New York, NY Jet Crash, Jun 1975
Lightning believed cause of jet crash
Flaming tragedy kills 109
NEW YORK (AP)- Lightning and sudden, powerful caprices of the wind during a thunderstorm were being checked out today as possible causes of one of the worst air disasters in American history.
The latest official count showed 109 dead in the flaming crash of an Eastern Airlines jet from New Orleans as it came in for a landing at Kennedy International Airport in a storm late yesterday afternoon.
There were 14 survivors in hospitals.
An Eastern spokesman also said it was possible there may have been an uncounted infant in arms aboard the plane, whose presence would not have shown on the passenger manifest.
The official breakdown by Eastern was 115 passengers, a crew of seven plus a check pilot.
The Boeing 727 plane crashed as it made a landing approach, plowing across heavily traveled Rockaway Boulevard. Two flight attendants rescued alive both had been sitting aft, but the seat locations of the other survivors could not be established.
About 80 investigators were briefed at the airport this morning by EDWIN NELMES, who heads the inquiry under way by the National Air Transportation Safety Board.
NELMES declined to speculate on accounts by witnesses who said they saw lightning strike the plane as it made a landing approach in an electrical storm.
"We are just starting to gather facts. We can't come to any conclusion at this point," he said.
One of the investigators said a plane that landed just before the ill-fated Eastern flight reported experiencing strong wind shears â€“ sudden changes of direction or swirling.
He said that according to the account on the tower recorder, the shears were described as pulling down the plane's wings and tending to turn it over.
At the Manhattan morgue, meanwhile, the first positive identification was made - of PETER WALMSLEY of New Orleans, whose body was identified by a friend, EWING WILLIAM of Darien, Conn.
Medical Examiner DOMINICK J. DeMAIO said there were about 107 bodies and that the bulk of them were recognizable.
"If the bodies are presentable, then those seeking to identify them will be permitted to view them," DR. DiMAIO said. "If not, we're going to rely on dental charts and fingerprints."
A team of forensic dentists under DR. LOWELL LEVINE of New York University was on hand to make dental charts where necessary.
The crash investigation teams were drawn from the staffs of Boeing, Eastern Airlines, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Air Line Pilots' Association, traffic controllers and other interested parties.
They will interview witnesses, study the cockpit and flight data recorders and the wreckage and check out such factors as weather, operations procedures and the air traffic control.
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