Sunday, August 31, 2008
The Original June 1. 1948 United Timetable
THIS IS AN EMERGENCY DESCENT
CHAPTER 1 FLIGHT 624 SAN DIEGO TO CHICAGO LEG
CHAPTER 2 FLIGHT 624 CHICAGO MUNICIPAL AIRPORT
CHAPTER 3 FLIGHT 624 THE FINAL FLIGHT
CHAPTER 4 THE NEWSPAPERS & EYEWITNESSES
CHAPTER 5 THE CRASH SITE INVESTIGATION
CHAPTER 6 THE HEARINGS
CHAPTER 7 THE ANNALYSIS AND PROBABLE CAUSE
CHAPTER 8 THE VICTIMS
Flying three miles above Phillipsburg, Pennsylvania a blue and silver Douglas DC-6 airliner was plying its way east toward La Guardia Field, New York. The sky was partly cloudy with an occasional patch of blue sky showing through. The sun had passed its zenith over twenty minutes earlier on this warm Thursday June 17, 1948.
In command of this Douglas DC-6 was Captain George Warner Jr. a veteran pilot of United Airlines. Warner was in command of United Airlines Flight 624 on the last leg of its San Diego to New York run. With Captain Warner in charge, flight 624 departed Chicago Municipal Airport at 10:44 EST.
At 12:23 EST Captain Warner radioed his company dispatcher in New York that he just passed Phillipsburg radio range proceeding on course at 17,000 feet. Four minutes later at 12:27 EST Flight 624 was contacted by New York and was given a clearance to descend at their discretion to an altitude between 13,000 and 11,000 feet. The crew acknowledged the clearance and began the gradual descent.
Flying at 9,000 feet and slightly behind the big DC-6 was United Airlines Flight 132, a twin engine Douglas DC-3 mainliner bound for Philadelphia. In command of Flight 132 was Captain Earl Bach. At 12:31EST Captain Bach was alerted by the excited voice of Captain Warner on the radio calling “New York, New York, this is an emergency descent.” Captain Bach stated” I could tell by the pilot’s voice that they were in bad trouble” he later stated.
For the next ten minutes terror and horror descended upon the quiet Pennsylvania country side near the little coal town of Wilburton, Pennsylvania. The big DC-6 flying at over 250 mph roared less than 50 feet above the forested hills and coal fields rapidly descending. The aircraft was heading directly toward a large coal breaker when at the last moment it began a climbing right turn so close to the ground that the right wing tip came in contact with the 66,000 volt transformer wires feeding the Mid Valley colliery. A terrific explosion ensued and the aircraft completely disintegrated into a massive ball of fire, destruction and death instantly killing 43 people.
This is the story of that tragic aviation accident that happened 60 years ago on June 17, 1948 in the coal fields of Eastern Pennsylvania.
This Is An Emergency Descent is the story of a major aviation accident, during the period when large transport aircraft were becoming the mainstay of an ever growing airline industry. A time when flying the big four engine airliners like the Douglas DC-6 was luxurious and filled with glamour.
As with any aviation accident the loss of life is tragic but the lessons learned from the tragedy have helped to save many more lives and has made the aviation industry much safer.
It is also a story about the tireless efforts of CAB (Civil Aeronautics Board) government investigators who tirelessly worked at the crash site among all the carnage, stench and gore of dismembered and burnt human beings. The many hours doing the dangerous work of sifting through a bio hazard and all that was left of a once beautiful airliner that now consists of nothing more than a few large parts of the engines a few propeller blades and jagged pieces of the fuselage. It attests to the methods that these men used in trying to find the cause of an accident when they didn’t have the use of computer generated profiles of the flight, or without the use of flight recorders and voice recorders, relying upon eyewitness reports which all tell a different story. It is about their infinite knowledge of aircraft, aircraft systems and the aviation industry of the time. This Is An Emergency Descent also tells the story of the newspaper reporters from the local newspapers who went to the scene of the accident and reported what they witnessed, amidst the death and the destruction. These reporters were able to bring an accurate report to their readers while trying to hold back their emotions. It is a tribute to their abilities as a reporter to accurately report a tragedy filled with the carnage and horror of a major aviation accident. Pottsville Daily Republican reporter Ken Brennan was one of the first reporters on the scene and wrote an emotion filled report of what he just witnessed. Brennan stated in one of his stories” This is not pleasant reading. It is a story, indelibly impressed in our minds for a lifetime of destruction and death, written while the stench of burning flesh still lingers hauntingly in our nostrils, it is a story of unbelievable destruction, of wreckage littered as far as the eye could see, of charred and battered and desecrated corpses. It is a story that you like us, will want to forget, rather than remember.”
In writing this story the author J Stuart Richards based the story on the official accident investigation report from the Civil Aeronautics Board ( CAB ), supplemented by extensive historical research on the accident. Eyewitness accounts used in the government hearings during the investigation and reported by the Pottsville Republican and the Pottsville Miners Journal are shown. Reporters such as the Pottsville Republican’s Ken Brennan, Williard Schradely and Harry Hoffman III’s reports are used. The author also utilized his knowledge of aviation and the early days of airline flying, researched through the articles and books of the time period written about the subject.
The author is an experienced aircraft mechanic and has used his experience of many years in the field while working on different aircraft. While in the United States Air Force the author worked on the C-118 the military version of the famed DC-6 and has used his knowledge of the systems on this aircraft to give the important technical data needed to understand the accident. The author also worked as a civilian aviation technician for the U.S. Government and has an extensive knowledge of the air traffic system from experience gained while working as an Air Traffic Controller in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.
The author has weaved an interesting story into the tragedy of this accident. Using prime sources. The author will take the reader on a trip on a Douglas DC-6 airliner. The reader will understand how United Airlines and its pilots operated the DC-6, how they worked with the air traffic system. He takes the reader into the cockpit of the ill fated airliner on last leg of the flight providing the reader with operating procedures for a DC-6 flying the Chicago to New York route in 1948. He relates the actual procedures used during an in flight emergency such as the type which plagued United Flight 624.
This is an Emergency Descent is an interesting story written by a veteran researcher who has spent many years researching this tragic accident. It is meticulously researched narrative that puts the reader into the cockpit of the ill fated airliner 60 years ago.
FLIGHT 624 SAN DIEGO TO CHICAGO LEG
United Flight 624 originated in San Diego on the evening of June 16, 1948. Flight 624 was a new flight being scheduled by United Airlines it was in operation less than a week. Scheduled to leave San Diego at 21:05 PST the aircraft flew the short distance to Los Angeles and arrived 50 minutes later and blocked in about 22:00 PST. In command of this flight was veteran United Airlines pilot Captain John Roberts.
Upon arrival in Los Angeles Captain Roberts checked into United operations and was assigned a different aircraft for leg two of his flight to Chicago. Roberts was assigned the DC-6 Mainliner “Utah” she had arrived in Los Angles from a flight from Seattle on June 16, 1948 and was thoroughly serviced and readied for the flight to Chicago. This aircraft was originally scheduled to leave on a San Diego run but was withdrawn when the number 2 engine developed a hydraulic lock. A hydraulic lock after shutdown was a common occurrence with large reciprocating engines like the R-2800. When the engine went into a hydraulic lock, oil would seep by the piston rings and collect in the bottom row of cylinders causing the engine if started to back feed and lock up the cylinder which could damage the rods and the piston. This problem is easily remedied by having one of the mechanics pull each prop through several times before starting the engines in doing this it prevented any damage to the engine..
After the plane was worked on by the United mechanics and the condition was corrected dispatch reassigned her as United Flight 624 Mainliner service for Chicago.
Mainliner “Utah” tail number NC-37506 was a Douglas DC-6 model 477-B airliner constructed by the Douglas Aircraft Corp. at Santa Monica, California. She was the 12th DC-6 constructed in 1947. This model was equipped with Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engines and Hamilton Standard 4360-3 propellers. At the time of the accident this aircraft had been operated a total of 1,245 hours, of which 550 were since the last overhaul, 87 since the last number 3 check and 26 since the last number 2 check. Engines Nos. 1, 2, and 3 had been operated 550 hours since overhaul, and engine number 4, 187 hours since overhaul. Propeller No.1 had been operated 320 hours since last overhaul No. 2, 118 hours, No. 3 and No. 4, 467 hours. This particular aircraft had an empty weight of 52, 740 lbs. had a maximum takeoff weight of 81, 240 lbs. She could accommodate 52 passengers for daytime service or 24 sleeper-type passengers for nighttime operations and usually flew with a crew of four. She stood 29’1” High, a wing span of 117”6” and a length of 100’7”. The aircraft was delivered to United Airline on March 25, 1947 with the United Airlines aircraft fleet number of 5206, and she went into service flying United’s routes on April 23, 1947.
As far as airliners go the DC-6 was a relatively new aircraft in 1948. Douglas Company billed the new DC-6 in the August 1947 Aviation Maintenance and Operations magazine as the “The Great New Douglas DC-6….The Most Flight –Tested Airliner Now Flying”. Today the DC-6 is setting new standards the world over-for speed, for comfort, for dependability. Its outstanding performance is a tribute to the people of Douglas and of the airlines who created this superb airplane. And the airlines and people who flew them enjoyed them immensely especially for the comfort and their speed.
The DC-6 had some teething problems early in its life. On October 24, 1947 United Airlines flight 608 departed Los Angles on a non stop flight to Chicago. The aircraft climbed to 19, 000 feet for its cruise. Almost two hours into the flight the crew reported a fire had been detected in the baggage hold which the crew was unable to extinguish. Shortly after reporting the fire the crew indicated it was going to try and land at the “best place available”. The flight requested an emergency clearance into Bryce Canyon, Utah airport which was granted. As the plane made its emergency decent pieces of the plane were falling off. Just a minute or two before touchdown the fire burned through the fuselage causing the tail to separate from the aircraft. And consequently the aircraft crashed into National Park Service land killing all 52 occupants. Also an American Airlines DC-6 had an in flight fire suffering no fatalities, in consequence to these two mishaps the CAB ordered the grounding of all DC-6’s serving the airlines. After the investigation was completed the probable cause was given for the United flight 608. It was determined that the aircraft crashed because of a design flaw. A flaw that a heater intake scoop was to close to one of the fuel tank air vents which allowed vented fuel to be drawn into a heater air intake scoop during the transferring of fuel for weight and balance requirements, causing the fuel to be ignited. All the DC-6 aircraft in use were withdrawn from service in November of 1947 for extensive modifications to the heater and fuel systems and also to there fire extinguishing system. The modifications for the fire extinguishing system required the Douglas Company to change the extinguishing agents to be either methyl bromide, carbon dioxide, or any other agent which has been demonstrated to provide equivalent extinguishing action. A very important note was included in this directive. If methyl bromide or any toxic extinguishing agent is employed, provisions shall be made to prevent the entrance of harmful concentrations of fluid or fluid vapors into any personnel compartments either due to leakage during normal operations of the airplane or as a result of discharging the fire extinguisher on the ground or in flight when a defect exists in the extinguisher system.
The second part of this directive will become very important to the operation of all United DC-6’s. If carbon dioxide is used it shall not be possible to discharge sufficient gas into the personnel compartments to constitute a hazard from the standpoint of suffocation of the occupants.
After four months of grounding the aircraft Douglas Aircraft Company made modifications to the aircraft at the cost of over $3,000,000, quite costly for the time. And it also caused the airlines using the DC-6 such as United and American and estimated $12,000,000 in maintenance costs. By mid March all modifications were completed on all the DC-6’s that were flying for United and shortly there after they were all back flying the line.
During the period when the DC-6’s were grounded United picked up a route being sold by Western Airlines, the lucrative New York –Chicago- Los Angeles route. United inaugurated this service on July 17, 1948.
Flight dispatch is a busy place especially for a large carrier like United Airlines. Each of the airlines dispatch centers is under the control of a chief dispatcher, usually a former line pilot who knows the operations of the airline and its aircraft inside and out. In 1948 a Flight Dispatcher was required to hold a valid Dispatcher Certificate. Before clearing a flight the dispatcher must have been on duty at the station long enough to bring himself up-to-date on operations and weather conditions.
Having cleared a flight, like that of flight 624 the dispatcher is required to remain on duty until the aircraft lands within his area or another dispatcher who has been on duty long enough to become familiar with the existing conditions for the particular flight.
Captain Roberts and his First Officer checked the weather and the proper loading for their flight to Chicago. The captain and the dispatcher were in complete agreement that the flight could proceed safely, they both sign the flight and at this time the flight plan is filed.
Outside the ground maintenance crew was busy getting the aircraft ready for its flight to Chicago, they were finishing up on their general service turnaround inspections and any minor maintenance complaints listed in the log book were repaired. The baggage handlers were putting the last of the baggage into the holds, stewardesses were finishing up any grooming of the cabin along with the fleet service personnel, getting everything in order for the long 6 hour night flight to Chicago.
