American Airlines Flight 320

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American Airlines Flight 320
Lockheed L-188A Electra, American Airlines JP6934492.jpg
An American Airlines Lockheed L-188A Electra, similar to the aircraft involved in the incident
DateFebruary 3, 1959
SummaryControlled flight into terrain (water)
SiteNew York City, New York
Aircraft typeLockheed L-188A Electra
OperatorAmerican Airlines

American Airlines Flight 320, registration N6101A, was a Lockheed L-188A Electra en route from Chicago Midway International Airport to New York City's LaGuardia Airport on February 3, 1959. It crashed into the East River on approach; 65 of the 73 on board died.[1] It was the first crash for the Electra, which had been introduced only recently by American Airlines. It would not be the last, however, as a series of fatal accidents over the next year would cause the flying public to lose confidence in the aircraft, particularly after two mysterious in-flight wing failures which resulted in speed restrictions and a near grounding by the FAA.[2]

The Civil Aeronautics Board (the predecessor of the NTSB) was the government agency charged with investigating airliner accidents, during that era. The CAB PROBABLE CAUSE statement:[3]

The Board determines the probable cause of this accident was premature descent below landing minimums which was the result of preoccupation of the crew on particular aspects of the aircraft and its environment to the neglect of essential flight instrument references for attitude and height above the approach surface.
Contributing factors were.
1. Limited experience of the crew with the aircraft type;
2. Faulty approach technique in which the autopilot was used in the heading mode to or almost to the surface;
3. Erroneous setting of the captain's altimeter;
4. Marginal weather in the approach area;
5. Possible misinterpretation of altimeter and rate of descent indicator; and
6. Sensory illusion with respect to height and attitude resulting from visual reference to the few lights existing in the approach area.[4]

Many references to Flight 320 claim that there were 72 persons on board and that there were only seven survivors. This error may be because one victim was a lap infant and did not have its own seat or ticket.

Robert Emerson was one of the victims of the crash. Dr. Emerson was a noted botanist, who discovered that plants have two distinct photosynthetic reaction centres.[5]

Herbert Greenwald was one of the victims of the crash. Mr. Greenwald was a Chicago real estate developer who developed several landmark buildings using Mies Van Der Rohe as the architect.[6]

The flight number is still used today on its Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW)-Norfolk, Virginia (ORF) route.

The accident took place on the same day that a plane carrying Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens crashed near Clear Lake, Iowa, killing all three singers. (See "The Day the Music Died.")

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "New York City, NY Plane Crashes Into East River, Feb 1959 | GenDisasters ... Genealogy in Tragedy, Disasters, Fires, Floods". Retrieved 2017-04-07.
  2. ^ Ranter, Harro. "ASN Aircraft accident Lockheed L-188A Electra N6101A New York-La Guardia Airport, NY (LGA)". Retrieved 2017-04-07.
  3. ^ Barletta, Ferruccio. "DOT Online Database". Archived from the original on 2016-01-29. Retrieved 2017-04-07.
  4. ^ AMR 320 Accident Report
  5. ^ Rabinowitch, Eugene (1961). Robert Emmerson:A biographical Memoir (PDF). Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences. p. 22. Retrieved 15 December 2015.
  6. ^ "Lillian Greenwald: 1915 - 2007". Chicago Tribune. September 16, 2007.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°47′38″N 73°51′43″W / 40.794°N 73.862°W / 40.794; -73.862