set of pictures arrived in this morning’s e-mail from one of my
colleagues in the International Society of Air Safety
Investigators. The photos show a DHL A300-B4 touching down at
Baghdad International airport in November 2003 after taking a SAM
hit to the left wing. The airplane had departed 16 minutes earlier
and was struck while climbing through 8,000 feet. The crew
discovered they had lost all hydraulics and thus all flight
controls. They used asymmetric thrust to maneuver and descend the
airplane for a missed approach, a go-around, then a successful
landing on Runway 33L -- a marvelous piece of airmanship.
course, the DHL incident reminded me of the great leadership and
airmanship skills demonstrated by United Capt. Al Haynes one day
in July 1989 when he guided his crippled DC-10 into the Sioux City
airport after the center engine parted out and took all four
hydraulic systems with it.
And those thoughts led to memories of yet another remarkable
feat of airmanship that followed a midair collision between a TWA
Boeing 707 and an Eastern Air Lines Lockheed L-1049C Super
(That drama unfolded near Carmel VORTAC (CMK), a navaid located
about 3 crow miles from where I sit
writing this column in Ridgefield, Conn. I lived near
Philadelphia on that day -- Dec. 4, 1965 -- but I was dispatched
to the scene as the Philadelphia Daily News aviation writer.)
The lessons arising from the accident were many. They included
new understanding of visual illusions, the importance of positive
control in high-density environments, the necessity for altitude
reporting transponders (and ultimately collision avoidance
systems) and, perhaps most important, realization that basic
airmanship is still the best protection from the hazards of
flight. Here’s what happened that day.
At the time of the accident, surface weather charts indicated
the northeastern section of the country was in a post frontal zone
with a frontal system extending into the Atlantic Ocean from a
low-pressure area centered 100 to 150 miles off the Massachusetts
coast. A general northwesterly flow of air was shown from the
upper Great Lakes and New England region to the Carolinas. The
1540 surface weather observation at Westchester County Airport (HPN),
located 13 nm southwest of CMK, was in part: 4,000 feet scattered
clouds, 8,000 feet broken clouds, 12 miles visibility. The
temperature was 46°F, the dewpoint 35°F, and wind was from 300
degrees at 7 knots.
U.S. Weather Bureau forecasts for the area that included CMK,
and valid at the time of the accident, called for variable cloud
conditions with cloud tops near 8,000 feet and isolated tops to
Crewmembers of other aircraft in the general area that
afternoon told Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) investigators that
there was a solid overcast whose ragged tops were between 10,000
and 11,000 feet. Visibility was unrestricted above this cloud
At 1530, Eastern Flight 853, a scheduled leg from Boston Logan
International (BOS) to Newark International (EWR), taxied toward
the departure runway. Capt. Charles J. White, 42, was in the left
seat. He had accumulated a total of 11,508 flying hours of which
1,947 were in L-l049 aircraft. First Officer Roger I. Holt Jr.,
34, was in the right seat. He had a total of 8,090 flying hours,
899 of which were in Constellations. The flight engineer was Emile
P. Greenway, 27.
Their "three-tail" Lockheed was powered by four Curtiss-Wright
972-TC-18-DA engines with Hamilton Standard model 34E60
propellers. At that time, there was no requirement for a flight
data recorder (FDR) on the aircraft, and none was installed.
White and Holt maneuvered the airplane into position and called
for takeoff power at 1538. There were 49 passengers and five
crewmembers on board. The Connie was vectored through Boston
terminal airspace, climbed to 10,000 feet msl and leveled off for
the en route portion of its IFR flight plan. Boston controllers
passed on the Bradley International (BDL) altimeter (29.58) and
handed the flight off to New York Center at 1607. The crew
confirmed that they were level at 10,000 feet. At 1618 the New
York Center controller observed EA 853 passing CMK and recorded
the time of that radar position on the flight progress strip.
Meanwhile, TWA Flight 42 was approaching Carmel from the
northwest. The Boeing 707-131B had departed San Francisco
International (SFO) at 0905 PST on an IFR flight plan bound for
John F. Kennedy International (JFK). At the controls were Capt.