About 20 minutes before engine start the passengers file out to the aircraft parked in the warm glow of ground lights, the deluxe aero ramp passenger loading stairs are pushed up against the main entrance to the aircraft behind the wing on the left rear of the fuselage. The passengers slowly file into the aircraft.
United Airlines began flying this particular route with other aircraft such as the un-pressurized DC-4 in December of 1945 and introduced the DC-6 on the route in May of 1947.
Once Captain Roberts received his clearance he taxied the aircraft to Los Angles active runway and shortly after 23:00 PST he rotated the heavy DC-6 off the runway. Climbing up through the smog and haze of Los Angles the aircraft flew a westerly heading out over the Pacific Ocean. During its climb the flight was turned to the Northeast where it will report passing radio ranges at Fontana, Dagget, Silver Lake, California, Las Vegas Nevada, St. George Utah, Bryce Canyon, then out of controlled airspace and on to Denver, Colorado and a few more ranges and into the Chicago area of control.
Airways system in 1the late 1940's
The distance from Los Angles to Chicago is slightly over 1560 miles. After settling into the cruise the crew put the aircraft on auto pilot. They made their normal reports over each reporting point. The DC-6 flew on at a ground speed of 245 mph, at this speed the aircraft is scheduled to arrive in the Chicago area around 07:15 Central Standard time.
While on the approach to Chicago the flight is given its clearance to land. Captain Roberts brings the DC-6 down the glide path and easily lands the aircraft. After contacting Ground Control the Captain taxis the aircraft to the terminal located on the east end of the Chicago Municipal Airport.
Captain Roberts and his F/O execute their after landing checklist while taxing in. The Captain calls out “Cowl Flaps” , F/O responds “Open”, “Pitot Heat”, “Off” etc. The flight is cleared to shut down its engines and the flight plan is officially closed showing an arrival time in Chicago as 07:22 CST.
While parked at the gate the Captain lets the engines idle until the cylinder head temperatures drop to a safe level. While still idling he commands “mixture idle cutoff”, “Parking brake on”, “ignition switches off”, “radio’s off” and finally “Battery transfer switch to ground”. The aircraft is then shut down.
After the engines shutdown the passengers begin deplaning. The Captain usually stands by the door of the cockpit and bids the departing passengers good by which is standard airline procedures for the time period. In the meantime the Chicago ground maintenance crew starts their turnaround service inspections and baggage crews take off the passengers bags routed to Chicago and also load all the bags and cargo destined for New York..
Captain Roberts and his crew depart the aircraft and walk to flight operations. On entering flight operations the crew will sign their flight reports for the flight concerning the date of the flight, ramp arrival time, and any complaints they may have concerning the aircraft. This information is recorded by the dispatchers and any pertinent info will be forwarded to the departing crew for the next leg of the flight.
According to testimony given to the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) investigating the accident. Captain John Roberts stated that he commanded the flight leg from Los Angles to Chicago and that this aircraft number 5206 had some minor mechanical repairs made at Los Angeles, and on the flight to Chicago there were no indications that any mechanical problems existed.
FLIGHT 624 CHICAGO MUNICIPAL AIRPORT
While United 624 was plying its way toward Chicago Captain George Warner Jr. and First Officer Richard C. Schember arrived in United operations about one hour prior to their departure time for New York. United flight regulations required all crews to arrive in dispatch at least one hour prior to departure if for some reason he was late the crew scheduler who monitored the flight crews would be required to find an alternate pilot or remove another pilot from a later flight. Both pilots and their cabin crew arrived on time at Chicago Municipal Airport. After checking in Captain Warner immediately signed in for the flight and checked his personnel mail box for any company mail, CAA procedures and updates that would affect the flight.
Chicago Municipal Airport was originally built in 1923 and was called the Chicago Air Park. By 1928 it had completed its first full year of operations. In 1932 the Airport earned the title of the worlds “Busiest Airport” and held that title until 1962. In 1948 Chicago Municipal was the main airport for airline operations arriving and departing at Chicago. The airport handled over 25% of the nations passengers during the year. United flight 624 began its fatal flight at Municipal. Today old Municipal airport is called Chicago Midway and still handles airline traffic.
The Chicago weather on June 17, 1948 was pleasant with light clouds and light winds, with a westerly breeze coming off of Lake Michigan. A typical June day in Chicago. For ease of understanding all times for the final flight will be referenced to Eastern Standard Time, as was recorded in the CAB Accident Investigation.
Captain George Warner Jr. was 35 years old. He held a valid Air Transport Pilot Rating, the top rating that was required for airline captains. Warner was a veteran pilot and on this date had logged approximately 7,310 flying hours. Captain Warner had completed a company course in the operation of the DC-6 on May 28, 1948 and had accumulated approximately 30 hours on United DC-6 airliners. Captain Warner was described by his fellow pilots and company officials as “A most able individual, quite capable of coping with any emergency situation involving the DC-6. The United medical personnel stated he was in excellent shape and had passed all his routine fitness examinations. Captain Warner was the type of pilot anyone would want to be in command of their flight.
Flying with Captain Warner was his First Officer Richard C. Schember, 26 years old and in his own a right a very experienced and excellent pilot. He also held a valid Air Transport Pilot Rating. F/O Schember had logged 3,289 flight hours. Schember completed a DC-6 course on June 12, 1947 and was given a refresher course on March 14, 1948, following modification of the aircraft after the fleet was grounded by the CAA. This training included a study of the procedures for operating the fire extinguishing system as printed in the United Airlines Operation Manual. Schember had at the time 129 hours on the DC-6, about 99 more than his Captain. Both pilots were very highly qualified aviators. At this time it was company policy to put higher time first officers with newly assigned Captains on the DC-6 to even out the balance of experience.
In 1948 each Captain flying for United Airlines was required to hold a valid Air Transport Pilot Rating and be properly rated on the aircraft he was flying on the line in this case the Douglas DC-6. Federal regulations required the Captain to be able to demonstrate to any CAA flight inspector or United company check pilot his ability to maneuver over the specific route being flown. He was required to fly both visually and on instruments.
While the Captain and First Officer were busy in flight operations the United Airlines mechanics were busy turning around the flight. They performed the normal station inspection on arrival. The ground crews installed the tail post at the rear of the aircraft helping stabilize the aircraft in case it became tail heavy and could easily tip down by the tail, a very embarrassing situation for any crew. Ground crews also installed the safety gear pins in the landing gear struts. After the props had stopped turning the crew moved in the electric battery cart to supply ground power to the aircraft and also rolled up to the right rear door the passenger loading ramp.
Supervising the turnaround of aircraft 5206 was United Airlines line mechanic Edward Ball. Mr. Ball was in charge of all the mechanics that were working on the aircraft. Ball would later testify to the fact that minor repair work made at Chicago on the DC-6 was adequate. Also Mr. Robert D Nagle, CAA Air Carrier Agent, also stated that the minor repairs made at Chicago were adequate. Back in Los Angles the log book showed that 5206 was repaired for a No. 2 engine hydraulic lock. The problem was remedied and the plane was dispatched on the non stop flight to Chicago en-route to New York’s, LaGuardia Field.
Edward Ball the line chief for this flight was required to check any pilot complaints which affect the airworthiness of the airplane, he was required to sign off work orders required for the safe operation of the flight. Other mechanics were working around the aircraft getting it ready for departure; one will check the fuel quantity with a dip stick into the fuel tank on top of the wings, also check the oil in each tank, hydraulic fluid in the main and auxiliary tanks to make certain they are adequately filled. The mechanics will also perform a thorough walk around of the aircraft checking each engine, all the flight controls such as flaps, ailerons, rudder and elevator. The landing gear is checked for any wear or for any visual problems. The wings are checked for any fuel leaks the flaps are checked for any hydraulic fluid leaking. A mechanic will check each air scoop on the big R-2800 engines.
Back in flight operations incoming Captain John Roberts filled out his maintenance report. The report is given to the dispatcher who in turn will turn it over to the out going Captain, Captain George Warner.
While in crew scheduling Captain Warner meets his cabin crew, led by Stewardess Lorena R. Berg, 28 years old from Woodstock, Ill. And Nancy L. Brown, 24 years old from Fort Myers, Florida. The two stewardesses are an essential part of the flight crew. After flying many hours in the air and knowing what rough weather can do to a flight, stewardess Berg will ask the captain if any bad weather is expected along the route. This information is needed so that the stewardesses can plan their food and drink service.
Lorena Berg and Nancy Brown were working in a time when being a stewardess required you to be a young unmarried attractive woman, who’s main job was to represent United Airlines and provide comfort and safety to the passengers. The stewardesses were well trained in their occupation. They helped a fearful passenger to be calm, they looked great, they served food and drinks while being very poised and charming, they lit cigarettes for those who smoked, but the most important aspect of their job is they knew all the safety procedures to help passengers safely prepare for any type of emergency they may encounter in flight or on the ground. They were trained specifically on the type aircraft they were to serve on, in this case the big Douglas DC-6.
There job required the women to adhere to all the rules and regulations set up by United Airlines, after all United was the first airline to higher stewardesses in 1930 and wrote the book on what was expected of the them.
After a quick briefing with his crew the Captain and First Officer begin to check the flight weather reports posted along the wall. The reports are hanging on clip boards and organized by the different sections along the routes flown. Today Captain Warner is checking all the sectors on civil airway route Green No.2. There is also row upon row of terminal and area forecasts for all the cities that United serves. Also hanging close by were the charts containing winds aloft, storm warnings and any pertinent weather information needed by the flight crews and dispatchers.
The two stewardesses Berg and Brown picked up their passenger manifest and walk to the assigned gate were the aircraft is parked. Once aboard the aircraft the stewardesses prepare for the boarding of the passengers.
As was the tradition in airline flying at the time the Captain had his First Officer prepare a detailed flight plan. The Captain has already discussed with the dispatchers any incoming problems with the aircraft. He will also be briefed by the dispatcher for any problems that might be encountered along the route.
Before the flight can be cleared the dispatcher and captain must be in complete agreement that it can proceed safely and in accordance with all company and CAA requirements. Dispatchers issue only two types of clearances: Contact Flight Rules (CFR), which authorizes operation only in accordance with CAA contact Flight rules at or above minimum CFR altitude. Also Instrument On-top (INSTOP) this type of clearance authorizes either CFR or on top operation at or above minimum CFR altitude and below minimum instrument altitude.
For flight 624 a CFR flight plan that called for the aircraft to climb to 17,000 feet on the Green Two airway. The flights heading would be on varying south easterly heading at first thence to an slightly easterly heading of 100 degrees to 109degrees from Chicago to Goshen In, Toledo, Oh, Cleveland, Oh. Youngstown, Oh., Philipsburg, Pa., Allentown, Pa., and onto LaGuardia, New York.
The Route Flown By UAL 624
In this day an age of Air traffic Control the airways flown were named Green, Red, Amber and Blue. When flying on an easterly heading the airways were listed as Green and the route was flown at odd altitudes, flying west bound the flight flew along a Red airway and the aircraft flew at even altitudes. When heading north or south the route flown was assigned the Amber or Blue airways, heading south the aircraft flew at even altitudes and heading north it was flown at odd levels. An airplane on a green airway has traffic priority over any aircraft on an amber or red airway. An aircraft flying along an amber airway has priority over an airplane on a red or blue airway. Over 320 radio range beacons or stations are located along the airways at intervals of approximately 100 to 200 miles. (see chart)
The entire flight was in the control of CAA (Civil Aeronautics Administration) Air traffic Control, who remained in constant touch with United Airlines dispatchers to check, direct, and guide all the airlines traffic. At different dispatch offices United Airlines air traffic personnel posted the location of every plane on flight progress strips. The strips included the number of the flight, the route flown, the current altitude, estimates to other checkpoints and the current air speed being flown. The strips are available for visual inspection by any of the dispatchers working that particular sector. The United Airline communications operators were in contact with all the flights, other dispatch centers, airline stations and weather bureaus locations. While working the flights the CAA government controllers received all the needed information via the airline radio operators. At this time ATC did not communicate directly with the aircraft. Through airway communications run by the airlines and airport towers all communications was relayed to the appropriate center by way of teletype and radio.
Amazingly at this time the safe flow of scheduled flights flying in the United States was done with out the aid of radar. This method was the very beginning of controlled flight in the United States, quite different than today’s highly sophisticated computer controlled air traffic control system in use. In 1948 the civil airways in use had 35,561 miles of controlled airways within the border of the United States. The movement of large numbers of aircraft in 1948 depended upon an adequate system of air traffic control The Air Traffic Control Center had complete jurisdiction over the traffic flowing along its designated area of control.
Flight 624’s flight plan called for the crew to report over compulsory reporting points at:
Lansing Intersection on a Heading of 143 deg.
Goshen Radio Range on a Heading of 090 deg.
Toledo Radio Range on a Heading of 097 deg.
Cleveland Radio Range on a Heading of 101deg.
Youngstown radio Range on a Heading of 110deg.
Phillipsburg Radio Range on a Heading of 104 deg.
