York, N. Y.
ROBBINS, MRS. L., Manhattan, N. Y.
ROBIT, MRS. LILLIAN, Jamaica, N. Y.
SCHWARTZ, HYMAN, Brooklyn, N. Y.
WARREN, MRS. STELLA, Jamaica, N. Y.
WEIN, AARON, Bayside, N. Y.
Syracuse Herald Journal New York 1957-02-02