WINS newsman Brad Phillips reports of a collision between two airliners (TWA and United) over Staten Island. News of plane disaster that killed 136 people. On-the-spot accounts given by eyewitnesses.
Fires commissioner Edward Cavanagh Jr. states that today's air disaster is the greatest tragedy in American Aviation History. Comments from New York City Mayor Robert Wagner.
On Friday, December 16, 1960 at 10:36 am a plane collided with another plane a mile high in the New York sky. It was the first commercial air disaster o the jet age, killing all 127 passengers, and crew members and five more people on the ground, when one of the airliners crashed in Brooklyn, setting off a seven-alarm fire. It was the worst aviation disaster in American history.
The TWA constellation out of Dayton, Ohio, and bound for La Guardia Airport, broke apart in midair and plummeted into an open field in Staten Island. A United Airlines DC-8 jet out of Chicago, bound for Idlewild Airport, now Kennedy Airport, caught fire and hurtled into Brooklyn at an initial rate of 733 feet per second. The plane sliced through a church, an funeral home and 10 brownstones before sliding to a stop on Seventh Avenue and Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn.
Investigators ultimately determined United 826 had gone too late into its holding pattern and neither its crew or air traffic control knew exactly where it was. The only survivor was an 11-year old boy on the United jet who was thrown clear of the wreck and landed in a snowbank. The TWA jet crashed 11 miles to the southeast, on Staten Island. It missed several houses by a few hundred feet.
A brief summary of today's crash follows with a report from radio station WMGM.
Aircraft and crews1960 New York mid-air collision:
United Airlines Flight 826 · Trans World Airlines Flight 266
Date December 16, 1960
Summary Mid-air collision
Site About a mile west of Miller Field
Total fatalities 134
Total injuries 0
Total survivors 0
A jetliner on the apron
The tail assembly of N8013U, the Douglas DC-8-11 involved in the collision
Type Douglas DC-8-11
Name Mainliner Will Rogers
Operator United Airlines
IATA flight No. UA826
ICAO flight No. UAL826
Call sign UNITED 826
Flight origin Chicago-O'Hare International Airport (ORD/KORD), IL
Destination Idlewild Airport (IDL/KIDL)(Now John F. Kennedy International Airport), New York City
Fatalities 84 (83 initially)
Injuries 0 (1 initially)
Survivors 0 (1 initially)
A large piston engined airliner taxiing past some large bomber aircraft
N6907C, the Lockheed L-1049A Super Constellation involved.
Type Lockheed L-1049A Super Constellation
Name Star of Sicily
Operator Trans World Airlines
IATA flight No. TW266
ICAO flight No. TWA266
Call sign TWA 266
Flight origin Dayton International Airport (DAY/KDAY), Dayton, Ohio
Stopover Port Columbus International Airport (CMH/KCMH), Ohio
Destination LaGuardia Airport KLGA New York
Ground fatalities 6
On December 16, 1960, a United Airlines Douglas DC-8 bound for Idlewild Airport (now John F. Kennedy International Airport) in New York City collided in midair with a TWA Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation descending toward LaGuardia Airport. The Constellation crashed on Miller Field in Staten Island and the DC-8 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, killing all 128 aboard the two aircraft and six people on the ground. The accident was the world's deadliest aviation disaster at the time, and remains the deadliest accident in the history of United Airlines.
The accident became known as the Park Slope plane crash or the Miller Field crash after the two crash sites. The accident was also the first hull loss and first fatal accident involving a Douglas DC-8.
United Airlines Flight 826, Mainliner Will Rogers, registration N8013U, was a DC-8-11 carrying 77 passengers and seven crewmembers from O'Hare International Airport in Chicago to Idlewild Airport (now John F. Kennedy International Airport) in Queens. The crew consisted of Captain Robert Sawyer (age 46), First Officer Robert Fiebing (40), Flight Engineer Richard Pruitt (30) and four stewardesses: Mary Mahoney, Augustine Ferrar, Anne Bouthen, and Patricia Keller. Captain Sawyer was a highly experienced pilot, having accumulated 19,100 flight hours, of which 344 were in the DC-8. First Officer Fiebing had accumulated 8,400 flight hours, of which 416 were in the DC-8. Flight Engineer Pruitt had accumulated 8,500 flight hours, of which 379 were in the DC-8.
