1960 New York mid-air collision
|Date||16 December 1960|
|Site||About a mile west of Miller Field
|Total fatalities||134 (including 6 on ground)|
N8010U, a sister-ship to the accident aircraft
|Name||Mainliner Will Rogers|
|Flight origin||Chicago-O'Hare International Airport (ORD/KORD), IL|
|Destination||Idlewild Airport (IDL/KIDL), NY|
|Survivors||0 (1 initially)|
N6937C, an air-worthy restored L-1049H Super Constellation , wearing TWA livery.
|Type||Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation|
|Name||Star of Sicily|
|Operator||Trans World Airlines|
|Flight origin||Dayton International Airport (DAY/KDAY), Dayton, Ohio|
|Stopover||Port Columbus International Airport (CMH/KCMH), Ohio|
|Destination||LaGuardia Airport (LGA/KLGA), New York|
On Friday, December 16, 1960, a United Airlines Douglas DC-8, bound for Idlewild Airport in New York City (now John F. Kennedy International Airport), collided with a TWA Super Constellation descending into the city's LaGuardia Airport. One plane crashed on Staten Island, the other into Park Slope, Brooklyn, killing all 128 people on both aircraft and six people on the ground. The accident became known also as the Park Slope plane crash. On Staten Island, it became known as the Miller Field crash.
The death toll was the highest in a commercial aviation accident, and remained so until 1968.
Aircraft and Crew
United Airlines Flight 826, Mainliner Will Rogers, registration N8013U, was a Douglas DC-8-11 carrying 84 people en route from O'Hare International Airport in Chicago to Idlewild Airport (later renamed John F. Kennedy International Airport) in Jamaica, Queens. The DC-8 had begun commercial service only 15 months earlier, with United as one of its launch customers. On Flight 826, the flight crew consisted of Captain Robert Sawyer, First Officer Robert Fieberg, Flight Engineer Richard Pruitt, Stewardess Ann Marie Bouthan, Stewardess Augustine Ferrer, Stewardess Patricia Keller, and Mary Mahoney.
Trans World Airlines Flight 266, Star of Sicily, registration N6907C, was a Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation carrying 44 people en route from Dayton and Columbus, Ohio, to LaGuardia Airport. The flight crew of Flight 266 was Captain David Wollam, First Officer Dean Bowen, Flight Engineer LeRoy Rosenthal, Stewardess Margaret Gernat, and Stewardess Patrice Post.
At 10:21 A.M. Eastern Time, the United plane advised its company radio operator that one of its VOR receivers had stopped working (although air-traffic controllers were not notified of the problem), making it harder to navigate in instrument conditions. At 10:25 A.M. Eastern Time, air traffic control issued a revised clearance for the flight to shorten its course to the Preston holding point (near South Amboy, New Jersey) by 12 miles (19 km). The United plane was supposed to circle the holding point at an altitude of 5,000 ft (1,500 m) at no more than 240 mph (210 kn; 390 km/h), but overshot. United later said the Colts Neck VOR equipment was unreliable (pilots testified on both sides of the issue). ("Preston" was the point where airway V123 (the 050-radial off the Robbinsville VOR) crossed the Solberg 120-degree radial and the Colts Neck 346-degree radial.)
The prevailing conditions were light rain and fog (which had been preceded by snowfall). According to information from the United DC-8's flight data recorder (the first time a "black box" had been used to provide extensive details in a crash investigation), the plane was 12 miles (19 km) off course and, for 81 seconds, had descended at 3,600 feet per minute (18 m/s), and slowed from more than 500 to 363 mph (434 to 315 kn; 805 to 584 km/h). It collided with the TWA Constellation, one right engine of the DC-8 impacting just ahead of the Constellation's wings. The Constellation's fuselage was torn apart violently, and the DC-8's colliding engine was torn from its pylon. The Constellation entered a dive, with debris being blasted out of the aircraft as it spiraled to the ground. The DC-8, losing one engine and a large part of the right wing, managed to remain in flight for another minute and a half.
