Manage episode 298120611 series 2801590
On Friday, 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 into the city's LaGuardia Airport. The Constellation crashed on Miller Field in Staten Island and the DC-8 into Park Slope, Brooklyn, killing all 128 people on the two aircraft and six people on the ground. It was the deadliest aviation disaster in the world at the time. The death toll would not be surpassed until a Lockheed C-130B Hercules was shot down in May 1968, killing 155 people. In terms of commercial aviation, the death toll would not be surpassed until the March 1969 crash of Viasa Flight 742, which crashed on takeoff and killed all 84 people on board the aircraft, as well as 71 people on the ground. The accident became known as the Park Slope plane crash or the Miller Field crash, after the crash sites of each plane respectively. 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 84 people from O'Hare International Airport in Chicago to Idlewild Airport (now John F. Kennedy International Airport) in Queens. The crew was Captain Robert Sawyer (age 46), First Officer Robert Fiebing (40), Flight Engineer Richard Pruitt (30), and four stewardesses.
Trans World Airlines Flight 266, Star of Sicily, registration N6907C, was a Super Constellation carrying 44 people from Dayton and Columbus, Ohio, to LaGuardia Airport in Queens. The crew was Captain David Wollam (age 39), First Officer Dean Bowen (32), Flight Engineer LeRoy Rosenthal (30), and two stewardesses. 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.
At 10:21 A.M. Eastern Time, United 826 advised ARINC radio — which relayed the message to UAL maintenance — that one of its VOR receivers had stopped working. ATC, however, was not told that the aircraft had only one receiver, which made it more difficult for the pilots of flight 826 to identify the Preston intersection, beyond which it had not received clearance.
At 10:25 A.M. Eastern Time, air traffic control 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 race-track holding pattern) for UAL 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 or less. However, the aircraft was estimated to be doing 301 knots when it collided with the TWA plane, several miles beyond that Preston clearance limit.
During the investigation, United claimed the Colts Neck VOR 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.) However, the CAB final report found no problem with the Colts Neck VOR.
The prevailing conditions were light rain and fog (which had been preceded by snowfall).
According to the DC-8's FDR, the aircraft was 12 miles (19 km) off course and for 81 seconds, had descended at 3,600 feet per minute (18 m/s) while slowing from more than 400 knots to 301 knots at the time of the collision.
One of the starboard engines on the DC-8 hit the Constellation just ahead of its wings, tearing apart that 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 engine from its pylon on the DC-8. Having lost one engine and a large part of the right-wing, the DC-8 remained airborne for another minute and a half.
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 pointed southeast towards a large open field at Prospect Park, blocks from its crash site. A student at the school who lived in one of the destroyed apartment buildings said his family survived because they happened to be in the only room of their apartment not destroyed. The crash left a trench covering most of the length of the middle of Sterling Place. Occupants of the school thought a bomb had gone off or that the 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.
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 rate of 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.
The only person to initially survive the crash was an 11-year-old boy from Wilmette, Illinois. He was traveling on Flight 826 unaccompanied as part of his family's plans 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 badly burned and had inhaled burning fuel. He died of pneumonia the next day.
In 2010, on the 50th anniversary of the accident, a memorial to the 134 victims of the two crashes was unveiled in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn. The cemetery is the site of the common grave in which were placed the human remains that could not be identified.
The events of the collision are documented in the 5th season, episode 1, of The Weather Channel documentary Why Planes Crash. The episode is titled "Collision Course" and was first aired in April 2013.
As a result of this accident, the following changes were instituted:
Pilots must report malfunctions of navigation or communication equipment to ATC.
All turbine-powered aircraft must be equipped with Distance Measuring Equipment (DME).
Jet aircraft must slow to holding speed at least 3 minutes before reaching the holding fix.
Aircraft are prohibited from exceeding 250 knots when within 30 nautical miles of a destination airport and below 10,000 feet MSL.