Trans World Airlines Flight 266, Star of Sicily, registration N6907C, was a Super Constellation carrying 39 passengers and five crew members from Dayton and Columbus, Ohio, to LaGuardia Airport in Queens. The crew consisted of Captain David Wollam (age 39), First Officer Dean Bowen (32), Flight Engineer LeRoy "Lee" Rosenthal (30) and two stewardesses, Margaret Gernat and Patricia Post. Captain Wollam had accumulated 14,583 flight hours, 267 of which were in the Constellation. First Officer Bowen had accumulated 6,411 flight hours, of which 268 were on the Constellation. Flight Engineer Rosenthal had accumulated 3,561 flight hours, of which 204 were in the Constellation. Star of Sicily's sister ship N6902C, Star of the Seine, was destroyed in another mid-air collision with a United Airlines flight in 1956.
Flight paths of the two aircraft
At 10:21 a.m. Eastern Time, United 826 advised ARINC radio that one of its VOR receivers was inoperative, and the message was relayed to United Airlines maintenance. However, air-traffic control (ATC) was not informed that the aircraft had only one operational receiver, which presented difficulty for the pilots of flight 826 to identify the Preston intersection, beyond which it had not received clearance.
At 10:25 a.m., ATC issued a revised clearance for the flight to shorten its route to the Preston holding point (near Laurence Harbor, New Jersey) by 12 miles (19 km). That clearance included holding instructions (a standard "racetrack" holding pattern) for Flight 826 when it arrived at the Preston intersection. Flight 826 was expected to reduce its speed before reaching Preston to a standard holding speed of 210 knots (240 mph; 390 km/h) or lower. However, the aircraft was estimated to be traveling at 301 knots (346 mph; 557 km/h) when it collided with the TWA plane, several miles beyond the Preston clearance limit.
During the investigation, United Airlines claimed that the Colts Neck VOR was unreliable. 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. However, the Civil Aeronautics Board's final report found no problem with the Colts Neck VOR.
The prevailing conditions were light rain and fog, which had been preceded by snowfall.
The crash site of the United Airlines DC-8, United 826, in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
The crash site of the TWA Super Constellation, TWA 266, in Miller Field, Staten Island.
According to the DC-8's flight data recorder, the aircraft was 12 miles (19 km) off course, and for 81 seconds it descended at 3,600 feet per minute (18 m/s) while slowing from more than 400 knots (460 mph; 740 km/h) to 301 knots (346 mph; 557 km/h) at the time of the collision.
One of the DC-8's starboard engines struck the Constellation just ahead of its wings, tearing apart a portion of the fuselage. The Constellation entered a dive, with debris continuing to fall as it disintegrated during its spiral to the ground.
The initial impact tore the DC-8's engine from its pylon. Having lost one engine and a large part of the right wing, the DC-8 remained airborne for another 90 seconds.
The DC-8 crashed into the Park Slope section of Brooklyn at the intersection of Seventh Avenue and Sterling Place (40°40′38″N 73°58′25″W), 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.
The crash left the remains of the DC-8 pointing southeast toward a large open field at Prospect Park, blocks from its crash site. An occupant in one of the affected apartment buildings said that his family survived because they were in the only room of their apartment that was not destroyed. The crash left a trench covering most of the length of the middle of Sterling Place. Witnesses thought that a bomb had detonated or that a building's boiler had exploded.
The TWA plane crashed onto the northwest corner of Miller Field at 40.57°N 74.103°W, with some sections of the aircraft landing in New York Harbor. At least one passenger fell into a tree before the wreckage hit the ground.
There was no 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.
Front page of Syracuse Post-Standard on 17 December 1960.
The likely cause of the accident was identified in a report by the US Civil Aeronautics Board:
United Flight 826 proceeded beyond its clearance limit and the confines of the airspace allocated to the flight by Air Traffic Control. A contributing factor was the high speed of the United DC-8 as it approached the Preston intersection, coupled with the change of clearance which reduced the en-route distance along Victor 123 by approximately 11 miles (9.6 nmi; 18 km)
The only person to initially survive the crash was Stephen Baltz, an 11-year-old boy from Wilmette, Illinois. He was traveling unaccompanied on Flight 826 to spend Christmas in Yonkers with relatives. He was thrown from the plane into a snowbank, where his burning clothing was extinguished. Although alive and conscious, he was severely burned and had inhaled burning fuel. Baltz died of pneumonia the next day.
NOTE: A RARE EXTANT 1960 WINS 1010 RADIO AIR CHECK.