1955 Hawaii R6D-1 crash
A U.S. Navy R6D-1 Liftmaster, similar to the accident aircraft, operating for the Military Air Transportation Service in the 1950s
|Date||March 22, 1955|
|Summary||Controlled flight into terrain|
|Site||Pali Kea Peak, Waianae Range, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, United States|
|Aircraft type||Douglas R6D-1 Liftmaster|
|Operator||United States Navy for Military Air Transport Service|
|Flight origin||Tokyo, Japan|
|Last stopover||Hickam Air Force Base, Territory of Hawaii|
|Destination||Travis Air Force Base, California|
The 1955 Hawaii R6D-1 crash was an accident involving a Douglas R6D-1 Liftmaster of the United States Navy which crashed into a mountain peak in Hawaii on 22 March 1955, killing all 66 people on board. At the time, it was the worst crash involving any variant of the Douglas DC-6 airliner the second-worst aviation accident in U.S. history, and one of the worst air accidents anywhere in history, and it equalled the 6 October United Airlines Flight 409 crash as the deadliest air accident of 1955. It remains the worst air disaster in the history of Hawaii and the deadliest accident involving a heavier-than-air aircraft in the history of United States naval aviation.
The R6D-1 involved, Bureau Number 131612, had been manufactured in 1953 and was based at Moffett Field, California. The R6D-1 was the U.S. Navy version of the United States Air Force's C-118 Liftmaster and of the civilian Douglas DC-6B airliner.
The R6D-1 was carrying a U.S. Navy crew of nine and was loaded to capacity with 57 passengers on a Military Air Transport Service flight from Tokyo, Japan, to Travis Air Force Base, California, via Hickam Air Force Base, Territory of Hawaii. The passengers included 55 servicemen – 17 U.S. Air Force, 22 United States Army, 12 United States Marine Corps, and four U.S. Navy personnel – and two civilians, who were the wife and three-year-old daughter of one of the military passengers. After making its stop at Hickam, the aircraft took off at 6:06 p.m. local time on 21 March 1955 for the final leg of its flight to California. The crew began to experience radio problems, and four hours and 20 minutes after departure they decided to return to Hickam.
The R6D-1 was flying in a heavy rainstorm as it descended to land at Hickam early on 22 March 1955. At 2:03 a.m. local time while on its descent, the aircraft flew into 3,098-foot (944 m) Pali Kea Peak at the southern end of Oahu's Waianae Range, 15 miles (24 km) northwest of Honolulu. Eyewitnesses reported that the pilot turned his landing lights on just before striking the mountain and, presumably seeing the mountain ahead, banked sharply to avoid it. The maneuver was too late, and the R6D-1 struck a sheer cliff about 200 feet (61 m) below the tip of the peak and exploded.
The explosion was loud enough to sound like a thunderclap to witnesses five miles (8 km) away. During the impact, the wings separated from the aircraft's fuselage, which already was ablaze as it fell in one piece to the bottom of a gully at a point about 2,000 yards (1,800 m) from the Lualualei Naval Ammunition Magazine and burned. Witnesses reported that the fire was large enough to redden the night sky for over two hours, and remained hot enough that rescuers were unable to approach the wreckage for several hours. No survivors were found.
The post-crash investigation concluded that the R6D-1's crew had made a navigational error which placed the aircraft 8 miles (13 km) off course. Straying into the Waianae Range in darkness without realizing their error until almost the last second, the crew flew the aircraft into the peak.
- Aviation Safety Network Aircraft Accident Douglas R6D-1 (DC-6) 131612 Honolulu, HI
- Associated Press, "66 Killed as Navy Plane Hits Hawaiian Peak," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, story dated 22 March 1955, quoted in full at lifegrid.com Charles J. Coombs, Jr.
- Aviation Safety Network Aircraft Accident Douglas R6D-1 (DC-6) 131612 Honolulu, HI and Associated Press, "Climbers Fight Cold to Take 66 Bodies From Plane Wreck," The Free Lance-Star, October 7, 1955 each place the death toll in the respective accidents at 66, and the Aviation Safety Network database lists no air accidents with a higher death toll during 1955.
- The Associated Press story "66 Killed as Navy Plane Hits Hawaiian Peak," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, dated 22 March 1955, quoted in full at lifegrid.com Charles J. Coombs, Jr., states that it was the worst aviation accident in Hawaii's history at the time it happened, and the Aviation Safety Network database cites no air accidents with a higher death toll having taken place in Hawaii to date (4 January 2013).
- Per Chronology of Significant Events in Naval Aviation: "Naval Air Transport" 1941 -- 1999, and the U.S. Navy's Naval Historical Center (now Naval History and Heritage Command) in Grossnick, Roy A., United States Naval Aviation 1910-1995, Washington, D.C.: Naval Historical Center, undated, ISBN 0–945274–34–3, p. 206, also identifies the crash as the worst heavier-than-air accident in U.S. naval aviation history. In addition, the Aviation Safety Network database cites no air accidents involving a heavier-than-air U.S. Navy aircraft with a higher death toll to date (4 January 2013).
- Peak height from Pukui, Mary Kawena, Samuel H. Elbert, and Esther T. Mookini. Place Names of Hawaii: Revised and Expanded Edition. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1974. ISBN 0-8248-0524-0, p. 177