Eastern Air Lines Flight 512
Eastern Air Lines Flight 512 was a scheduled domestic passenger flight from Charlotte, North Carolina, to New York City that crashed on November 30, 1962, killing 25 of the 51 people on board. The aircraft, a Douglas DC-7B operated by Eastern Air Lines, crashed at Idlewild Airport in heavy fog while attempting to perform a go-around. One of the plane's wings struck the ground and the plane crashed into soft sand in a marsh about 200 yards (180 m) from the runway, where it burst into flames. Emergency equipment responded, but rescuers were delayed by the thick fog and the soft terrain. An investigation launched after the crash found that the probable cause of the accident was that the pilots had made critical mistakes during the go-around that prevented the aircraft from gaining altitude.
An Eastern Air Lines DC-7, similar to the one involved in the crash
|Date||November 30, 1962|
New York City, United States
|Aircraft type||Douglas DC-7B|
|Flight origin||Charlotte Municipal Airport|
Charlotte, North Carolina
New York City, New York
|Survivors||26 (2 crew, 24 passengers)|
The flight left Charlotte Municipal Airport at 7:41 p.m. Eastern Standard time en route to Idlewild Airport in New York City.(p2) Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) notifications had made the crew aware that the precision approach radar system at the airport was out of service.(p2) The weather forecast called for clear skies or scattered clouds.(p2) While the flight was en route, patches of ground fog started developing at Idlewild.(p3) At 8:57 p.m., the pilots were advised that there would be a delay of an undetermined length due to the fog. The flight entered a holding pattern until 9:33 p.m. when it was instructed to enter the approach path to runway 4R.(pp4, 7) Other aircraft landing ahead of the flight reported dense fog at ground level with extremely low visibility; pilots of one flight that had been cleared to take off requested a delay because the fog was too dense for safe operation.(pp3, 7, 9) Runway visual range instruments in the Weather Bureau office at the airport recorded visibility that had dropped to virtually zero shortly before the instruments failed completely, but this information was not communicated to the tower personnel. As a result, the pilots of inbound aircraft were not made aware of the reduced visibility. Instead, the tower reported visibility of one mile (two kilometers), although flight crews would have likely heard radio traffic from other pilots describing the poor conditions.(p18) Rules that were in effect at the airport required a visibility of at least 2,000 feet (610 m) feet for a runway to remain open.
As Flight 512 approached the runway, the pilots descended to as low as 25 feet above the ground, about 1,000 feet (300 m) feet beyond the touchdown point on the runway, when the crew decided to abandon the approach.(pp18–20) They retracted the landing gear and changed the flaps setting from 40 degrees to 20 degrees, and rotated the nose of the aircraft to between 3 and 5 degrees above the level position.(pp19–20) Because they had retracted the flaps without adding additional engine power, the aircraft lost lift and struck the ground.(p20)
The fuselage separated from the wings on a mound of earth approximately 3 feet (1 m) high, located 3,600 feet (1,100 m) down the runway. (p12) The fuel tanks in the left wing ruptured, igniting a fire on the ground.(p12) The fuselage broke apart approximately at the divider between the tourist and first class sections.(p12) At 9:45 p.m., tower personnel saw a bright orange flash and initiated emergency procedures.(p11) American Airlines Flight 8, which was on approach immediately after Flight 512 was instructed to overfly the runway to see if they could see what had happened. The flight reported back that they could see a fire to the left of the runway.(p11)
After the crash, emergency vehicles were dispatched to the accident site, but they were delayed by the thick fog and the soft marshy terrain where the aircraft ended up. One ambulance driver reported that visibility was as low as five feet (two meters), which made it difficult to locate the crash victims. The arrival of some of the emergency vehicles was delayed by slow-moving traffic on nearby roads. Police prevented all but emergency traffic from entering the area, but curious onlookers still caused traffic congestion in the area. Many were seen walking around the perimeter of the airport, having left their vehicles on surrounding roads. The airport was closed to air traffic until 7:10 a.m. the following morning.
Survivors said that the plane burst into flames immediately after the crash. The rear section of the fuselage remained relatively intact, and engine parts, broken pieces of propellers, and other sections of the fuselage were scattered in the area.
