Eastern Air Lines Flight 663

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Eastern Air Lines Flight 663
A Delta DC-7
A Douglas DC-7 in Delta Air Lines livery.
Accident summary
Date February 8, 1965 (1965-02-08)
Summary Spatial disorientation
Site 6.7 mi (10.8 km) SSW of Jones Beach State Park, New York, United States
40°26′10″N 73°33′45″W / 40.43611°N 73.56250°W / 40.43611; -73.56250Coordinates: 40°26′10″N 73°33′45″W / 40.43611°N 73.56250°W / 40.43611; -73.56250
Passengers 79
Crew 5
Fatalities 84 (all)
Aircraft type Douglas DC-7B
Operator Eastern Air Lines
Registration N849D
Flight origin Logan International Airport
Boston, Massachusetts
1st stopover New York International Airport
New York City, New York
2nd stopover Byrd Field
Richmond, Virginia
3rd stopover Charlotte/Douglas Int'l Airport
Charlotte, North Carolina
4th stopover Greenville-Spartanburg Int'l Airport
Greenville, South Carolina
Destination Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta Int'l Airport
Atlanta, Georgia

Eastern Air Lines Flight 663 was a scheduled domestic passenger flight from Boston, Massachusetts, to Atlanta, Georgia, with scheduled stopovers at John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York; Richmond, Virginia; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Greenville, South Carolina. On the night of February 8, 1965, the aircraft serving the flight, a DC-7, crashed near Jones Beach State Park, New York, just after taking off from JFK Airport. All 79 passengers and five crew aboard perished.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) investigations determined that evasive maneuvers undertaken by Flight 663 to avoid an oncoming Pan Am Boeing 707 caused the pilot to suffer spatial disorientation and lose control of the aircraft. The accident remains the third-worst accident involving a Douglas DC-7.

Flight history[edit]

The Douglas DC-7 serving Flight 663 made its first flight in 1958, and had subsequently accumulated a total of 18,500 hours of flight time.[1] It was piloted by Captain Frederick R. Carson, 41, who had been employed by Eastern Air Lines for 19 years and who had accumulated 12,607 hours of flight time. His copilot, First Officer Edward R. Dunn, 41, a nine-year veteran of Eastern Airlines, had 8,550 hours of flight time. The flight engineer was Douglas C. Mitchell, 24, with two years' employment and 407 pilot hours and 141 hours flight engineer time. All had passed proficiency checks with the DC-7B aircraft. The two flight attendants aboard were Linda Lord and Judith Durkin.[2]

The flight from Logan International Airport in Boston, Massachusetts, to John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York, proceeded normally. Flight 663 departed JFK at 6:20 p.m. EDT on an Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) clearance to Byrd Field (now Richmond International Airport), Richmond, Virginia.[1][2] Take-off proceeded normally, and the airport control-tower prepared to hand over control to the New York Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) on Long Island, noting that Flight 663 was executing a "Dutch Seven Departure," a routine takeoff procedure that required a series of turns over the Atlantic Ocean in order to avoid flying over New York City. The New York ARTCC responded with the information that Pan American Airways Flight 212, a Boeing 707, was descending to 4,000 feet (1,200 m) in the same airspace.[3]

Radio conversation between the New York Air Route Traffic Control Center
and the JFK Control Tower
Sender Message Ref
New York Air Route Traffic Control Center All right, at three miles north of Dutch is Clipper 212 descending to 4,000. [3]
How does he shape up with that boy coming in . . . the guy at his 1 o'clock position?
JFK Control Tower We're above him.

Though the control tower responded that Flight 663 was at a higher altitude than Flight 212, it was, in fact, lower.[3] Subsequently, the control tower radioed the Pan Am flight that there was traffic in his airspace at "11 o'clock," six miles away travelling southeast of Pam Am's position, climbing above 3,000 feet (910 m). Pan Am 212 acknowledged. ATC then radioed Flight 663 a similar advisory: at "2 o'clock," five miles away travelling, below Flight 663's position.[4] In reality, the traffic, Pan Am 212, was above Flight 663, descending from 5,000 feet (1,500 m). Captain Carson acknowledged that he saw the traffic, that he was beginning to turn into the Dutch Seven Departure, and signed off, saying, "Good night."[3]

Radio conversation between the JFK Control Tower, Pan Am Flight 212, and Eastern Flight 663 (highlighted)
Sender (bold)
Recipient
Message Ref
JFK Control Tower
to Pan Am 212
Traffic at 11 o’clock, six miles, southeastbound, just climbing out of three [thousand feet]. [1][4]
Pan Am 212
to JFK Control Tower
We have traffic.
JFK Control Tower
to Eastern 663
Traffic, 2 o’clock, five miles, northeast-bound, below you.
Eastern 663
to JFK Control Tower
Okay. We have the traffic. Turning one seven zero, six six three . . . good night.
JFK Control Tower
to Eastern 663
Good night, sir.