The TWA plane crashed onto the northwest corner of Miller Field, at with some sections of the aircraft landing in New York Harbor on the Atlantic Ocean side. As it spiraled down, it disintegrated and dropped at least one passenger into a tree in nearby New Dorp.
Although witnesses speculated at the time that the crew of the United plane was attempting an emergency landing either in Prospect Park (about 9 miles (14 km) away from the collision point) or at LaGuardia Airport, there is no evidence the pilots had control of the DC-8 at any time after the collision. The crash left the remains of the aircraft pointed southeast towards a large open field at Prospect Park, only blocks from the crash site.
A Catholic high school teacher, from St. Augustine High School less than two blocks from the crash, testified at government hearings that he saw the faces of the pilots as the plane approached the school, and that the wing dipped to clear the school building just before the plane crashed. This teacher's testimony was featured in a front page article and photo in the now-defunct New York Herald Tribune newspaper at the time of the hearings. A student at the school, who lived in one of the destroyed apartment buildings on the block of the crash site, reported to classmates that his entire family was in the only room of their apartment not destroyed by the crash, and they thus survived. The crash left a trench covering most of the length of the pavement on Sterling Place in the middle of the street. It shook the school so violently that occupants thought that a bomb had gone off, or the building's boiler had exploded.
There was no audible voice radio contact with traffic controllers from either plane after the collision, although LaGuardia had begun tracking an incoming, fast-moving, unidentified plane from Preston toward the LaGuardia "Flatbush" outer marker.
The DC-8 crashed into the Park Slope section of Brooklyn at the intersection of Seventh Avenue and Sterling Place( ), scattering wreckage and setting fire to ten brownstone apartment buildings, the Pillar of Fire Church, the McCaddin Funeral Home, a Chinese laundry and a delicatessen. Six people on the ground were killed: Wallace E. Lewis, the church's 90-year-old caretaker; Charles Cooper, a sanitation worker who was shoveling snow; Joseph Colacino and John Opperisano, who were selling Christmas trees on the sidewalk; Dr. Jacob L. Crooks, who was out walking his dog; and Albert Layer, the owner of the butcher shop located just off Seventh Avenue on Sterling Place.
The only initial survivor of the tragedy was 11-year-old Stephen Lambert Baltz (born January 9, 1949) of Wilmette, Illinois. He was traveling unaccompanied aboard the United flight to meet his mother and sister, who had flown to New York the day before, while his father was due to join the family on a later flight. The family was planning to spend Christmas in Yonkers with relatives.
As the DC-8 impacted with the ground, Baltz was thrown from the plane into a snowbank, where local residents rolled him in the snow to extinguish his burning clothing. Though alive and conscious following the crash, he was badly burned and suffering from burning fuel aspiration.
Baltz was taken to New York Methodist Hospital, 15 blocks from the crash site down Seventh Avenue. From his hospital bed, he told rescuers that moments before the collision, he had looked out the window at the snow falling on the city: "It looked like a picture out of a fairy book. It was a beautiful sight".
Pictures of Baltz appeared on many front pages around the world such as the Syracuse Post-Standard, repeating a story from the Associated Press in which he expressed concern about his mother, who was waiting for him at the airport. He gave the only passenger description of the crash: "I heard a big noise while we were flying. The last thing I remember was the plane falling".
An 8-by-14 inch commemorative plaque on the rear wall of the hospital's Phillips Chapel, encrusted with four U.S. dimes and five U.S. nickels, memorializes Baltz and all "135 Victims of The Aircraft Disaster". The coins were found in the boy's pocket and placed in the chapel's donation box after his death by his father, an Admiral Corporation vice president.
With a death toll of 134, the accident was the deadliest U.S. commercial aviation disaster at the time, exceeding the 1956 Grand Canyon mid-air collision's toll of 128 fatalities. Both collisions involved a TWA aircraft and a United aircraft. The death toll also surpassed the 1953 Tachikawa air disaster as the deadliest aviation disaster worldwide, and would remain so until the 1968 Kham Duc C-130 shootdown, which killed 155 people.