Thomas H. Carroll, 45, a veteran of 18,842 flying hours; First
Officer Leo M. Smith, 42, with 12,248 flying hours; and Flight
Engineer Ernest V. Hall, 41. The en route segment -- Sacramento,
Reno, Sioux Falls, Buffalo -- had been routine.
At 1548 EST, New York Center descended the Boeing from FL 370
to FL 210 and then to 11,000 feet msl. Controllers issued the JFK
altimeter setting of 29.63 and the flight reported level at 11,000
Back in the EAL cockpit, F/O Holt looked out his right window.
The Connie was flying into the sun and ducking in and out of a
"fluffy" cloud deck with tops about 300 feet above the airplane’s
Suddenly, as the Connie emerged from a cloud puff, Holt saw the
TWA Boeing in his right side window at the 2 o’clock position. The
aircraft appeared to be converging rapidly and at the same
altitude. Holt shouted, "Look out," placed his hands on the
control wheel and made a very rapid application of up elevator
simultaneously with the captain. Crew members and passengers were
pulled down into their seats.
Back in the Boeing cockpit, the crew was readying the aircraft
for arrival at JFK. They were flying in clear air above an
overcast with no restrictions to visibility as they approached
Carmel. Although the aircraft was being flown on autopilot with
the altitude-hold feature engaged, the captain had his left hand
on the control yoke.
Upon seeing a white and blue aircraft at his 10 o’clock
position on what appeared to be a collision course, he immediately
disengaged the autopilot by actuating the yoke thumb switch, put
the wheel hard over to the right and pulled back on the yoke. The
copilot grabbed the controls and reacted in concert with the
captain. As the aircraft rolled to the right, it became apparent
that this maneuver would not allow the two aircraft to pass clear
of each other, so both crewmembers attempted to reverse the wheel
to the left and pushed on the yoke.
Before the aircraft had time to react to the control reversal,
two shocks were felt and the jet entered a steep dive. The left
wing of the Boeing and the tail of the Connie had collided. Both
airplanes were out of control.
The Boeing crew wrestled their airplane out of a dive, declared
an emergency with New York Center and got the first of many
vectors to Kennedy. The crew made a damage assessment and
requested that crash and fire equipment stand by.
Ultimately, the Boeing was vectored south of JFK where it made
a wide 360-degree turn to ascertain that the landing gear was
fully down, and to determine how the airplane would fly at
approach speeds. At 1640, the crew brought the Boeing in for a
safe landing on Runway 31L.
An inspection of the Boeing showed primary impact damage in
three areas: (1) The outer left-hand wing panel from the No. 1
nacelle outboard was severed -- about 25 feet of wing was missing;
(2) the No. 1 engine cowl and pylon showed impact abrasions from
sliding contact but did not separate from the aircraft; and (3)
the wing leading edge at wing station 555 just inboard of the No.
1 engine had sustained a deep slash. In addition, secondary
structural damage was noted from impact loading and flying debris.
There were no injuries aboard TWA 42.
Pick a Field
After collision, the Eastern Connie continued to climb. The
crew felt the aircraft shudder and begin a left turning dive back
into the clouds. There was no response from the controls or trim
tabs, but the crew discovered through trial and error that some
degree of control was available by adjusting the throttles. The
aircraft descended through solid clouds and recovery was made
below the clouds by the use of throttles only. Then, several zooms
were made back into the clouds as the pilots attempted to gain
control over their airplane.
The crew found a power setting that would maintain a descent in
a level attitude with some degree of consistency. Airspeed could
be maintained between 125 and 140 knots; the nose would rise when
power was added and fall when power was removed. The rate of
descent could be maintained at approximately 500 feet per minute.
It was apparent to the crew that their airplane was mortally
wounded and that they needed to find some place to put it down.
Unfortunately, they were over mostly wooded rolling terrain on the
Connecticut-New York border. The few farm fields below were all
surrounded by stone walls, situated on sloping terrain, and hardly
big enough for a Cessna 150, let alone a Lockheed Super
The captain advised passengers that there had been a collision,
that he was unable to control the aircraft and that they should
prepare for a crash landing. A flight attendant told passengers to
remain seated, fasten their seat belts, and read the emergency
instruction cards in the seat back pockets. Minutes later, Capt.