Flight 663's radioed "good night" at 6:25 p.m. was the last transmission received from the doomed flight.[2]

Crash[edit]

The night of February 8 was dark, with no visible moon or stars, and no visible horizon. As the two airliners approached similar positions, their pilots had no points of reference with which to determine actual separation distance or position.[2] Flight 663's departure turn, and Pan Am's subsequent turn left to its assigned heading, had placed the two aircraft on the illusion of a direct collision course. The Boeing rolled right and initiated a descent in an attempt to avoid collision.[1] In response, Eastern 663 initiated an extreme right turn in order to pass safely. The captain of Pan Am 212 later estimated that the two aircraft had passed between 200 and 500 feet (60 and 150 m) of each other, while the first officer estimated that the distance was only 200 to 300 feet (60 to 90 m).[2]

Flight 663 was unable to recover from its unusually steep bank and plunged into the icy water of the Atlantic Ocean, where it exploded with bright orange flames.[2][5] The Pan American 707 was the first to relay news of the crash as it was receiving permission to land. Air Canada Flight 627, which had departed a few minutes prior to Flight 663, also radioed news of an explosion in the water.[3]

Radio conversation between the JFK Control Tower, Pan Am Flight 212, and Air Canada Flight 627
Sender (bold)
Recipient
Message Ref
Pan Am 212
to JFK Control Tower
Uh . . . OK. We had a near miss here. Uh . . . we’re turning now to . . . Uh . . . three six zero and . . . Uh . . . did you have another target in this area at the same spot where we were just a minute ago? [3][4]
JFK Control Tower
to Pan Am 212
Uh . . . affirmative, however, not on my scope at present time.
Pan Am 212
to JFK Control Tower
Is he still on the scope? [4]
JFK Control Tower
to Pan Am 212
No sir.
Pan Am 212
to JFK Control Tower
It looked like he's in the Bay then, because we saw him. He looked like he winged over to miss us and we tried to avoid him, and we saw a bright flash about one minute later. He was well over the top of us, and it looked like he went into an absolute vertical turn and kept rolling. [3][4]
Air Canada 627
to JFK Control Tower
There's a big fire going out on the water here about our 2 o'clock position right now. I don't know what it is. It looked like a big explosion. [3]

After the initial explosion, the wrecked aircraft sank to the bottom of 75 feet (23 m) of water.[3] Numerous air crews, including Pan Am 212, Air Canada 627, and Braniff Airlines Flight 5, radioed ATC controllers in the area with news of an explosion. The aircraft broke up upon impact, and was destroyed.[2] All 5 crewmembers and 79 passengers died on impact.[5]

Aftermath and investigation[edit]

Fifteen ships, accompanied by eleven helicopters and numerous rescue divers converged on the scene of the crash in hopes of rendering aid to survivors. Two hours after impact, debris began floating up to the surface.[3][6] By sunrise, seven bodies had been recovered;[5] three more were discovered in the course of the following three days.[4] In locating the wreckage, the United States Navy provided underwater sonar to assist with the operation. Thirteen Coast Guard vessels helped searching the shores of Long Island and provided salvage efforts. Rescue workers and volunteers scoured 40 miles (64 km) of beaches, collecting debris that washed ashore.[7]

The Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) investigated the accident. The DC-7 was not required to be equipped with a flight recorder, which would have automatically recorded the pilots' every control input. Thus the CAB was forced to rely on witness testimony, radio recordings, and a "best guess" based on experience.[2] Nevertheless, the CAB determined that the evasive maneuvers taken by the pilot of Flight 663 in order to avoid the oncoming Pan Am jet caused spatial disorientation. The disorientation, coupled with the extreme maneuver, made it impossible for the pilot to recover from the roll in the few seconds remaining before the DC-7 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. The CAB also determined that Captain Carson had neither the time nor adequate information to assess Flight 663's position relative to Pan Am 212 and, given the illusion of a collision course, he had acted appropriately in initiating evasive maneuvers.[2] The CAB made no recommendations in the final accident report.[2] Although early news reports reported the near miss of Flights 663 and 212, the FAA denied that there was ever any danger of collision.[4]

At that time, the crash of Flight 663 was the 5th worst aviation accident to have occurred in the United States. It was and remains the 3rd deadliest crash of a DC-7 (after Caledonian Airways Flight 153 and Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 293), and is the 25th deadliest single-plane accident to have occurred in the United States.[1]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Accident description at the Aviation Safety Network
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j " "Accident Investigation Report". Eastern Air Lines, Inc., DC-7B, N849D, In the Atlantic Ocean 6.5 Nautical Miles South-Southwest of Jones Beach, Long Island, New York, February 8, 1965. Civil Aeronautics Board. November 14, 1966. Docket SA-391, File No. 1-0001. Retrieved 2009-12-06. 
    (Navigate: Historical Aircraft Accident Reports (1934-1965) → 1965 → Eastern Air Lines.)
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Disasters: Good Night". TIME. February 19, 1965. Retrieved 2009-12-06. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "Wreckage Of Airliner Believed Found" (PDF). Toledo Blade (Toledo, OH). AP. February 12, 1965. p. 12. Retrieved 2009-12-06. [dead link] (plaintext)
  5. ^ a b c "Ocean Is Searched Today For Plane Crash Victims". The Free-Lance Star (Fredericksburg, VA). AP. February 9, 1965. p. 1. Retrieved 2009-12-07. [dead link]
  6. ^ Homer Bigart (February 9, 1965). "DEBRIS IS FOUND; Ships Search Area -- Eastern Plane Was on Way South 84 Lost as DC-7 Crashes Into the Atlantic Near Jones Beach DEBRIS IS FOUND BY SERCH SHIPS But No Survivors Are Seen -- Eastern Airliner Had Left Here for South". New York Times (New York, NY). p. 1. Retrieved 2009-12-07. "A massive search by surface craft and helicopters yielded not even one piece of debris for more than two hours. Then, Coast Guard cutters began finding small pieces — headrests, bits of metal, a torn maroon blazer and finally bodies." 
  7. ^ "Plane Plunge Fatal to 84". Eugene Register-Guard (Eugene, OR). AP. February 9, 1965. p. 1. Retrieved 2009-12-07.