Filmmaker and critic Hollis Frampton was scheduled to be on the United flight, but decided to delay his return to New York for one day in order to see a retrospective of the work of Edward Weston in Minneapolis; he said of this decision that he was "never...able to decide whether Weston tried to kill me, or saved my life."
Peter Richmond wrote an account about his father, who was a hero during WW2 at Guadacanal. He closes, in part, with: "On December 16, 1960, my father was scheduled to return in the evening from a business trip to St. Louis. But he finished up early in order to make it home in time for a Scout meeting, and caught an earlier flight. Late that morning, in a blizzard over Brooklyn, his plane, a United DC-8, collided in midair with a TWA Super-Constellation".
While most airlines retire flight numbers that have been involved in a fatal crash, United continued to use the Flight 826 designation. In 1997, another Flight 826 was involved in an incident two hours after leaving Tokyo Narita Airport. The flight was disrupted by clear-air turbulence, dropping 100 feet and injuring 18 people. The plane returned to Tokyo safely, but one Japanese woman later died of her injuries. United no longer uses the Flight 826 designation.
- "Park Slope Plane Crash". New York Times. December 16, 2010. Retrieved March 12, 2011.
- "FAA Registry". Federal Aviation Administration.
- "FAA Registry". Federal Aviation Administration.
- "1960 plane collision over NYC spurred improvements," The Associated Press, Wednesday, December 15, 2010.
- "High Speed Laid to Jet in Crash. Inquiry Told Craft Overshot Circle Area at 500 M.P.H". New York Times. January 10, 1961. Retrieved March 12, 2011.
The jet airliner in the 16 December collision here was traveling more than 500 miles an hour when it swept past its assigned circling point, an official inquiry was told yesterday.
- Excerpts of Tape Conversations at Time of Air Crash — New York Times — December 22, 1960
- Disaster in Fog — New York Times — December 17, 1960
- Lone Survivor Worried About His Mother — Associated Press via Syracuse Post-Standard — December 17, 1960
- Perlmutter, Emanuel (December 18, 1960). "Boy Who Survived Crash Dies; 'Stevie Tried Hard,' Father Says". New York Times. p. 49.
- Dunlap, David W. "In Remembrance of Sorrow From Other Times," The New York Times, Friday, January 25, 2002.
- Frampton, Hollis. "Impromptus on Edward Weston: Everything in Its Place." October 5 (Summer 1978): 48–69.
- Barron, James, "Park Slope Plane Crash | A Collision in the Clouds", The New York Times City Room blog, 12 December 2010, 9 a.m. Retrieved 12 December 2010.
- Pillar of Fire: Recalling the Day the Sky Fell, December 16, 1960 by Nathaniel Altman, from the Park Slope Reader
- Aeronautics Board Aircraft Accident Report on the collision from the U.S. Department of Transportation Special Collections.
- TWA Super constellation
- United DC-8
- Pre-crash photo of N6907C
- Death in the Air, Time, December 26, 1960.
- Newsreel film footage of crash
- Nelson, Libby. "The Boy Who Survived a 1960 Midair Crash" (Archive). The New York Times. June 30, 2009.
- "127 die as 2 airliners collide over city; jet sets Brooklyn fire, killing 5 others; second plane crashes on Staten Island" (Archive). The New York Times. Vol CX. No. 37,583. Saturday December 17, 1960.
- Park Slope Plane Crash, City Room (The New York Times local news blog), Sunday, December 12–Thursday, December 16, 2010 – A series of articles about the aviation disaster.
- CNN photo gallery of the crash
- Deadly Brooklyn Plane Crash, 1960 – slideshow by Life magazine
- Pillar of Fire – Interview with Dorothy M. Fletcher by Nathaniel Altman
- Fate or fluke? Air crash sole survivors by Barry Neild for CNN
- Wendell Jamieson (March 24, 2002). "The Day the Boy Fell From the Sky". The New York Times.
- "Park Slope Plane Crash". The New York Times. December 12–16, 2010. Retrieved December 17, 2010.