Allentown Radio Range on a Heading of 110 deg.
And into the control of LaGuardia Field.
If it would have proceeded in the normal manner Flight 624 would have passed over the Allentown Radio Range and be cleared to proceed via the S.E. leg of the Allentown range and fly over Metuchen Fan Marker and thence to the Keyport Intersection. Then via the S.W. leg of the LaGuardia Radio Range and cleared to Coney Island intersection descending toward the Flatbush holding pattern. This route was the common approach into La Guardia radio range and on into the appropriate runway at LaGuardia Field during 1948.
At each of these compulsory reporting points the crew would contact the United Airlines radio operators assigned for the section they were flying in. Today’s flight takes the aircraft through jurisdiction of the Chicago Dispatch and New York Dispatch. At each point the crew reported the time of passage of the range, the altitude of the flight, the type of flight. Flight 624 was in the control of Chicago Dispatch until passing the Cleveland Radio Range and then changed over to the New York Dispatch office. All communications were relayed to the CAA ATCC. (Air Traffic Control Center).
After the flight plan was completed by the First Officer he hands it to the Captain for his final approval. The Captain checks it and then signs it. The dispatcher will file the flight plan with all appropriate agencies who had control of the flight. The crew is then given all the pertinent clearance forms such as the weight and balance sheets a copy of the CAA flight plan and all the appropriate weather reports. They get the aircraft number of the assigned ship, today’s flight is assigned to DC-6 Mainliner “Utah”, United fleet number 5206.
The load for Flight 624 is handed to the Captain who checks over all the figures making sure everything is in proper order. The load looks like this:
39 passengers @ 170 lbs………………… 6,630 lbs.
4 crew @ 170 lbs. ………………………… 680 lbs.
Cargo @...................................................... 2,568 lbs.
Fuel @ 1800 gal @ 6 lbs per gallon …… 10,800 lbs.
Total Load ……………………………… 20,678 lbs.
Ship 5206 weighed empty @…………… 52,740 lbs
Total Ramp Weight @Take off weight… 73,078 lbs.
With the load sheet in hand the Captain notes that the aircraft is 8,162 pounds below its maximum takeoff weight of 81,240 pounds. Well within the required specifications for a safe take off.
Walking out to the aircraft the Captain and F/O check the activity going on around the aircraft. Captain Warner climbs the flight stairs placed at the left rear of the aircraft. At the top he greets the stewardess at the door and enters the cabin. He walks forward inspecting the cleanliness of the cabin, past the empty seats checking them for any defect and looks to see if their seat belts are neatly crossed an accessible to the passengers, white cotton head rest cloths on each of the seats are checked for their cleanliness. Opening the cockpit door the captain enters the cramped confines of the flight deck.
On the right front side directly behind the cockpit the service door is still open and fleet service personnel are loading the last of the beverages and snacks needed for the flight. Removing his coat and hat he hangs them on the hook to the right rear of the cockpit. Company policy allows the flight crew to remove their dress coats and hats while flying. Moving along the narrow space between the center console and his seat he sits down in the left hand seat and prepares all his charts and forms. Captain Warner places his large black flight bag on the floor of the cockpit beside his seat within easy reach to access all his required manuals and charts. In his flight bag are flight data charts especially prepared for them by the airline to aid in instrument flying and measuring distances, courses and bearings, company operations manuals, flashlight and a circular flight computer. At this time he removes from his bag all the appropriate charts needed for the navigation of the flight.
Out side on the ramp F/O Schember is performing his walk around inspection, checking the aircraft from tail to nose wing tip to wing tip looking for any visible problems. He especially inspects each of the four R-2800 engines for any signs of leaks or problems. After completing his pre flight he climbs the stairs and enters the flight deck taking his seat on the right side of the console. Immediately upon settling in the crew, locate the airplanes log and read all the information in the special equipment list. They make certain they are familiar with all special equipment.
The Captain reads the pilots maintenance form, written by previous crews who flew the aircraft. This contains a complete record of the plane’s operations for the last few days. If the captain desires to check further, he will find in an envelope in the back of the log book which includes the daily records of all operations covering the past thirty days. On the back of these is recorded all the work that has been performed by maintenance crews. The Captain studies the book and reads about the work done at Los Angele’s and in Chicago and is satisfied that all problems were corrected.
When the Captain is satisfied that ship 5206 is airworthy, he then proceeds with the standard cockpit check. This is to insure that instrument readings are proper and as desired and that every control, switch, knob or button is accurately set. The First Officer reads the airplane’s check list aloud. (See Appendix for all Checklists) As he calls off each item the Captain describes the position or condition of each switch and knob setting. This same procedure is followed in executing all the required cockpit check lists from before take off to after landing.
After all standard checklists are completed the Captain calls for the before starting engines checklist. The checklist will embrace the instruments and controls located on the flight compartment, main panel switches, forward section CO2 panel, heater control panel upper instrument panel, cabin super charger panel etc. After completing these checks the Captain next tests the aircrafts radio receivers and transmitters by communicating with the Chicago Control Tower. The DC-6 was equipped with both HF and VHF radios.
Inside the main cabin the gate agent who is still onboard bids the stewardesses goodbye, leaves the aircraft and closes the main door. All ramps and equipment are removed form the area of the aircraft and away from the engines. The gate agent walks toward the left front of the aircraft and waits for Captain Warner’s signal that he is going to start the engines.
When the legality of the flight and its departure have been confirmed and cleared by the CAA tower operator, the Captain is ready to start the engines. Looking out his left side window the Captain looks for the fire guard holding the large ground fire extinguisher and makes sure he is in place and that the propeller is clear. He checks with the F/O to make sure that the fire guard posted on his side is in position. While setting up all switches the Captain waits for the ground agents signal that the area is clear and it is safe to start.
Common to all large four engine transports the Captain starts the engines in the following sequence. First number 3 which is the inside engine on the right wing; number 4 the outside engine on the right wing; number 2 the inside engine on the left wing; and last number 1 the outside engine on the left wing. Engine number 3 is started first because it provides the primary source of power for the airplanes hydraulic system.
Although he is responsible for starting all the engines the Captain observes and checks visually only the engines located on the left side of the aircraft. The First Officer observes and checks all the engines on the right side of the aircraft. This is so that each crew member will have a complete view of conditions outside the cockpit and be sure that all safety precautions have been complied with. In starting the engines the Captain and First Officer execute the Starting engines cockpit check list. (See Appendix)
For clarity the author has utilized the first person in the different inter cockpit and ATC conversations, to add personality to the story. There is no way of knowing what Captain Warner said to F/O Schember because there were no cockpit voice recorders installed at this time period but operations within an aircraft follow strict guide lines of professional procedures and the procedures utilized in this story are accurate and authentic to the tie period.
Around 10:25 EST twenty minutes before departure the First Officer checked the conditions on the ramp seeing everything was ready for a safe start, he acknowledges the proper signal from the ground agent. Turning to his left he informs the captain that engine number 3 is clear. The Captain reaches above his head to the main overhead panel and turns over the engine by operating the “start” and “safety” switches and the “boost” switches simultaneously. After the engine begins turning over he primes it as required. As the prop rotates a few times and fires he moves the mixture control for number three to “auto rich” the mixture control levers are located on the lower left side of the center control pedestal.
After starting the number 3 engine the Captain checks the hydraulic system pressure to see that it is registering between 2600 and 3050 pounds per square inch. Going through the same sequence for the remaining three engines the Captain idles them at 1000 rpm until the temperatures for oil and cabin superchargers (engines number 1 and 4) reach 40 degrees centigrade.
As can be seen the method of starting a reciprocating engine aircraft of this type required thorough crew coordination. At the time of this flight United Airlines operated all their DC-6 flights with just two pilots. 37 days after this accident on July 25, 1948 United Airlines announced that a third crew member will be put on all DC-6 aircraft operated by the company. The press wondered whether this was an outgrowth of the crash of flight 624 and its move toward improved greater safety. The addition of the third crew member being called a flight engineer would help immensely in times of an emergency. On December 1, 1948 the CAB ordered all airlines flying heavy four engined aircraft to have a flight engineer on onboard. No matter how it was viewed adding the flight engineer to the air crew was a move toward better safety in the air. One can only wonder if the addition of this third crew member would have made a significant impact on the this particular tragedy.
With all the engines running and everything checked out the flight is ready to depart from ramp. First, however the Captain and F/O must execute their prior to taxi checklist. Having completed this part of the operation the Captain looks to the ground crewman for the signal that they are clear of all obstacles. The First Officer looks out his side window checking to make sure that the tail post and the locks have all been removed. First Officer Schember checks the door warning light and makes sure it is extinguished. He picks up his microphone and calls the tower to obtain the clearance to taxi… The conversation although unknown because of no voice recorders would sound similar to this “Chicago tower, United 624 ready to taxi.” The tower replies, “United 624 taxi to runway one three”. After the clearance F/O Schember would turn to the Captain and say “Take it away.” Captain Warner then releases the brakes and taxis the aircraft to the engine run up position off the end of the active runway.
After reaching the run-up area the Captain turns the aircraft into the wind and runs the engines up to 1500 rpm and individually checks each engine. (see checklist) Inside the cabin the stewardess are getting everything ready for the departure. Most of the seasoned passengers would be familiar with the run up procedure and pay very little attention to it, but for the new passenger it was quite interesting, the engines running at high rpm the aircraft vibrating and then the pull back where the engines return to idle.
Captain Warner contacts the Chicago Tower and requests. “Chicago United 624, request takeoff clearance.” Since the pre flight meteorological study for this flight had indicated that it could be made under CFR it is not necessary for the Captain to ask for an ATC clearance. The Chicago tower replies” United 624, take position”. The Captain taxis the aircraft onto the end of the active runway. The crew run through the before takeoff checklist. At this time the First Officer and the Captain disconnect the gust lock; up to this time all the flight controls have been locked to prevent any damage to the controls. Captain Warner now checks all the flight controls for freedom of movement and limit of travel etc. Looking out their windows passengers will see the ailerons move up and down and they can hear the flap motors move they drive the flaps out on the back of the wing. The tower watching the big DC-6 taxi into positions radios the crew, “United 624 cleared for take off.” “Captain Warner repeats, “624 cleared for take off.”
FLIGHT 624 THE FINAL FLIGHT
10:41EST Chicago Municipal Airport Runway
Moving on to the active runway and aligning the nose with the runway centerline Captain Warner applies the brakes which make a loud squealing noise easily heard in the cabin. Looking down the center line of the runway and making sure it is clear the crew scan all the pertinent engine instruments located in the center portion of the forward instrument panel. Making sure everything is in proper working condition the Captain places his right hand on the four big throttle levers and slowly advances them, carefully watching all the engine instruments, at this point he releases the brakes and the aircraft slowly starts to move. Once moving the big the captain makes a slight directional correction re centering the aircraft. The First Officer grasps the control yoke and pushes it fully forward giving the aircraft a good firm track down the runway. Once the aircraft starts picking up speed the Captain pushes the four throttles forward to their maximum takeoff setting. He is guiding the aircraft by way of the nose wheel steering wheel located on the left side of the cockpit. The captain lets the airspeed build up until sufficient airspeed is gained at which point he will be able to easily control the lateral movement of the aircraft with the rudder pedals. The engines develop their full 2100 rated horsepower, with manifold pressure gauges reading 53.5 inches of mercury and the tachometers indicating 2800 rpm.
Guiding the aircraft down the center line of the runway the Captain concentrates on the ever increasing speed of the aircraft. The First Officer closely scans all the instrument readings watching for and reporting any irregularities to the captain. As the manifold pressure on all four engines reaches their take off limits F/O Schember reaches over to the center console and guards the throttles to prevent them from exceeding the maximum pressure for take off. After everything is stabilized he applies tension to the throttle friction locking control to prevent any slipping or creeping of the throttle levers.
10:44 EST Chicago Municipal Airport Illinois rotation off the runway
As the aircraft reaches its takeoff speed of V1 the Captain will allow the speed to build up until V2 speed is reached. At V2 the Captain gradually pulls back on the control yoke and the wonders of aerodynamics take over and the big airliner gently lifts off the runway and is flying.
When the big DC-6 is airborne and it is definitely established that it will not settle back on the runway, the Captain applies the brakes to stop the rotation of the main landing gear wheels. He then signals for the First Officer to retract the landing gear by extending his hand palm upward and making an upward motion. At the same time he calls out “gear up”. After the gear is up and indicates they are locked in place the Captain reduces power to 150 BMEP (Brake Mean Effective Pressure) 2500 rpm. With the airspeed at least 135 MPH and about 500 feet above ground, the Captain calls for the wing flaps to be retracted.
As the aircraft climbs out of Chicago the Captain lowers the nose slightly to pick up some airspeed. Watching the rate of climb indicator the aircraft climbs at about 800 fpm, (Feet Per Minute) At this time he sets the throttles to hold the 158 BMEP and maintains about 2300 rpm throughout the climb. When this setting can no longer be maintained with full throttles and the blowers set to low, the Captain will reduce the manifold pressure 5 inches and shifts the blowers to high. This creates more air to be forced into the engines to compensate for higher altitudes.
