Eastern Air Lines Flight 304
|Date||February 25, 1964|
|Summary||Pitch Trim Failure|
|Site||Lake Pontchartrain, near New Orleans, Louisiana, USA|
|Aircraft type||Douglas DC-8|
|Operator||Eastern Air Lines|
Eastern Air Lines Flight 304 was a Douglas DC-8 flying from New Orleans International Airport to Washington Dulles International Airport that crashed on February 25, 1964. All 51 passengers and 7 crew were killed. Among the dead were American opera singer and actor Kenneth Lee Spencer and Mrs. Marie-Hélène Lefaucheux, a women's and human rights activist and member of the French delegation to the United Nations.
The DC-8, Flight 304, which originated in Mexico City, left New Orleans International Airport for Atlanta at 3:01 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, and disappeared from radar at 3:10 a.m. Visibility was good, although there was a light rain. The winds were calm. The Coast Guard and other searchers sighted the wreckage around dawn in Lake Pontchartrain, about 20 miles (32 km) northeast of New Orleans. Eastern said 51 passengers and a crew of seven were aboard. The subsequent investigation concluded that the plane crashed into Lake Pontchartrain en route due to "degradation of aircraft stability characteristics in turbulence, because of abnormal longitudinal trim component positions." 
|“||At least 32 of the passengers were making the through trip. Fourteen got on in New Orleans, while 14 were pass-riding Eastern employees. The four-engined plane, capable of carrying 126 passengers, was due in Atlanta at 3:59 a.m., at Dulles Airport in Washington at 5:53 a.m. and at Kennedy Airport in New York at 7:10 a.m.
The victims included Marie-Hélène Lefaucheux, a member of the French delegation the United Nations, who was active in women's and human rights activities of the world body. The pilot, Capt. William B. Zeng, 47 years old, lived with his wife and seven children on a farm at Ringoes, N. J. Captain Zeng, with Eastern 21 years, had flown over five million miles. The co-pilot. Grant R. Newby, 40, of Manhattan, had almost two million miles on his flight log.
Coast Guard recovered parts of the wreckage, clothing, luggage and what was described as bits of bodies from a wide spread area centered 6 miles (10 km) south of the north shore of the lake and about 4 miles (6 km) east of the 23-mile (37 km)-long Lake Pontchartrain causeway. A Coast Guard pilot said there were indications that the plane had exploded either in the air or on impact. Eastern said that the crew had made the routine checks after take-off and that no alarm had been given. An experienced Eastern pilot said the jet had probably reached a height of 16,000 feet shortly after it had got over the lake.
—The New York Times, February 26, 1964
The water was only 20 ft. deep, yet only 60% of the wreckage was recovered because the breakup was so extensive. The flight data recorder tape was too damaged to help the analysis. Instead, they used the maintenance records of that plane, and of other DC-8s, to conclude that the pilots had trimmed the stabilizer to the full nose-down position, to counter the excessive nose-up attitude that, in turn, was caused by a malfunctioning pitch trim compensator that had extended too far. Once the upset occurred, it was not possible to trim the HS back to the nose-up position, because of the severe G-forces generated by their pulling back on the yoke after the upset.
- Haines, Edgar (2000), Disaster in the Air, New York: Cornwall Books, p. 157, ISBN 0-8453-4777-2
- Aircraft Accident Report|EAL DC-8, Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana, February 25, 1964
- Accident description at the Aviation Safety Network
- http://www.ntsb.gov/aviationquery/brief.aspx?ev_id=159&key=0 NTSB Brief about the crash.