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Re: Airline Crash on December 16, 1960

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Posted by Harris on Saturday, December 16th 2017:

In Reply to: Airline Crash on December 16, 1960 posted by Flatbush Kid on Saturday, December 16th 2017:

I was a Senior at Midwood High School, on Dec. 16, 1960. The crash occurred early on Friday morning. My Father told me that he heard the crash, as he was in the area. He stated that a warning came out over his radio, warning all motorists to stay away from that area. After fifty seven years, I still think of that crash, and the sadness and horror, which affected many families. It still bothers me that this mid-air collision could have been prevented.

There were extensive hearings held before the Civil Aeronautics Board; it was the federal agency,which preceded the National Transportation Safety Board. Unfortunately, it appeared that the Captain of the DC-Jet, was eleven miles off course, as he approached the Preston Intersection, which is an area, between New Jersey and Staten Island. It was raining and foggy in the area. One of the transponders of the DC-8 Jet was not working, and the crew failed to notify air traffic control. The DC-8 jet was coming from O-Hare Airport in Chicago, and was on its way to N.Y. International Airport (Idlewild). It wasn't called JFK in those days. The pilot was approaching the NYC area, at over 500 knots. After the accident, the CAB mandated that any flights under 10,000 feet (especially near a major metropolitan area), do not exceed 250 knots. In any event, air traffic control warned both the DC-8 pilot, and the pilot of the TWA Constellation (which was coming from Columbus, Ohio), enroute to LaGuardia, of traffic in the area, in close proximity. I don't think that radar in those days, was able to differentiate the planes by a specific altitude. In other words, even though ATC could see the two blips on the screen converging, they assumed that they were at different altitudes. The situation was not helped with one of the transponders in the United DC-8 not working. It should be noted, also, that the technology which warns planes today of an impending collision, did not exist in those days.

The United DC-8 sliced through the Constellation at a right angle, over Staten Island, and tore it to bits. The Constellation fell into Miller Field. The United jet limped helplessly and out of control. Stephen Baltz, the initial survivor (who was thrown onto a snow bank), told investigators, that he could see the ground coming closer and closer. The rumors that the Captain was headed for Prospect Park, were bogus. The DC-8 jet crashed into the Pillar of Fire Church on 7th Avenue and Sterling Place, killing the 90 year old caretaker. Also killed on the ground were five other Brooklyn residents, including a pedestrain walking their dog, a Christmas tree vendor, a Dentist, and two other people. There were witnesses on the ground, who could hear screaming from inside the jet. They victims survived the crash, but were burned to death. There were other witnesses who saw the plane coming down, and saws the look of horror on one of the faces of the passengers, through the plane window.

There was an NYPD patrolman who was at the scene, who told relatives that although he survived the landings in Normandy, and fought into Germany, until the war ended, that his experience at the crash site was worse, and left him with horrible memories. I spoke to an NYPD Sergeant years later, who was working at the 70th Precinct. He received the initial call of a crash from a civilian, with another patrolman, and called in the accident, nobody at the precinct wanted to believe them. I also spoke to a Detective of the 78th Detective Squad, who "caught" that case as he was working on his AM shift, at the time of the crash.

Regarding Stephen Baltz, his Mother and sister, had previously flown into NYC,
for the holidays. His Father was an executive, I believe with the Bendix Corporation, and had been scheduled to join his family in NYC, later. Stephen probably would have survived his injuries, today, with the advanced medical technology which we have. I read that he did not die of his burns, but from pneumonia, which wasn't diagnosed by the Doctors. The change which he carried with him is on display at Methodist Hospital. The nurse who treated him, stated that he was a very brave boy.

The widow of the United Captain, sued the CAB, as they blamed her husband entirely for the crash. She maintained that Air Traffic Control was also at fault, for failing to safely separate the two aircraft, and for directing her husband to stay at his specific altitude. Unfortunately, she lost her lawsuit in federal district court.

There was a gathering of EMS workers, and the nurse who tended to Stephen Baltz on the 40th anniversary of the crash, in 2000, at 7th Avenue and Sterling Place. In 2010, the relatives of the victims unveiled as large memorial plaque, which is on display at Greenwood Cemetery, to all of the victims of that mid-air collision. To date, it is the only mid-air collision in the history of commercial aviation in the United States of America, which occurred over a major metropolitan area.

To this date, fifty seven years later, I've never been able to understand why the City of New York has never dedicated a memorial to the victims. I'm not being political, and I'm only pointing out the fact, that NYC sends its Chief Executive to the crash site of the American Airlines crash in the Rockaways (2001), every year, including a few months ago. However, NYC appears to have amnesia regarding the TWA-United crash. I'm regret if my posting was too long. However, I feel very sad for the families of the victims. Every year at this time, for many years after the crash, the parents and sister of Stephen Baltz were bombarded by reporters. His sister stated that it was bad enough regarding their personal loss; she stated that the reporters opened up old wounds.

Reference ID: BK95295


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