White told passengers the aircraft was definitely out of control
and that a crash landing would be made. He advised everyone to
remove sharp objects from their pockets and to fasten their seat
White stayed on the throttles nursing the airplane as it
descended on a southwest heading over Danbury Airport (DXR) in
Connecticut at 2,000 feet. About 2 miles ahead, he spotted a
pasture halfway up Hunt Mountain -- a 900-foot ridge that ran
perpendicular to his flight path. He aligned the aircraft using
asymmetric thrust, told passengers to "brace yourselves" and
descended into the upsloping hillside with wheels and flaps
retracted. At the last moment, White jammed the throttles forward
pitching the nose up, allowing the Connie to pancake into the
The airplane crash landed on a hillside 4.2 miles north of an
area where numerous separated parts from both aircraft were found.
First impact was in a tree that was broken 46 feet above the
ground. Nearly 250 feet farther, the left wing contacted a large
tree and separated from the aircraft. The fuselage contacted the
ground some 250 feet beyond the first tree and the aircraft came
to rest 700 feet up a 15-percent slope on a magnetic heading of
243 degrees. Portions of the fuselage -- now broken into three
pieces -- skewed around to a nearly reciprocal heading. All
engines separated from their nacelles.
All passengers but two remained in the fuselage in the vicinity
of their seated locations throughout the crash sequence. The
exceptions were a passenger who believed he had been thrown clear
of the fuselage during the slide, and another who jumped out of an
emergency exit window after it popped open before the airplane
came to a stop.
Seat l4-CDE located at the fuselage break was the only seat not
found in the fuselage wreckage and was located 10 yards back along
the crash path. All other seats remained in their relative
original locations. Some passengers found themselves out of their
seats following impact and several had difficulty unfastening
their seat belts.
Passengers exited through the torn-open fuselage, the
right-side forward cockpit crew door, the left main cabin door,
and the opening in the aft end of the cabin in the pressure dome
The cockpit and cabin crews survived the crash landing and
worked both inside and outside the broken fuselage parts to get
out the survivors while a smoky fire ate at the fuselage.
Volunteer firefighters from Ridgefield and surrounding
communities extinguished the flames and transported survivors to
the hospital at Danbury, where two passengers died of their
injuries. Later firefighters found two bodies in the fuselage --
that of a passenger in the forward section near seat rows 7 and 8,
and of Capt. White who had returned to the cabin to help the last
passenger out. Both succumbed due to inhalation of combustion
Thanks to the extraordinary skills and courage of the
Constellation crew, 50 people survived the accident, and except
for Capt. White’s selflessness, it would have been 51.
A Sloping Cloud Deck
Upon completion of the structures examination of both aircraft,
a three-dimensional mockup of TWA 42’s outer wing panel and EAL
853’s tail assembly was constructed. Initial contact of the two
aircraft was between the Boeing’s left outer wing and the Connie’s
right-hand outboard vertical fin and stabilizer tip assembly. The
relative motion was such that the wing’s leading edge sliced
through the horizontal stabilizer from the outboard leading edge
to the inboard trailing edge. The aircraft collided at an altitude
of approximately 11,000 feet at about 1619.
In the Connie wreckage, the captain’s and first officer’s
static system selector valves were found in their respective
normal static source positions. The airline’s ACM provided a
static source correction factor of minus 43 feet to be applied to
the altimeter indicated reading at an indicated altitude of 10,000
feet, 210 KIAS, gear and flaps up. This correction factor yields
an indicated altitude of 9,957 feet when the aircraft’s altimeter
indicates 10,000 feet.
Ultimately, it was determined that no structural, powerplant,
system or navigation component failures contributed to the
accident. Both aircraft were capable of operation within their
Although one altimeter installed aboard the EAL aircraft was
not of an acceptable type, it could be expected to perform with
accuracy equal to a like model that had met the TSO requirements.