The Captain and First Officer watch all the engine and flight instruments closely throughout the climb. Particular attention is paid to the cabin pressurizing instruments. As the aircraft is established safely in the climb and passing through 1500 feet Captain Warner orders the “Seat belt” and “No Smoking “signs switched off.
Back in the cabin the passengers begin to relax by taking off their seat belts and lighting up cigarettes if they smoked. As the aircraft turns on a southeast heading toward the Lansing intersection passengers seated on the left side of the aircraft have a magnificent view of Lake Michigan. The two stewardess unbuckle their seat belts and begin their in flight service and help make the passengers comfortable for the next couple of hours until they begin their descent into New York.
During the climb the captain and first officer’s normal procedure is to run through the climb procedure check list. Once the aircraft is clear of the Chicago Airport control zone which in 1948 measured out to a radius of three miles, they will begin the controlled airspace aspect of their flight. When the flight leaves the airport control zone the Chicago tower will radio the Captain his actual time of departure which was recorded as 09:44 CST.(10:44 EST) at this time the flight is authorized to change their radio control frequencies to United Airlines Chicago communication channel. After acknowledging the time off the Captain contacts United Airlines dispatch and reports his time off as “Chicago dispatch 624 here, off Chicago at 09:44 CST.” (10:44 EST). He then logs the times into the flight log.
10:56 EST Over Lansing Illinois Intersection.
As United 624 heads in a southeasterly heading of 143 degrees toward the Lansing intersection which lies 21 miles away the aircraft has built its speed up to about 160 mph the best climb speed for the aircrafts present weight. During the climb the crew maintains a visual watch for any aircraft in their area. The big DC-6 is now climbing at about 850 to 1000 fpm and will reach its cruising altitude of 17,000 feet in about 20 minutes. After passing Lansing the captain turns the aircraft onto a heading of around 094 degrees on a heading toward the next check point at Goshen radio range.
11:06 EST RCA (Reaches Cruising Altitude) 17,000 feet 54 miles from Chicago
54 miles out from Chicago Municipal Airport the aircraft levels off slightly above the required 17,000 feet. At this time Captain Warner lets the aircraft slowly settle back down to 17,000 feet the assigned flight level filed for on the flight plan.
The Captain and First Officer perform their cruise procedure check list. With the proper horsepower settings set the Captain positions the hydraulic system control to “off”. This relives the pressure load on the pumps and hydraulic system. If fuel is carried in the alternate tanks, he switches them as soon as practicable . It will be remembered that back in October of 1947, all the DC-6’s in the country were grounded because of the accident that took the lives of 52 people on United flight 608. Caused by the explosion of excess fuel in a heater, while transferring from the alternate tanks. Now thoroughly modified and repaired the procedure was safe. Both the Captain and First Officer were well aware of this incident and had been thoroughly trained in the proper procedures. Continuing on the crew reset their pressure altimeter to the elevation of the field at the destination (La Guardia) this is only a temporary setting as they approach New York the actual field pressure will be given to the aircraft and set.
While enroute, the Captain will report any major defects the aircraft may encounter that would delay in redispatching the aircraft from its next scheduled landing. Such defects will be immediately rectified by the ground crew in New York upon arrival there.
11:17 EST Over Goshen Illinois Radio Range 17,000 feet
Cruising along at close to 300 mph the flight reports over the Goshen Radio Range, the Captain logs in his flight report the time of passage, the current altitude and the type of flight (CFR). Captain Warner turns the aircraft slightly to the right on a new heading of 097 degrees for Toledo range following the Green 2 airway. After logging everything either the Captain or First Officer call United Chicago Dispatch and report. “Chicago 624 here, Goshen at :17, and 17,000 CFR”. Chicago will read back and acknowledge the report to the flight.
11:29 EST Over Toledo Ohio Radio Range 17,000 feet
Over Toledo the flight is cruising in smooth air, cruising along in pressurized cabin air at over 300 mph a comfort that was just coming into this new age of airline flying. Still following Airway Green 2 the captain turns further to the right onto a heading of 101 degrees. The passengers are now settled into the flight either reading or enjoying the view out of the windows. Stewardesses Brown and Berg are catering to their passengers, giving a drink, a magazine or just chatting with the passengers. The aircraft has been in the air for over 45 minutes as it passes over Toledo. In the cockpit the Captain opens his log book and writes in all the pertinent information gained while passing over Toledo radio range. He calls United Dispatch in Chicago and reports his time of passage, altitude and type of flight. It would sound similar to this: “Chicago, 624 here Toledo at 29, 17000 everything ok.” Chicago replies “Ok 624 got your P.O.R.(position over report), have two altimeter settings for you. 29.92 inches and 29.90 inches” The two altimeter settings given to the aircraft are one for over the ground elevation and the other is set above sea level, the difference between these two settings represents the known altitude of the airport.
11:46 EST Over Cleveland Ohio Radio Range 17,000 feet
The Captain logs his information once again into the log book. The aircraft is flying on auto-pilot in smooth and clear air. Captain Warner adjusts the heading knob to maintain the heading of 101 degrees which takes the aircraft toward the Youngstown range 102 miles away.. In order to indicate the conformity of the flight the Captain maintains a chronological written record of the flights progress. In his log he enters the weather encountered, the flights estimated and actual time to the nearest minute over all check points, direction flown. If the estimated time is missed by more than three minutes reasons must be given. Enroute fuel checks are made at least once between each refueling station. At this time the flight log listed all the pertinent information that would be needed in case of an accident or any mishap to the flight that could be used in the investigation. In modern times the aircraft information would have been recorded on electronic voice recorders and on a flight data recorder.
11:55 EST Cruising between Cleveland, Ohio Radio Range and Youngstown Ohio Radio Range 17,000
At this time captain Warner is informed by Chicago that the flight is required to change their radio frequency to United Dispatch at LaGuardia Field, New York. The Captain radio’s La Guardia and states, “ La Guardia 624 changing over, proceeding on course and the aircraft is okay for a return”. Eight thousand feet below and flying behind Flight 624 was United Flight 132 a twin engine Douglas DC-3, flying at 9,000 feet on the same airway as 624. In command of 132 was Captain Earl E. Bach en route from Chicago to Philadelphia with a mid range stop at Allentown-Bethlehem Airport. Captain Bach listening on the same frequency heard and monitored all the radio messages from Captain Warner.
11:58 EST 17,000 feet above Youngstown, Ohio Radio Range
As is the standard procedure the Captain reports the passage of Youngstown Radio Range. Captain Warner reports no problems with aircraft. At 17,000 feet and on a 101 degree heading cruising at a groundspeed of 340 mph or 296 knots on Green Airway 2.
12:23 EST 17,000 feet over Philipsburg ,Pa. Radio Range.
Another routine P.O.R. report is made as flight 624 passed over Phillipsburg, Pennsylvania. In his mind the captain is continually staying ahead of the flight preparing for the up coming decent into the New York area. Changing his heading to 104 degrees at this time the Captain will radio United dispatch at New York and ask for his clearance. “New York dispatch, 624 request clearance as far as Allentown”
Dispatch replies “standby 624”.
12:27 EST 17,000 feet 18miles east of Philipsburg , Pa. Radio Range
The New York dispatchers relay the information to the CAA controllers handling the flight with the captains request. Checking all the flight progress strips for their area the CAA controllers work out their flow of traffic and at this time give the New York dispatchers the clearance to be radioed to the flight. LaGuardia dispatch radios flight 624. “ 624 you are cleared to descend en route to an altitude between 13,000 and 11,000 feet.” The Captain radioed, “624 descend en route to 13,000 and 11,000.”
This is the last routine communication heard from flight 624. The crew begin their descent. The Captain disconnects the auto pilot and has reduced the throttles slightly, pushing the control yoke slightly forward the nose begins to drop and the aircraft begins its descent. The recommended cabin pressurization equalization for descent in the DC-6 is about 300 fpm ,at this rate the passengers will not feel any uncomfortable pressure changes. The aircraft is actually descending at about 1000 fpm and is maintaining an airspeed of slightly below cruise speed.
12:31 EST about 38 miles east of Philipsburg, Pa. leaving 17,000 feet and descending to 13,000 feet on Green 2 Airway.
Suddenly the radio operator at LaGuardia Field Mr. Clifford C. Standford heard a loud excited and somewhat static filled garbled voice that sounded like it was saying “NEW YORK . ..624. ..HELLO ”, and followed with a garbled word that sounded like “FIRE”, then came an excited voice saying, “We released fire extinguishers in the forward cargo pit”. The last part of the message stated, “ 624 …this is an emergency descent”, “forward cargo pit emergency.” At this time the La Guardia radio operator said ,”try again.” The answer came again “624 forward cargo pit……EMERGENCY DESENT!” Flying below and behind flight 624 Captain Earl E. Bach in command of flight 132 also hears a frantic call yelling “New York, New York (a few words missing) this is an emergency descent.” I could tell by the tone of the Captains voice they were in bad trouble, Captain Bach related.
It was related in one of the stories printed by the press that Captain Warner’s wife back in Westmont Illinois, usually tuned in on the shortwave radio and the radio frequency used by the flight he was flying and used to listened to the communications and had heard her husbands frantic emergency call.
12:32-12:41 EST NW of Sunbury Airport, Pa. Flying in a Southeasterly heading.
While flying on Green Airway no. 2 on a heading of 104 degrees somewhere between 35 and 40 miles east of Philipsburg Radio Range the red indicator light on the forward instrument panel turned on. The Captain and First Officer immediately react to this warning. It is indicating that there is a fire in the forward cargo pit (the forward under floor baggage compartment). Located within the forward cargo hold is a smoke detector and six fire detectors, anyone of these devices when activated could turn on the fire indicator light mounted on the glare shield in front of the captain. This warning indicated the possibility of a fire under the floor, a very serious situation. It must be noted for a six month period from January to June 1948, 22 false warnings of fire detectors in fuselage compartments, and 285 false warnings of smoke detectors in fuselage compartments were reported on various air carrier airplanes. Including United Airlines.
The Captain and First Officer were well aware of the large number of false warnings being reported by different airlines flying the DC-6. This information was gained while both pilots went through their training in fire extinguishing systems as printed in their United Airlines operations manual. Many of these false warnings caused numerous unscheduled landings at unscheduled stops. The CAA on April 28, 1948 authorized operators to disconnect the smoke detector units where their records showed that false alarms
were being caused by the detector units and not because of faulty maintenance or wrong installation. On June 30, 1948 the directive went further and authorized the carriers to disconnect all smoke detectors without showing the necessity. Captain Warner was aware through company policy that United had experienced 44 false smoke detector warnings from January 1, 1948 through the first week of May, 1948. But United Airlines elected not to disconnect the units.
The Captain could not take this emergency indication lightly and assume it was a false indication, he had no option but to follow standard procedures for an in flight fire in the cargo area, pull the T handle and release C02 into the affected area, and immediately place the aircraft into a descent to lower altitude where they could de pressurize the aircraft.
Reacting immediately to the emergency the crew followed the emergency procedure written in the flight manual for a fire in the lower forward cargo pit. The Captain calls out, “Superchargers-Declutch”, reaching down and to the right side of his seat the First Officer declutches the superchargers . The Captain then commands, “Rotate the emergency pressure control fully open.”( It was written in the manual that failure to open this valve may result in excessive amounts of CO-2 to collect in the cockpit and the cabin.) This was never accomplished, a fatal error.
The Captain reaches forward and pulls the T handle fully out. It is located on the left side of the rim of the forward instrument panel .It is the CO2 fire extinguisher control for the forward lower pit. Upon this action CO2 is released into the cargo pit. Discharging one CO2 selector. The Captain immediately puts the aircraft into an emergency descent he closes the throttles and sets 2400 rpm on the gage and drops at 4,000 fpm heading for a safe altitude below the pressurization zone.
There are two different types of emergency decent procedures for this type of problem. It was recommended that the gear -up-flaps up method of descent be used because there is no deceleration period required, and if the CO2 is discharged to any fuselage compartment the hazard to the passenger and crew is reduced with the nose higher attitude of the aircraft.
If by some chance the fire warning stays on and it is needed to release another bottle of CO2 , the captain can re-pull the compartment selector handle and discharge another bottle of CO2.
This was the normal procedure which was set forth in all the DC-6 CAA approved operating manuals of the time to include the United Airlines operating manual for the DC-6.
The Captain has the aircraft descending at a 4,000 fpm rate, the whole time watching and hoping that the fire warning light in the T handle will extinguish indicating that the fire is out in the forward pit.
Everything is happening in rapid motion now. Either the Captain or First Officer grabs his radio microphone and tries to contact New York once again.