Many of the survivors were thrown clear of the aircraft when it hit the ground, still strapped to their seats. Others climbed out of the broken fuselage and were assisted by the two flight attendants to safety. Victims were taken to the airport's medical center, Peninsula General Hospital, or Queens General Hospital. Two victims had critical injuries, while others were less seriously injured.
The aircraft was a Douglas DC-7B four-engined passenger aircraft. It was manufactured in September 1956 and had manufacturer's serial number 45084. It was registered by Eastern Airlines with tail number N815D and had a total flying time of 18,411 hours at the time of the crash. It was powered by four Wright model 972TC18DA piston propeller engines.(piii)
Passengers and crewEdit
The captain of the flight was Edward Bechtold, aged 43.(pi) He had been employed at Eastern Air Lines since April 1945 and had logged a total of 15,644 hours of flight time, including 2,700 on the DC-7 type aircraft.(pi) In 1943, he received the Air Medal for meritorious achievement from Lieutenant General George C. Kenney, commander of Allied air forces in the Southwest Pacific. He was the chairman of the New York Air Safety Committee. The copilot was Julius Wagner, aged 45. He had been employed at the airline since March 1951 and had accumulated a total of 9,042 hours of flight time, including 1,610 hours in the DC-7. The flight engineer was Robert Voorhees, age 31. He had accumulated a total of 4,080 hours of flight time, which included 149 hours as a flight engineer and 718 hours as a pilot in DC-7 aircraft. He had been employed at the airline since August 1957.(pii) All three pilots were killed in the crash.
The two flight attendants, Helen Fournier, aged 21, and Patricia Richards, aged 22, survived the crash and assisted with the evacuation of survivors of the crash. They were credited with saving the lives of people who might have otherwise died in the fire that consumed the aircraft after the crash. Fournier had started her employment with Eastern Air Lines in April 1962, and was on only her third flight at the time of the crash.(pii)
The plane carried 51 passengers at the time of the crash. All of the passengers were from the United States except one, who was from Canada. Twenty one of the passengers were killed, and some of the survivors were injured.(p1) All of the survivors were seated in the rear half of the plane, which remained intact long enough for them to escape.
A team of 80 flight experts, including a team of 24 from the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB), began an investigation, supervised by G. Joseph Minetti and assisted by George A. Van Epps, supervisory air safety investigator for the New York Region, and Arthur E. Newsmann, in charge of the Denver office who arrived to direct the overall investigation.
On October 10, 1963, the CAB released its final accident report. In it, they found that the probable cause of the accident was the technique employed by the crew during their abandonment of the aircraft's approach in the unexpected fog conditions.(p1) The board concluded that if the crew had either rotated the aircraft to a higher nose-up position, or had used more engine power, the plane's descent would have been arrested and the accident avoided.(p21)
- "Aircraft Accident Report, Douglas DC-7B, N815D Eastern Air Lines, Inc., New York International Airport Jamaica, New York November 30, 1962". Department of Transportation Library. United States Department of Transportation. October 8, 1963. Retrieved May 1, 2019.
- Oerlmutter, Emanuel (December 2, 1962). "3 Idlewild Safety Devices Were Off at Time of Crash". The New York Times. p. 1. Retrieved May 3, 2019.
- Witkin, Richard (December 5, 1962). "Visibility Procedures at Idlewild Questioned in Crash Fatal to 25". The New York Times. p. 93. Retrieved May 3, 2019.
- "Survivors Tell of Fleeing Fire". The New York Times. December 1, 1962. p. 12. Retrieved May 3, 2019.
- Robinson, Douglas (December 1, 1962). "25 are Killed, 25 Rescued as DC-7 Crashes and Burns at Idlewild in Heavy Fog". The New York Times. p. 1. Retrieved May 1, 2019.
- "Police Keep Public from Crash Scene". The New York Times. December 1, 1962. p. 12. Retrieved May 3, 2019.
- "Feats of Heroism Abound in Crash". The New York Times. December 2, 1962. p. 67. Retrieved May 1, 2019.
- "ASN Aircraft accident Douglas DC-7B N815D New York-Idlewild International Airport, NY (IDL)". Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved May 1, 2019.
- "Captain of Plane Noted for Views on Flight Safety". The New York Times. December 1, 1962. p. 12. Retrieved May 1, 2019.