The Board ruled out the possibility of collision because of
altimeter malfunctions or false altitude indications. The possible
errors caused by altimeter system design, scale correction and
atmospheric conditions are so negligible that both aircraft would
not have been more than approximately 100 feet above or below
their indicated altitudes.
Testimony and flight recorder data indicated that the Boeing
was being flown in accordance with its ATC clearance. Just prior
to arriving at Carmel from the northwest, the aircraft had been
descended to an altitude of 11,000 feet and was flying above a
cloud deck with no restrictions to visibility.
Investigators determined that EAL 853 was being operated in
accordance with its ATC clearance and was in level flight at
10,000 feet, in and out of the tops of clouds as it approached
Carmel from the northeast.
Altitude separation between these aircraft was being provided
by ATC in accordance with existing procedures. Neither aircraft
was given (nor was there at that time a requirement to give) an
advisory as to the presence of the other aircraft even though the
controllers testified they observed the converging tracks.
Both aircraft had reported to ATC at their assigned altitudes
and all evidence indicates they were flying at these altitudes
shortly before the collision occurred.
At the time the EAL first officer initially observed a jet at
about his 2 o’clock position, EAL 853 had just emerged from a
cloud. The investigating Board determined that the EAL crew
departed from their assigned altitude when they sighted the TWA
aircraft because both the captain and first officer believed the
aircraft they saw, the TWA Boeing, was on a collision course at or
very near the altitude of EAL 853.
The Board believed this impression was caused by an optical
illusion. A review of the weather information obtained during this
investigation showed that the cloud tops were relatively smooth
with some "cauliflower" type buildups protruding several hundred
feet above the general cloud tops. The evidence also indicated the
tops of the clouds were generally higher to the north and
northwest of Carmel. The EAL first officer, knowing his aircraft
was passing through or very near the tops of the clouds, observed
another aircraft on a converging track. With higher clouds behind
TWA 42, the first officer would have received an impression of an
aircraft on or very near the apparent horizon.
"In the small amount of time that he had to judge the
separation of the two aircraft," said the Board, "he had no visual
aid to assist him in determining the horizon, and the buildup of
clouds toward the north would present a false horizon on which to
base his analysis of separation."
The Board said the most logical explanation of the reaction
pullup was based on the small amount of time the crew had to
evaluate the relative position and course of the other aircraft.
They would not have been able to determine whether the other
aircraft was in level flight in or just above the tops of the
clouds or in the process of letting down and just entering the
Had EAL 853 pushed over, the aircraft would have gone into the
solid overcast and the crew would have had no way to observe and
evade the converging traffic if it were also entering the clouds.
As the captain of TWA 42 sighted the other aircraft, he also
believed he was on a collision course with it. He made an
immediate right bank and pulled back on his yoke. He told
investigators later that he realized the bank to the right would
not allow his aircraft to pass clear of the other aircraft and he
attempted to reverse the direction of bank and pushed the yoke
forward. There was insufficient time for the aircraft to react to
this control reversal and the aircraft’s left wing, outboard of
the No. 1 engine, struck the right horizontal stabilizer of EAL
The Board ultimately determined the probable cause of the
collision was misjudgment of altitude separation by the crew of
EAL 853 because of an optical illusion created by the up-slope
effect of cloud tops resulting in an evasive maneuver by the EA
853 crew and a reactionary evasive maneuver by the TWA 42 crew.
The crews involved -- especially EAL Capt. White -- were widely
praised for their extraordinary airmanship. This accident was
among several that ultimately spurred the development of special
high-density controlled airspace, improved ATC radar, secondary
beacon transponders, altitude reporting and mandatory FDR-CVR
installation on all airline aircraft.
And the airmanship demonstrated by Capt. White would inspire a
generation of young pilots toward excellence, just as Capt. Al
Haynes would 24 years later. Today Haynes lectures on the lessons
he learned firsthand. Among the audience in a recent presentation
in Europe was a captain who would soon put that advice to the test
when his Airbus was crippled by a missile over Baghdad.
Reprinted from the March 2004 issue of
Business & Commercial Aviation magazine