What was happening in the cockpit of the ill fated DC-6 will never be known. But from the investigation and the tests performed it can be assumed that at some point east of Phillipsburg Radio Range the pilots released the CO2 gas into the forward cargo pit.
As the CO2 seeps into the cockpit both pilots begin to feel light headed. At this point the aircraft is continuing its rapid descent. At the present rate of CO2 accumulating it is no more than 3 or 4 minutes before the crew is fading in and out of consciousness. Back in the cabin the stewardesses have got everybody seated and prepped for the emergency. Whether CO2 was in the passenger cabin is unknown but if it had also accumulated as investigative reports had shown it is possible the passengers were also affected and mercifully became unconscious knowing nothing of what was happening.
At some point both pilots were completely incapacitated and the aircraft was flying on its own. This would account for the continuation into an area were an emergency landing could not be made. Slumped unconscious over the controls the crew has no means of controlling the rapid descent of the aircraft. As the aircraft is not flying on auto pilot and the engines are set in high power the only thing keeping the aircraft up is the lift generated by the power of the four big R-2800 engines props flowing air over the wing.
The aircraft begins to move off course on the airway moving more to the northeast and then back again to the course of 104 degrees. It is now descending at over 2000 fpm flying at 260 to 250 knots. The aircraft over flies the Sunbury airport at an altitude of 4,000 feet well below its assigned level of 13,000 feet. Being 9,000 feet below the assigned level it is very apparent by this time that the aircraft is completely out of control. The aircraft flies on for another 11 miles to a point due north of Shamokin, Pa. where it descends another 3,500 feet and is now flying over the ground between a 1000 feet and 500 feet. Slowly the aircraft starts to make a shallow turn to the left onto a heading of 090 degrees, the wings are banking left then right, the nose dropping or rising. The aircraft is flying in a valley just slightly south of Big Mountain and a small hill to the south. The aircraft maintains this altitude and heading passing north of Mt. Carmel, descending close to some of the homes in the little village of Wilburton when all of a sudden the aircraft banks sharply to the right the engines roar and the aircraft tries to climb.
In the last few seconds of the flight it is possible that one or both of the crew regained consciousness. This we will never know, but it would seem that something did happen and one of the crew regained semi consciousness and by instinct he grabbed the control yoke. As he looked out the cockpit windows there looming in front of him was a large dark looking building, a coal breaker sitting slightly to their left less than 60 feet below the aircraft. Ramming the throttles full forward and pulling back on the yoke and turning hard to the right the aircraft banked at about 30-35 degrees and tried to climb over the breaker on the hill side. The angle of the bank and rate of the climbing turn increased as the turn continued, soon the aircraft had reached a point were it was going to miss the breaker but it was to late, fate or destiny was in control and the right wing tip skimming close to the ground struck the 66,000 volt high tension wires of the transformer supplying power to the Mid Valley Colliery and pulled the wing tip to the further down striking the ground. The aircraft careened up the side of the hill in a fiery ball of flame. Within a millionth of second the lives of 43 people were snuffed out.
Photo of the Transformer and the hill near Mid Valley Collery
THE NEWSPAPERS & EYEWITNESSES
In the CAB Accident Investigation Report it was recorded that United Airlines flight 624 was first observed by ground witnesses 31 miles northwest of the actual crash site heading in a southeasterly heading, flying toward the city of Shamokin, Pa. (See aeronautical map).The big DC-6 flew over the airport at Sunbury, Pa. at approximately 4,000 feet agl (above ground level). Still heading in a southeasterly heading. This heading was not far off the aircrafts actual flight path as Sunbury Radio Range was slightly to the left of the airway with the aircraft flying on a heading of 110 deg. Once the Sunbury radio range has been passed by. the aircraft was slowly drifting to the right, but the rate of descent was extreme. Flight 624 should have been at a minimum altitude of 11,000 feet not 4,000 feet when passing Sunbury. This would indicate that the aircraft was out of control and descending at a rapid rate. As the flight was approaching Shamokin, Pa. and when immediately north of the city the aircraft was seen making a shallow left turn. The big DC-6 was now heading more toward the east on a rough heading of about 090 degrees and flying at only 500 to 1000 feet agl. And over 230 mph.
Passing Shamokin which was off to the right the aircraft was in a serious situation, it was flying toward increasing rising terrain while descending at a fast rate it was well below the minimum altitude to maintain for a safe flight. Passing to the North of Mt. Carmel, Pa. The flight was now only 200 feet above ground, and still descending when looming in front of the aircraft was a large coal breaker, very quickly the aircraft made a right climbing turn, this turn was ever increasing to the right until it struck the transformer and its high voltage wires and then the ground at an elevation of 1,649 feet.
From the time United 624 made its appearance over Sunbury airport eyewitnesses on the ground knew there was something seriously wrong with this aircraft as its appearance seemed out of the norm.
There is a variety of post accident information that may be used by the investigators to put the accident into a proper perspective such as the radio communications from the aircraft, information from the pilots although in this disaster there was nothing gained because the pilots died in the accident. The only interaction associated with the flight crew was garbled radio calls. Another investigative design to help the investigators is what eyewitness can provide as to what they saw, actual times, weather conditions etc. But most accounts must be looked at very closely. According to the book Pilot Error by Ronald and Leslie Hurst who have studied aviation accidents and their causes much can be gained by the scientific study of different aspects of the investigation into the causes of aircraft accidents. In chapter one of the book an essay by Martin Allnutt entitled the Human Factors, Basic Principles It is shown that eye-witness accounts may provide little information because many of the eye-witness reports are based on a memory based observation. It is shown that by everyday experiences memories are distorted in the direction of simplicity and coherence. The meaning of this is if a witnesses repeats the story many times over from one witness to another it becomes progressively simplified until only the bare facts remain. And after a time the final account bears little resemblance to the original message.
What happens is the eye witness may have talked many times about what they have witnessed, they have read the graphic descriptions of the accident in the newspapers, and they usually try to sound intelligent and knowledgeable and helpful but sometimes the information gained is useless.
It is up to the experienced investigator to take what he can from each eye-witness and piece together the information into a valid block of data. An experienced investigator will know that human behavior can and will make mistakes.
In this chapter the eye-witness reports are shown as they were recorded in the Newspapers, and during the questioning at the CAB hearings held in Ashland, Pa. and New York, New York.
The weather recorded on the day of the accident in the local area had the sun shinning through partly cloudy skies. The ceiling was 5,500 feet and the visibility was 8 miles. The day started out with cool morning temperature in the mid 50’s and by noon the temperatures had reached 68 degrees.
FEAR 41 DEAD IN CRASH BIG PLANE NEAR ARISTES Is how the headline read in the Pottsville Evening Edition of the Republican for June 17, 1948.
The state police arrived on the scene shortly after the accident. The State Police stated “two bodies can be scene but we can’t get close enough to determine how many were aboard.” Another reporter from the Mt. Carmel Item Ira F. Roadarmel stated that “bodies were strewn all over the place.”, “We can see the smoke from the top of the building.”
One of the problems encountered in the response to the accident was the fact that it was reported that Fire Companies from Ashland did respond to the fire and accident but they were handicapped because many of them were at the Firemen’s Convention being held in Sunbury.
The reporters stated they could see Chicago newspapers strewn all over the place, the carnage was well documented in the paper by stating they could see heads of women, fur neckplaces, parts of bodies and fingers scattered for about a half mile in all directions and bodies that were burned and mangled.
One of the first of many reports that will be repeated over next couple of days was, Workmen at the colliery who saw the plane stated that the left motor was on fire before the crash.
Most witnesses at the crash site stated that the aircraft exploded with a terrific crash, when it hit the 66,000 volt transformer on the hill. They all stated the plane came in at a very sharp bank. All this information will be taken down by the investigators and used in the final analyses. It can be seen that many of the reports were valid.
While the reporters and the rescue men from the colliery were probing through the wreckage a radio script was found from the TV star Gary Moore’s show, “Take it or Leave it”, most wondered whether Gary Moore was on the aircraft.
The aircrafts log book was found near the scene of the crash in a thick wooded area. It was first found out from this logbook that the Captain was George Warner of Chicago, and one of the stewardesses was also listed as Lorena Berg.
The CAA was advised that there were no survivors. And immediately they dispatched there team of investigators to the area.
Also listed in the evening edition was a note from United Airlines stating that UAL headquarters in New York said the plane apparently was Flight 624, bound from San Diego to New York with 37 passengers and four crewmen.
HORROR OF PLANE CRASH
Big Ship, Bodies Within Blown Into Million Pieces in Blast.
So read the headlines of the Pottsville Republican for June 18, 1948. It was reported in this issue that investigators were scratching through the wreckage on the coal blackened hillside, were the only remains of the huge airliner were charred pieces of aircraft scattered all over the hillside. It was reported that United Airlines still had not the slightest inkling of what happened as to the cause of the crash.
It was now being reported that Earl Carroll the famed Hollywood-Broadway theatrical producer and one of his actresses Miss Beryl Wallace star of Carroll’s theater restaurant show and also Mr. Henry L. Jackson, men’s fashion editor of Collier’s magazine were among the victims of the crash. And also Mrs. Jack Oakie, divorced wife of the motion picture actor, Jack Oakie.
Some of the people interviewed by the paper said the giant aircraft was,” apparently trying to pancake onto a hill of coal dust and water, the witnesses also stated that it looked like he was trying to fly between two hills and was only 30 feet above ground.”
Miners who were working at the Midvalley colliery helped at the accident scene to comb the area for body fragments, many were still in a stunned state and when interviewed and they all said , “ the nose of the plane veered upwards too late, it then hit and shattered against a 60,000 volt power line and exploded, baggage and plane parts were strewn everywhere, it was a living hell.”
Witness Harry Stibitz stated, “The whole scene was like a living hell,” he continued, “Flames and smoke flew about 90 feet in the air.”
The aircraft plowed up the side of the hill burning and charring an area the size of three city blocks. George Bolich, 47 of Wilburton, who was operating a mine locomotive at the colliery when the plane came in stated,” That was just about the worse thing I ever saw.” He continues, “I sure was afraid when he flew over my head, after he hit it was so quiet except for the licking flames.”
Fred Womer an auto mechanic in Kulpmont said he watched the aircraft for a few minutes before the crash and the “Left motor was smoking. It was obviously in distress.”
Mr. Womer and many of the witnesses who watched the DC-6 fly over at a very low altitude all had vivid memories of the left engine smoking and their natural thought was the aircraft was in serious trouble.
The paper also listed a manifest of the passengers who were on board of the crashed airliner, this manifest was released by United Airlines offices n Chicago, Illinois.
One of best pieces of reporting about the accident was written by Pottsville Republican reporter Ken Brennan, in the same issue Brennan wrote:
This is not pleasant reading. It is a story indelibly impressed in our minds for a lifetime, of devastation and death, written while the stench of burning flesh still lingers hauntingly in our nostrils. It is a story of unbelievable destruction, of wreckage littered as far as the eye could see, of charred and battered and disintegrated corpses. It is a story that you-like-us will want to forget, rather than remember.
We arrived on this gruesome scene within an hour after the ill fated crash, Willard Schraedly, Harry Hoffman III, and myself. For young Harry, fresh out of Pottsville High School with a hankering to learn the newspaper game, it was a bloody baptism into the Fourth estate.
None could Survive:
In one sweeping glance of the smoking g hillside we knew to a man that none of the 43 aboard lived to recount the horror and terror of what happened. No human being could survive such a holocaust of hell.
Standing at the battered steel frame of the transformer where the giant plane and its human cargo met their tragic end in one terrific explosive blast, we surveyed the quarter mile wreckage area, that extended up the 100 foot mountain. No World War II battlefield was more desolate.
Eyewitnesses to the horrible crash, their faces still bleached and terror stricken from the experience, recounted in grim detail the pilot’s apparently futile attempt to “pancake” the stricken ship to an emergency landing on the wide, flat sluice bank only several hundred yards across the road from the point of crash.
SAW PLANE APPROACH:
Harry Stibitz, a loader of the Mid-valley Colliery No. 2 and Harry Kreisler, a fellow workman, of Aristes, were standing at an adjoining building, a mere 50 yards from the transformer, when the plane a giant DC-6 trans-continental Mainliner of United Airlines appeared from the west.
”The extreme left motor of the plane was smoking,” Stibitz related, “And we suspect he was in trouble. He came in low over the sluice bank, about 50 feet in the air, but apparently had too much speed to land. When we sensed a possible crash, we turned and ran as fast as our legs would carry us.”
The pilot, according to individual accounts from other witnesses pieced together, attempted a sharp left bank and as he turned, the right wing clipped a giant tree. Seconds later the plane brushed the 66,000 volt line and transformer.
“We looked back as we ran,” Stibitz recounted, “And there was a terrifying explosion. It appeared as though an atom ray had penetrated the ship and blasted it to bits. Flames thousands of pieces of the plane-and passengers, too-hurtled into the air as high as 90 to 100 feet. The pieces, many of them afire, scattered over the entire hillside, like a shower of confetti.”
