Thursday, 25 June 2015

25 June 1975 - Eastern Airlines jet crashes at Kennedy Airport during a thunderstorm killing more than 100 people

(Originally published by the Daily News on June 25, 1975)

One hundred and nine persons were killed yesterday when an Eastern Airlines’ Boeing 727 jetliner carrying 115 passengers and eight crew members crashed and burned in an attempted landing in an electrical storm at Kennedy International Airport.

The plane, on a nonstop flight from New Orleans, struck several approach lights, crashed to the ground beside Rockaway Blvd., and burst into flames, spewing bodies and twisted bits of wreckage on a wide area.

The burning jetliner then skidded across Rockaway Blvd. and splintered, with most of the fuselage coming to rest upside-down in the eastbound lanes of the roadway. Miraculously, police said, no vehicle was struck by the flaming wreck as it careened across the artery.

As the plane swooped on low over a series of approach lights on 30-foot-tall steel towers, it struck one of the towers about a quarter-mile from Brookville Blvd. Then it smashed the next tower in line, cleared the next tower, knocked the next three down and struck the final one a glancing blow before crashing into a marshy area east of Rockaway Blvd., which was crowded with early rush-hour traffic.

The impact areas was littered with mangled bodies and twisted pieces of metal, suitcases, seats and other debris.

“It didn’t look like a plane crash site at first,” said one witness. “It looked like a garbage dump.”

Although two witnesses claimed that they had seen the plane struck by lightning as it was approaching the airport, and a ham radio operator reported that he had heard other pilots talking about a wind shear - a condition involving radical shifts in wind direction at the time of the crash - there was no official explanation of the accident.

George Van Epps, eastern area supervisor for the National Transportation Safety Board, declined to speculate on the cause of the crash.

As search crews worked under floodlights combing the crash area during the night. Van Epps said he had not questioned any witnesses and could not confirm the report that the plane had been struck by lightning.

Van Epps added that there were only two cases in commercial airlines history in which lightning had been determined as the cause of crashes. Both occurred in the early 1960s.

Herbert W. Banks, air safety investigator for the Safety Board, said the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder had been recovered from the wreckage of the plane.

Asked if officials had radio reports from the plane before the crash, which was the worst in the New York metropolitan area in a decade, Banks said: “We have not listened to the tower tapes yet.”

Sixteen survivors were rescued, but two of them died later in Jamaica Hospital. The pilot and co-pilot - Capt. John W. Kleven and First Officer William S. Eberhart, both based here - were killed. But two other crew members, Mary Ellen Mooney 28, a stewardess, and Robert Hoefler, 29, a flight attendant, walked away from the crash and were in fair condition at the South Shore Division of Long Island Jewish-Hillside Medical Center.

“Saw Plane Coming In” “I saw the plane coming in,” said Neal Rairden, a gas station mechanic. “It was raining very hard at the time. All of a sudden, there was lightning. I looked up and all I saw was smoke and flames and no plane. I said, ‘Holy God!’ I knew that plane had gotten hit by lightning. It just exploded and shattered. I looked up and again there was no plane in the air. The next thing I knew it was gone, and that was it.”

Police said that the plane, Eastern Flight No. 66, had been scheduled to land at 3:45 p.m. and was 21 minutes late when it crashed at 4:06 p.m.

Saul Horowitz Jr., a prominent New York construction executive, and Wendell Ladner, the reserve forward of the New York Nets, reportedly were among the victims of the crash. Also believed killed were the Rt. Rev. Iverson Noland, the Episcopal bishop of Louisiana, and New Orleans investment bank Edgar Bright Sr. his wife, their daughter Mrs. Jane Hickey and her daughter, Nancy, 4.

The passenger list included 19 Norwegian sailors, who had left their ship in New Orleans and were en route back to Norway.

Joseph Dispenza, of Baton Rouge, La., and his daughters, Sandy, 9, and Tina, 7, survived the crash, but his wife, Connie, was missing and feared dead.

Moments after the plane crashed, Port Authority police put out a call for body bags as the first of many fire and disaster units arrived at the crash scene.

Rescue workers spread out a large green tarpaulin at the side of Rockaway Blvd. and began laying out bodies in rows. Each body was covered with a white sheet, which quickly became stained with blood.

Within minutes, all highways and secondary roads in the area were clogged as rubbernecking motorists tried to park and get a closer took at the flaming wreckage.

Several Persons Arrested

Firemen had the blaze under control by 4:45 p.m., but the problem of the curious walking and driving into the area persisted. Several persons were arrested after they had crossed police lines into the area.

Mayor Beame and Police Commissioner Michael Codd flew to the crash by police helicopter. They stayed there for more than two hours as rescue workers combed the marshland for bodies and clues to the cause of the crash.

“I’m numb,” said the ashen-faced mayor. “it’s a terrible tragedy.”

Eastern Airlines reported before 6 p.m. that it had set up a control center for relatives of passengers to call so that they could be informed.

Thursday 25 June 2015


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