Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Red Snow: Brooklyn's United Airlines crash disaster

Nine days before Christmas, Sterling Place in Brooklyn's Park Slope was brightening with the wreaths that had begun to adorn the doorways of the brownstones. Between Sixth and Seventh Aves., two tree sellers were setting out evergreens to offer passersby. Sanitation workers were still shoveling the snow that had fallen over the weekend, and now more flakes were drifting down. Less than a block away, hundreds of children sat in the classrooms of St. Augustine's School, waiting for the holiday break.

Friday morning the 16th of December 1960. Before the noon Angelus rang from St. Augustine's bell tower, Sterling Place would become a scene of devastation and carnage, of twisted metal and smoldering ashes and charred human bodies, and the new snowdrifts would be crimson with blood.

It was shortly after 10:30 a.m. when Brother Conrad Bernes, supervising a 10th-grade study hall at St. Augustine's, saw that a student staring out the window had suddenly turned ashen. Brother Conrad followed the youth's gaze  and saw the stuff of nightmares: A huge passenger jet, wings perpendicular to the ground, roaring down the narrow street, at shop window level.

Then came the explosion, the shuddering ground, the flames, the screams.

The plane was a United Airlines DC-8 carrying 83 passengers and crew members. One wing sliced through a 16-family apartment building. The nose exploded into the Pillar of Fire Church. The severed tail crashed across Seventh Ave. St. Augustine's was untouched.

On Staten Island 10 miles away, a second airplane, a TWA Lockheed Super Constellation with 44 people aboard, was spiraling toward Earth like, it occurred to one witness, a spinning toy. So slow seemed its descent that police who spotted the stricken ship actually tried to race it to tiny Miller Army Air Field, toward which it was falling.

 New Dorp residents who heard the Lockheed's thunder rushed outside  as pieces of metal and leather fell all around them with the snowflakes.

Miller Field looked like a battleground, strewn with bodies and bits of bodies. One corpse hung from a tree on Hylan Blvd. Gaily wrapped Christmas gifts were scattered amid the debris.

Only minutes before, the two planes had been completing uneventful flights. United 826 out of Chicago was in a holding pattern over New Jersey, waiting to land at Idlewild International Airport in Queens. TWA 266, originating in Dayton, Ohio, was en route to LaGuardia. The ceiling was just 600 feet, and both planes were flying by instruments.

Groping through the blinding snow 5,000 feet over the eastern edge of Staten Island, they collided.

United 826 apparently rammed TWA 266 broadside, investigators decided later; its right wing slashed through the other plane, instantly breaking it apart. The doomed Constellation, the Daily News reported, "stood straight up on its tail, its four propellers clawing at the sky"  and then plunged down toward Staten Island, taking with it one of the jet's engines. Debris was scattered over 4 square miles; incredibly, no one on the ground was hurt.

Read more here ➤ http://www.nydailynews.com

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