The plane was in trouble over Kulpmont, Fred Womer, mechanic for the Ashland bus company, told us. Womer, who holds a pilots license himself, said he saw the motor smoking and sensed there was trouble ahead.
Harry Carey, of Lost Creek, a clerk at the Mid valley colliery, saw the horrifying crash from the office porch, just across the road. “It all happened so suddenly it’s hard to explain,” he recalled. “There was a mighty roar when the plane exploded. As the wreckage dropped all around us, those of us at the office dashed for fir extinguishers and ran to the scene. At first we couldn’t get through the flames to the wreckage, and the danger high tension lines knocked to the ground held us back. But we knew instantly that no one lived through the sickening disaster.”
Described as the fourth worst air tragedy in the U.S., yesterday’s plane crash was by far the most gruesome fatal collision in the history of Schuylkill County.
The crash scene, unlike many air tragedies, was not any remote mountain spot. It occurred just a mile off a dirt road that leads from Aristes, a mile west, to Mid Valley Colliery, at the bottom of 100 foot hillside, virtually in the heart of civilization. The impact scattered the wreckage up over the top of the hill for a radius of about one quarter mile, almost into the little town of Wilburton No. 2, just over the hill crest.
Just across the road are the colliery office and the towering breaker. Had the plane veered several hundred yards to the left, it might have brought the death to the 80 workmen there.
The crash immediately severed all power to the Mid-Valley operation and to near by continental and Germantown collieries. Some 1500 workmen will be idle until transformer repairs are completed.
The woods, wreckage and corpses were still smoldering when we arrived. Scattered workman walked about with hand extinguishers, and a few fire companies were on the scene. There was difficulty in securing fire apparatus. Most of the firemen from nearby Mt. Carmel, Kulpmont and Ashland were attending the six county Fireman’s Convention and parade in Sunbury.
Hundreds of curious were surging to the scene. Long queues of automobiles were jamming the only dirt road that led to the scene. Many climbed the other side of the mountain to avoid police lines and view the litter of wreckage and bodies. Coal company police, local constables, most of the forces from Mt. Carmel, Kulpmont and Shamokin joined Shamokin State Police in establishing order at the frenzied scene; ropes were looped through the woods to corral the crowd.
It had all the impressiveness of a nation wide disaster. Reporters and photographers from every newspaper within the radius of a hundred miles, and those from the major wire services were dashing to grab the facts and the stark tragic pictures to beat the afternoon deadline and tell the full, gruesome story to a tense an anxious American public that had heard only a terse announcement of the tragedy. Radio broadcasters were interviewing eye witnesses amidst the wreckage for broadcasts.
As the smoke cleared from the wreckage, we began our first tour of inspection, climbing up the hillside through the piles of charred ruins, awkwardly dodging hunks of human flesh from disintegrated bodies.
Words are incapable of describing the horrible first hand sight of devastation and death. The plane itself was literally “blown to bits.” The four motors, tossed over the hillside several hundred feet apart, were the only large pieces of the giant ship that remained partially intact. Even on these, the pistons were jammed through.
Everything else of the plane was disintegrated. No sign of even a large portion of wing, or fuselage or propeller. Just chunks of twisted jagged metal, bits of upholstery, a broken instrument from the pilot’s panel, pieces so small that a child could have carried away almost any part of the plane. No matter how far up the hillside we walked or in what direction ahead of us seemed to be more of the plane. Some of it lay strewn buried as much as several feet in the ground from the impact. Overhead the tallest trees are blackened. A tattered steamer robe atop a tree to our left fluttered as a bleak ending of the destruction on every side.
But it was the nauseating stench of still smoldering flesh, the protruding limbs and battered torsos, the human wreckage that seared the memory of every one who visited the scene. We covered the entire wreckage area several times during our three hour stay, and we didn’t see a single body intact. So we stepped gingerly through the ruins to avoid pieces of bone and flesh, we noticed a tooth lying starkly alone on a charred log. Behind us a sponge rubber seat was still smoking.
Scattered into every corner of the burned out clearing, hidden in the surrounding still green brush and woods were more dead remnants of what only several hours ago had been part of the happy carefree human forms that were passengers aboard the giant sky ship.
Here was a woman’s arm, a watch still on the wrist, half charred, half smooth and natural. But that’s all, just an arm. Three steps to the left was the remains of a mans skull, with only the ear recognizable. To our right a boy was squirting water from a hand extinguisher to quell the burning half torso of a woman. Strands of what once was beautiful red hair were visible on what remained of her crushed skull. We wondered how grief stricken kin would ever identify remains of any of the victims.
No one will ever know what went through the minds of those passengers those brief seconds before the crash. Did they know of the impending disaster? One sober observation impressed us. Every hand we saw was in a clenched position. All except the innocent out stretched hand of one of the two infants aboard, protruding fro the jagged remains of a wing. And once again there was just a hand, no more.
As officials began the difficult organization of the disaster scene, volunteer workmen began the tedious and gruesome task of assembling the pieces of broken bodies into piles of human destruction. Across the hillside the scene resembled a horde of scavengers at work salvaging what they could from a public dump.
Postal inspector Leonard Smith supervised a crew retrieving the remnants of the ships’ air mail cargo. Only one bag of an estimated 20 aboard was partially intact. Civil Air Patrol crews came on the scene in the waning hours of the afternoon, uniformed and equipped with walkie talkie radios to guard the wreckage and to assemble parts of the plane for investigation by the CAA...
Other workers gathered remains of clothing and possessions of the passengers. Several wallets, including that of Earl Carroll, with a sizeable amount of cash, were recovered. Each discovery of papers or possible identifications gave birth to a new conjecture or rumor of a famous personage aboard.
A workman found a Sunday night script of Gary Moore’s radio show “Take it or leave it” Immediately the word spread that Gary Moore was aboard. A brief case, ripped at the seams revealed pictures of Ray Milland, and that buzzed another report thru the curious crowd, eager to accept anything sensational.
One of the retrievers brought in a woman’s finger, still wearing a diamond ring. Piles of clothing uncovered the tattered uniform of one of the crew members. Another volunteer returned to the improvised headquarters halfway up the mountain side with a tiny baby’s purse. There was a penny inside.
In the midst of all the wreckage electric power linemen calmly went about their work of digging out the charred poles of the disrupted power line, wasting no time to start the job of restoring service. For life and work still go on. For most of the workmen it was a nauseating and never to be forgotten experience. Yet the curious still flocked, and women with infants in their arms, edged as close as they could for first hand inspection of the battered corpses.
Veterans of the Air Force of World War II talking behind us were heard to utter, “My God, we never saw anything like this.”
State Police and airline officials were in high praise of the P&R’s first aid teams. The men combed the mountainside to recover parts of the bodies that were strewn around.
As we prepared to leave Coroner John Evans of Columbia County was moving in the long line of ambulances and hearses to retrieve the remains of the victims and move them off to mortuaries.
We had to patently wade through a long line of traffic to reach the clear air of Aristes again. All three of us paused at a service station. It was late we had missed supper, but we weren’t thinking of eating.
We lit up cigarettes. A scowl crossed the face of all three of us almost simultaneously. Somehow we could still taste the stench of burning flesh in the cigarette smooke.
THE CRASH SITE INVESTIGATION
United Airlines flight 624 was the third fatal domestic airliner lost since January 1, 1947. It had the largest number of lives lost of all the accidents .This crash was the fourth worst accident in commercial air service up to the year of 1948 in the United States.
There are three main reasons for aviation accidents: 1. Human error of judgment or maintenance on the aircraft; 2. Mechanical error on the aircraft, basically failure of aircraft structures, designs, power plants or navigational systems. 3. The forces of nature. Accident investigation causes are extremely hard to pin down and to name one particular point as valid can sometimes bring out other causes. Sometimes the skill of the pilots plus the excellent designs of particular aircraft have been responsible for saving many lives when the odds dictated otherwise.
With the basic three reasons for aircraft accidents the CAB investigators set out to find the reason for the tragedies. There dedication and enthusiasm for finding the cause of these accidents has made the aviation industry the safest method of travel today
In the Washington DC headquarters of the Civil Aeronautics Board the alert was received shortly after flight 624 exploded on the hillside near Aristes, Pennsylvania. And waiting in their offices were the men who would investigate the accident. They called them the G-Men of the Airways, better known as the Safety Bureau Investigators of the Civil Aeronautics Board, men who dedicated their lives and skill to eliminating aviation accidents. Almost all the investigators were professional pilot-engineers who had accumulated many years of knowledge in different technical aspects of the civil aviation industry. The procedure for responding to an aviation accident was for the local agency to inform the CAB and in turn the headquarters would contact the office nearest the accident scene and their investigators would takes over immediate responsibility.
Each of these investigators has the power and authorization that gives them all the privileges of being able to commander all the vehicles and equipment of state and federal agencies that they will need in the investigations of the accident. They have the authorization to have someone arrested if need be. The investigators are on call around the clock and are required to move at a moments notice. They have to be tough because of the nature of their work requires them to climb to the top of a mountain, go in a swamp or a tropical jungle seeing that the majority of aircraft accidents happen in remote areas. There main purpose is to investigate the accident, uncover the clues and to make sure a similar accident will not happen again. The CAB maintains a special aircraft based in Washington DC., always ready to fly off to an accident or incident.
The CAB investigators over the years were required to invent and develop most of the techniques they use for investigating an accident. These men were able to uncover meaningful facts relating to the cause of the accident. They developed methods to determine metallurgical stresses, how to determine how much power an engine was developing and also the speed of the aircraft at impact. And amazing enough in 1948 these investigators did this without the aid of computers.
On the day of the accident the Airline and the Federal Air traffic control notified the CAB of the possible accident of United Flight 624. The Chief of Region 1 Bureau of Safety Investigation CAB was notified of the accident at 1:20 EST on June 17, 1948. Following the call concerning flight 624 the chief of the investigation division dispatched his air safety investigators.
Due to the almost total destruction of the aircraft caused by the extreme impact and subsequent fire the investigators at the scene were confronted with a difficult and time consuming investigation. The investigation at the scene would continue from June 17 until July 2.
A few hours after the disaster Joseph O. Fluett the Chief of Region One of the Civil Aeronautics Board arrived at the accident site from New York. Fluett was assigned to be in charge of the investigation of this accident. By the 1960’s Joseph O. Fluet was Chief of the Investigation Division of the CAB and was in direct command of all aircraft investigations in the United States. Mr. Fluett was also a licensed instructor pilot. Upon arriving at the site Mr. Fluet stated,” It’s as bad a mess as I have ever seen.”
At the crash site chief investigator Fluet directed a group of CAB investigators on the ground in Pennsylvania. The group included specialist in: structures; power plants and propellers; human factors and airline operations. These investigators were trained never to speculate or discuss the cause of an accident during the investigation.
Mr. Fluet was joined in the investigation by experts from United Airlines, Douglas Aircraft Company and the Airline Pilots Association. It would be there challenge to sift through the wreckage and make an appraisal of the accident site; they were in charge of the proper method for the recovery of vital aircraft wreckage. The whole time while working in a bio hazard area and exposed to the dangerous jagged parts of the destroyed aircraft the investigators began collecting evidence. Mr. Fluett stated, “We expect to conduct a thorough and complete investigation but I can see were going to run into difficulties because the disintegration is so complete.” Fluett continued, “We'll use the process of elimination, sorting the most obvious reasons first and go as far as possible on that basis.”
Assisting the Government Investigators were members of United Airlines team sent to the crash site. Jack Herlihy, vice president in charge of operations for United Airlines set up an emergency office in one of the collieries, where 80 miners were shaken by the accident.
One of the first things required before the investigation began was to locate and mark all the remains of the passengers and remove them from the scene. All the bodies that were recovered were taken to the Joseph Stutz Funeral Home in Centralia.
By June 19, 1948 parts of 21 bodies had been identified by the next of kin and the airline. Some of the bodies were shipped out in hermetically sealed coffins to their families. Most were identified by personal belongings or other identifying items found on or near the body.
United Airlines official labored hard in the gruesome task of making the identification by trying to piece together the jigsaw puzzle of torn limbs, and torsos piled in a back alley garage that was being used as a makeshift morgue.
The United Airlines personnel assigned to the recovery of the passengers remains had to deal in a positive manner with the grief stricken relatives who were keeping a sorrowful vigil in the hotel lobby across the street from the morgue.
Troopers from the Pennsylvania State Police helped officials from United Airlines all through the night going through and trying to identify the personnel belongings of the passengers and crew. It was reported they found among other things a wallet bearing Earl Carroll’s name on it and containing $1,024 dollars. And in one of those emotional filled moments troopers tragically found a babies purse containing a penny.
Head CAB investigator Joseph Fluet divided the crash site into a 75 yard square area, sectioned out so that they could make inch by inch examinations of the scattered parts of the aircraft. Mr. Fluett stated,”The disintegration of the aircraft is almost complete, but we are hopeful that our experts may be able to ascertain how this thing happened.”
On June 20, 1948 an airliner was seen flying over the area, it was supplied by United Airlines at the request of the CAB to fly the last few miles over which the DC-6 had flown.
The wreckage of flight 624 after striking a 66,000 volt transformer at the base of this small hill was scattered all over an area 580 feet long and 175 feet wide, a flash fire followed the impact, scorching and smudging parts of the aircraft wreckage throughout the entire area. The CAB investigators probed the mangled pieces of the aircraft. The aircraft was totally destroyed by impact and fire; the largest parts were the bent and broken props the four engines and a section of the tail.
Sheriff Ray E. Lehr working in the carnage of the crash stated;”Holy smokes, that must have been a furnace,” he said. “I saw 39 men fry to death in the bombing of the cruiser Marblehead in the South Pacific during the war-but this is worse.”
Kenneth Sonner and Sidney D. Brennan CAB power plant and structural specialists sifted through the fragments of the fuselage and wings and meticulously inspected all four engines. It was well known that all the eye witnesses who witnessed the aircraft in flight made the statement that the left engine was smoking. What the investigators found concerning the engines was the fact that all the engine mounts were bent and bowed that all the power plants and their components disclosed no evidence of malfunctioning during the flight. All four engines showed signs of damage due to ground impact and fire. The lacerations on the propeller blades, the blade pitch settings, and the twisted front main power cases indicated that all the engines were developing almost full power at the time of impact.
The investigators found parts of the big R-2800 engine 1,200 feet from the main wreckage lying up on Big Mountain.
The investigators assigned to the physical structure of the aircraft were able to ascertain the fact that the landing gear was fully retracted at the time of impact. This was also verified by most of the eye witnesses. Unfortunately the investigators were not able to verify the position of the flaps because of the severe breakage and destruction of the aircraft wing structures.
The maintenance records for the aircraft were given to the CAB investigators to go over, they were scrutinized and indicated that the airplane was in good mechanical condition at the time of its departure from Los Angeles and Chicago. There were no outstanding discrepancies affecting the air worthiness of the aircraft. These records were very important to the investigation, if there had been a problem associated with the engines or indicating system it would have helped steer the investigators to that area of the aircraft. Having the records show no problems made the investigators job more difficult.
Even though the destruction of the aircraft was severe, investigators Fluet, Sonner and Brennan were able to identify a considerable number of components and parts.
Because of the large number of non essential people (spectators) who descended upon the crash site a lot of valuable clues were destroyed or carried off by souvenir hunters. Investigator Joseph Fluet said their work was hampered by the disappearance of several important parts of the aircraft. He said they were apparently taken by souvenir hunters. One part of the aircraft believed taken was the main instrument panel. Fluet advised the Pennsylvania State Police and on a tip they went to Schuylkill County to the home of a man in Primrose who was believed to have taken the instrument panel. Instead of a piece of the instrument board or panel this individual had a piece of the tail which he picked up at the scene. The police made no arrest but did take the man back to the site so the man could point out the exact place where he found it.
After this incident the State Police issued a warning to all persons planning to visit the scene of the crash to stay away, they will not be permitted near the site. State Police and National Guard troops were placed in and around the area to secure the site.
Mr. Fluet who was working the accident site had other investigators collect all the data and recordings of the last radio transmissions from the aircraft. These recordings were sent to the CAB labs for analyzes. In 1948 there were no cockpit voice recorders carried on the aircraft which would have recorded everything spoken and all the peripheral sounds associated with the last 30 minutes of the flight. CAB and United Airlines specialist had to decipher the recordings by listening over and over to the last transmissions.
Working on the basis that the crews last radio transmission to New York at 12:31 was barley intelligible, the voices were coming in short transmissions. The investigators were still able to ascertain that one or both pilots were reporting that a fire extinguisher had been released in the forward cargo pit. This area was actually the forward baggage compartment. And that the flight was making an emergency descent.
The investigators knowing that this report indicated that there might possibly be a fire in the forward cargo compartment. And realizing that any information that might have been recorded from previous aircraft that may have experienced the same situation they needed to check all pertinent records concerning any fires in cargo holds on air carrier aircraft. From the records in the CAB it was shown that from January 1, 1948, through June 30, 1948, 22 false warnings of fire detectors in fuselage compartments, and 285 false warnings of smoke detectors were shown on different air carriers.
A note of this particular defect was listed on the CAB file it stated that:
In view of the large number of false warnings being reported by air carriers, some of which had resulted in precautionary landings at un scheduled stops. The CAA on April 28, 1948 authorized operators to disconnect the smoke detector units where their records showed that false alarms were being caused by the detector units themselves and by faulty installation or maintenance. On June 30, 1948, the CAA authorized the carriers to disconnect all smoke detectors without showing the necessity there-for. The Board concurred in this action. United Airlines had experience 44 false smoke detector warnings from January 1, 1948 through the first week of May, 1948, but elected not to disconnect the units. Research and tests are now in progress to improve the reliability of the smoke detectors. Efforts are also being exerted to improve the reliability of fire detectors. CAB 15275.
With this information given to investigator Fluet he was able to determine that there may be a connection between the false warnings and flight 624’s situation. And began an intensive search for the smoke detectors.
With their expert knowledge of the DC-6 and years of experience in searching for clues through the debris field of an aircraft accident site CAB investigators were able to find five of the six smoke detectors that were installed in the forward baggage compartment. The investigators also found the inlet duct adapter that receives air from the smoke detector in the cargo pit. On close inspection of the fire detector units they revealed no soot, smoke or evidence of burning, and smudge tests made on the interior of the smoke detector adapter showed no trace of smoke.
According to CAA approved airplane operating manuals cargo and baggage compartments shall be classified in the “C” category …Not accessible to the crew during flight. Each compartment of the “C” category shall be equipped with a separate system of an approved type smoke detector or fire detector other than a heat detector to give warning at the pilot station. And a built in approved fire extinguishing systems controlled from the pilot station. Means shall be provided to exclude hazardous quantities of smoke, flames, or extinguishing agent from entering into any compartment occupied by the crew or passengers. Ventilation and drafts shall be further controlled within each such cargo or baggage compartment to the extent that the extinguishing agent provided can control any fire which may start.
The normal compliment of six 15 pound CO2 bottles was also found in the wreckage. They were extremely damaged form the impact. The six CO2 discharge valves were also accounted for, unfortunately, they were broken off of their respective bottles by the severe impact and allowed the contents if any to be released. The bottles were all found empty.
Many other pieces from the forward section of the aircraft were found and examined for any signs of in flight fire or smoke. Many of these parts were sent to CAB labs and tested for gases or smoke from various different sources.
Putting all the data gathered at the impact site, and tests performed on aircraft components and the verbal data gathered from eyewitnesses it was becoming evident to the investigators that no fire had existed aboard the aircraft prior to the time of impact.
Knowing that a certain procedure was performed when any indication of a fire was detected on the aircraft, especially into the forward cargo pit. The investigators new that a very important part of the emergency checklist needed to be performed, that meant that the emergency pressure control valve needed to be in the fully open position. A major warning in the flight manual stated that;
FAILURE TO OPEN VALVE MAY RESULT IN EXCESSIVE AMOUNTS OF CO2 IN THE COCKPIT AREA.
This manual control which actuates the cabin pressure relief valve is located to the right of the co-pilots seat. Investigators found the manual control in the wreckage. The control handle is attached to a drum over which an operating cable is wound. When the cabin relief valves are open, there are about one and one quarter complete turns of cable winding on the drum. When the valves are closed only one quarter turn of winding appears on the drum.
The investigators found the drum for the manual control in the wreckage; it had only 90 degrees of cable winding on the drum. This, in addition to the marks left on the parts of the control mechanism, and test conducted on cabin emergency relief valves and control mechanism, was showing the investigators that the cabin relief valves and cockpit controls were in the closed position at the time of impact.
The control is cable rigged to the cabin pressure emergency relief valves, located on the aft side of the fuselage, and to the cabin emergency depressurization valve located in the lower forward baggage compartment. Rotating the control in a counterclockwise direction opens the relief valves and discharges cabin air, decreasing the cabin pressure; rotating it clockwise closes the valve and allows cabin pressure to increase.
Another part of the emergency procedure when a fire is encountered in the cargo area was to declutch the cabin superchargers. The superchargers were attached to the number 1 and 4 engines. Both of these engines were examined by metallurgists. No evidence that these parts were rotating at the time of impact was found indicating that the cabin superchargers had been declutched by the crew in flight.
The cabin superchargers were declutched by means of two control levers located on the cockpit floor. Rapidly pulling up on the desired lever latch will disengage the respective supercharger clutch without affecting the operation of the engine.
A master depressurization control lever, located beside the cabin supercharger disconnect levers, is used to depressurize the cabin rapidly in conjunction with fire fighting procedures. The control is interconnected with the cabin supercharger clutch disconnect levers.
With the evidence that the relief valves weren’t opened and the superchargers were declutched it was evident that a part of the procedures for a fire in the cargo hold was not done. The investigators now had evidence that pointed toward the fact that maybe both pilots were incapacitated due to CO2 in the cockpit.
Continuing on with the investigation the CAB investigators followed up on all clues that might pertain to the flights last moments.
On June 22, one of the investigators stated that a package of spun glass, reported to be part of the Air Express shipment was found virtually intact almost a mile from the scene of the crash, giving impetus that some of the cargo had been jettisoned from the plane before it crashed.
Some eyewitnesses told the investigators that they had seen objects dropped from the DC-6 before it crashed into the hillside.
Assisting in the recovery of the U.S. Mail pouches that were on the aircraft was Postal Inspector Leonard A. Smith. He was looking for the 26 pouches that were onboard the aircraft. Also assisting in this recovery were post office workers from Pottsville led by Postmaster James Rattigan who assigned a special crew to take over the task of sorting and forwarding all identified mail to there intended addresses.
During the investigation Mr. B.J. Crosby, Scranton, Pa. the superintendent for the Railway Express in the Susquehanna Division along with F.J. Flynn, also of Scranton and attached to the Express claim Department arrived at the crash scene. The men explained to the investigators that they were there to determine the exact number of Express packages taken and delivered by the ill fated airliner during its flight from California.
There were reports given to the inspectors that a large box or package was jettisoned from the aircraft prior to impact, and that it included a large sum of cash. Such are the many aspects of an investigation that the investigators must deal with. After searching the area it was determined that no large box was jettisoned from the aircraft. This part of the investigation was turned over to the personnel from Railway Express.
Mr. Crosby also denied that a large package weighing about 200 pounds containing a sizeable amount of cash was jettisoned from the plane. Crosby denied any knowledge of the package or its contents.
On June 25, President of United Airlines W.A. Paterson informed chief investigator Fluet that United Airlines communication personnel had also deciphered a message from the ill fated aircraft.
Patterson said that, “although indistinct and not clearly discernable, a message at 12:32 p.m. EST was deciphered as follows:
“New York…………New York (followed by a word which could be interpreted as fire)….Fire extinguisher ……….forward pit.” The next message was at 12:33:30 it was “Emergency descent. The La Guardia field radio operator then made repeated attempts to contact the plane.
“The above radio conversation was not heard by either government or company radio operators and therefore was not entered in their type written logs. “
How ever, Patterson said that “minute investigation” of recovered plane parts, “gives no evidence that there was a fire in the forward cargo pit or in any other part of the plane prior to impact with the ground.
On June 28, and 29, The CAB investigators utilized a USAF helicopter from Westover Field, Massachusetts to fly at low altitude and slow speed along the route that the airliner took in the last minutes prior to impact. Looking for any evidence that may have been overlooked.
After the victims bodies were removed from the scene Chief CAB investigator Fluet hired the Ehrlich Exterminator Company of Pottsville to use powerful sprayers mounted on a vehicle to fumigate the crash scene. Because of the heat of summer many flies, mosquitoes and vermin moved in on the many small pieces of human remains and body fluids that still covered the area.
Day by day and bit by bit the investigation was revealing more and more evidence. Investigator Fluet and the crew of CAB investigators who were working the scene with him were continually cataloging everything in a precise manner. By the end of June most of the field investigation was over. Now the collection of all pertinent evidence and the piecing together the last moments of the flight was in the hands of these CAB investigators.
Sections of the DC-6's engines on road above crash site
THE PUBLIC HEARINGS
THE ASHLAND HEARING:
On June 29, 1948, it was announced that the testimony of witnesses to the crash of Flight 624 will be taken on Friday July 2, 1948 at Ashland, Pa. Robert W. Christ, chief of the CAB hearing and Reports Committee made this statement at a press conference held in Washington. He also stated that another hearing will be held at a later date, to be announced.
On July 2, 1948 the first session of the hearings into the crash of United Airlines Flight 624 opened at Ashland, Pa. The CAB Board held the hearings in the Ballroom of the Hotel Loeper. This hearing was in regards to interview the persons who actually witnessed the final minutes of the flight. Various exhibits were also presented.
The CAB expected to call about 39 different persons 20 of them who were eyewitnesses. By July 2, 1948 over 500 people were questioned in regards to the crash and what they witnessed. Narrowing the number down to about 20 reliable persons was the task of the Board members.
Representing the CAB at the hearings and presiding over them was Robert W. Christ, chief of hearings and reports divisions of the CAB. W.K. Andrews, as the assistant to Mr. Christ. Joseph. O. Fluet, chief of Region 1; G.M French, meteorologist; K.C. Sonner, power plant specialist; S.D. Berman, Structural expert; G.R. Clark, air safety engineer and R.P. Dickerson, the secretary.
Chairman Christ opened the hearing by explaining to those in attendance that the hearing was called to determine the facts of the case; the cause of the crash if possible and to outline the steps that would prevent future accidents.
Mr. Christ stated that deposition was being taken in this instance in connection with the investigation of an aircraft accident by the Civil Aeronautics Board, which involved the crash of United Airlines, Douglas DC-6 NC-37506, and aircraft of United States registry. This accident occurred near Mt. Carmel, Pennsylvania on June 18, 1948. The deposition will be made a public record of this public hearing held on July 2, 1948 in connection with this accident and is identified as CAB Docket SA-172.
Eight witnesses were then called in the morning session of the hearing, telling of what they knew and witnessed about the last few minutes of United Flight 624.
Determination of the time of transmissions and the exact time of the accident was an important part of the CAB’s investigation. Knowing that the radio transmissions contained time checks and were relative to actual time the investigators were able to piece together the last minutes of the flight.
One of the first called was Lucian M. Zell, chief of communications for United Airlines at La Guardia Field. Mr. Zell testified that he interpreted an official recording made mechanically of the last messages sent from the plane between 12:32 EST and 12:33:30 EST p.m. , June 17, just a few minutes before the crash at 12:41 EST.
After reconstructing the somewhat garbled message that was sent by the flight it was finalized as, “New York 624 hello. We released fire extinguisher in forward cargo pit. 624 emergency descent.” As was given by the United Airlines transcript there was some speculation over the word “fire”. LaGuardia radioed back “try again”. The answer came “624 forward cargo pit……..Emergency descent.”
Clifford C. Standford, radio operator at La Guardia Field for United Airlines was called and testified that at 12:55 EST he received the last clear message from the ill fated plane. And at the time the pilot reported the aircraft was in good shape. At 12:31 EST p.m. he heard a loud message that he believed came from the plane but he could not decipher it. He said it was loud but garbled and the voices sounded excited.
United Airlines Captain Earl E. Bach was called to testify. Captain Bach was flying Flight 132, a DC-3 from Chicago to Philadelphia at 9,000 feet. He said that 12:23 he heard the plane report its altitude at 17,000 feet. Then at 12:33 EST he heard this message, “New York, New York (a few words missing) this is an emergency descent.
Captain Bach relayed the message to another plane and when he approached within 12 miles of Aristes saw a column of smoke which he believed to be the plane.
He came down to within 3,000 feet, circled and relayed the message to another United Flight, Flight 607 which was in the vicinity and in turn flight 607 relayed the information to La Guardia field. It was he who gave the location of the crash.
Along with another United Airlines pilot, Captain Bach and Captain John Roberts who flew flight 624 on the San Diego to Chicago leg of the scheduled flight were questioned on their familiarization of the route being flown by the DC-6 from Chicago to New York. Both pilots testified that they would not have selected the narrow valley just west of the Mid Valley breaker area for an emergency descent, both agreeing that it was a poor choice for an emergency landing.
Captain Roberts stated that in such an emergency, he would have turned the plane back to Phillipsburg, or would have turned northward into open country above Mt. Carmel.
Captain Roberts also testified that a mechanical correction was made at Los Angeles and that he flew the plane from the West Coast to Chicago without difficulty before Captain George Warner Jr. took over.
Col. A. D. Tuttle director of Medical services for United Airlines was called and testified to the fact that Captain George Warner was a “Most able individual, quite capable of coping with any emergency situation. He was very stable in an emergency.” He also added that both Captain Warner and First Officer Richard Schember were in qualified physical shape and had passed routine fitness examinations on March 30, 1948. Col. Tuttle also said that identification of all 43 bodies had been made with the co operation of the FBI.
Mr. I.K. Sommermeyer, United Airlines flight engineering and technical training head of the DC-6 pilots testified that Captain Warner was qualified to fly the DC-6. Sommermeyer described changes made to emergency equipment since June 17 crash and distance required to make emergency descents.
Roy M. Wainwright, Denver, superintendent of United Airlines service in charge of training programs for air stewardesses, testified that all stewardesses have knowledge of the location of fire equipment, first aid equipment, exits and emergency evacuation in various plane positions. While stewardesses are notified of emergency situations by telephone from the captain in charge, he said, they can go to the flight deck in any emergency.
J.A. Herlihy, vice president in charge of operations and Mr. M.H. Fay, flight manager for United Airlines told how the plane was rigged up with carbon dioxide extinguishers which were released into the forward cargo pit by pulling levers.
They also testified that from the dispatcher’s records at Chicago the flight total load was 75,078 pounds at takeoff, with a permissible load of 81,240 pounds. And that the last normal message received by the airline was art 12:27 EST when the aircraft was over Phillipsburg, Pa.
From United Airline company records and eyewitness reports, the plane began its descent from 17,000 feet between Phillipsburg and Lewisburg. Eyewitnesses said they saw the plane emerge from the clouds at an altitude estimated to be 8,000 feet. The pilot had been ordered to descend no lower than 11,000 feet in the last radio check at La Guardia field in New York.
The pre flight inspections of the plane were all normal, W. C. Mentzer United Airlines chief of maintenance, Denver testified. Mentzer said the aircraft was delivered to United Airlines on March 27, 1947. And there were no pilot complaints on the condition of the aircraft. It was also stated that United airliners to include the DC-6 aircraft have been flying over this area on the Chicago to New York trip since December 1945.
The weather was carefully reviewed to determine whether or not it could have been a factor in the accident. United Airline officials and CAB witnesses testified that the weather was ideal for flying on the day of the accident. George M. French, meteorologist specialist of the CAB Safety Bureau, Washington, presented a survey of weather data of the crash date, describing visibility at from 6 to 15 miles, absence of storms and high winds and said a flight below 17,000 feet east of Lewisburg would have sufficient visibility to the ground.
CAB safety bureau specialists Kenneth Sonner the power plant expert and Sidney D. Berman the structural expert described how they catalogued the wreckage at the crash scene in trying to reconstruct the aircraft.
Frank S. Schwager, Long Island, CAB aircraft maintenance agent testified and exhibited the records and corrective steps taken in the maintenance of the aircraft.
George R. Clark, air safety investigator of the CAB safety bureau, told his fellow board members of the inquiry of the concentrated searches for objects reported by persons to have been seen falling from the aircraft. Of the 19 aerial photographs taken of the crash, and the 64 signed statements taken from persons from Lewisburg east about the flight of the plane and other details of how the course was plotted to the point of impact. He set the time of the crash from 12:40 to 12:41 EST, according to a study of the voltage when the plane hit a transformer sub-station and burst into flames.
Lieutenant Frank Clemmensen of the USAF Air Search and Rescue Unit, Westover Field, Mass. told the board that in his opinion nothing more could be gained from a continued search by air of the crash scene. Lt. Clemmensen is in charge of the helicopter that has been searching the area since June 22. He has scanned the ground at altitudes ranging from 50 to 100 feet above the tree tops, and has searched the area at speeds of 30 to 4o mph.
Howard E. Spade, chief of police of the Hazel Brook Coal co. and Mid valley Colliery told how his officers were on the scene, his first man Ben Matulevich of Mt. Carmel arrived at the scene seven minutes after the plane crashed.
Major Charles J. McRae of the third squadron of the Pennsylvania State Police at Wyoming barracks also testified at the morning session.
There was no hint in the testimony of B.J. Crosby, superintendent of the Susquehanna Division of the Railway Express Agency, Scranton and Postal Inspector L.E. Smith that the plane carried a shipment of currency, rumored at a quarter of a million of dollars in its final flight. Crosby had previously denied this rumor in talking with reporters at the scene.
Postal Inspector Smith testified that the aircraft carried 28 pouches and two outside parcels, weighing an aggregate 635 pounds. Only 23 of the 163 registered letters were recovered and that only one box was recovered with the contents partially intact. Twenty six charred locks from the bags were recovered, one at the top of the mountain but all within the crash area.
The board members organized the eyewitnesses into groups who would be heard in rotation. The first will be the eye witnesses farthest from the scene.
Each witness was sworn and asked to state their name, address and occupation.
One after the other 24 witnesses were called by the Chief of the hearing Robert Christ. The witnesses failed to give the board much further insight into the cause of the crash. All witnesses agreed that there was no hint of fire in any of the aircraft’s four engines but a slim stream of smoke followed the wake of the plane, a circumstance readily attributed to a sharp climb to regain altitude.
The most valuable eye witness testimony came from two men who had experience flying aircraft in the military.
Mr. Edward Janoka, Marion Heights, who had experience in the Army Air Corp, said he observed the plane flying over his home. The smoke streamed out when the plane began a steep climb. Janoka said this was normal in a climb for power. Janoka said he saw no hint of any fire on the aircraft and the aircraft seemed to be proceeding without difficulty.
Mr. William P. Tidmore, of Pottsville, Pa. was called . Mr. Tidmore was a pilot and had flown the C-54 plane a slightly smaller version of the Douglas DC-6 ,known commercially as the DC-4. Tidmore said he was in the area with his father A.V.Tidmore, owner of the radio station WPPA. Mr. Tidmore gave the board a graphic description of the final approach and last minutes of the ill fated aircraft. He told the board that he and his father were driving on the road between Wilburton and Aristes, close to the scene of the crash.
Mr. Tidmore stated it was hard to follow the entire flight of the plane because of obstructions. The aircraft was descending gradually at cruising power, about one half mile to my right and about 2 ½ miles away. He could tell from the jerky movement of the aircraft that there was some trouble aboard. He noted how the aircraft made abrupt banks, veered right then left. The right wing would drop rapidly about 5 degrees then very rapidly it would come back to a level position. Then the left again and then the right..
He said the plane was coming east through the valley at about 40 or 50 feet. It sounded as if the pilots were reducing their power to kill some of the excess speed. We lost sight of him temporarily, but he then came into view again. He said he checked to see if the landing gear was down. It was retracted.
Tidmore stated that he believed at this point the pilot had decided to attempt to make a landing. All the engines were turning over, and were developing full power again, with a speed well over 200 mph. No engines were on fire at the time. He also stated that he noticed two power reductions and a light stream of black smoke from number four engine. The smoke from the engine he thought didn’t come from an engine fire but from the engine being loaded up during the approach while in the valley when the pilot gave the plane full throttle, the motor was just beginning to clear itself.
Mr. Tidmore described the last seconds as he witnessed them. He said thoughts of an impending crash flashed through my mind. The tail section of the plane appeared to be fluttering considerably. The plane was banking to the right at about 30 or 35 degrees. It seemed the pilot was turning to avoid hitting the colliery. He momentarily tried to climb, it was too late, and in less than a second the right wing clipped the ground as the plane hit the substation and exploded.
There was a blinding flash of light, apparently from the exploding gasoline and oxygen tanks. Then black smoke and debris was thrown into the air and all over the hillside.
The denial that the aircraft was on fire or that there appeared to be a fire in the aircraft was made by a number of the witnesses who observed the aircraft in flight during the last minutes. A point that the investigators would use to come to a final conclusion.
Mrs. Peter Burisk, Sunbury, said she heard the airplane make a series of backfires and unusual noise in the propellers as the plane soared above her home and crossed a ridge only a few feet above the tree tops.
This is a typical eyewitness’s report of an aircraft that to the observer seems to be in trouble this is the type of report that the investigators had to sort out. Mrs. Burisk while trying to be helpful was not a professional person trained in the aviation industry and is not familiar with aircraft and aircraft engines or propellers.
It was difficult at times for the investigators to have to decipher exactly what the witnesses were reporting. Although the witnesses gave excellent visual reports their observations were of little help in the technical context of the investigation. The reports given by the professionals like Janoka, and Tidmore both pilots and men who were trained in the aviation field were very important to technical aspect of the investigation.
One of the main things that Mr. Christ of the CAB was concentrating on from the witnesses was did any of them see any sign of fire or smoke while the aircraft passed their view.
Ten of the witnesses interviewed agreed that there was no hint of fire in any of the four engines but a slim stream of smoke was scene in the wake of the number four engine. The CAB referenced this as a circumstance related to the sharp climb to regain altitude.
During the hearings one witness stated that the saw something fall from the aircraft. News of this particular incident was widely spread following the accident.
Thomas W. Ginter, Sunbury was called and he testified that he observed the plane from the Sunbury Airport he also described a peculiar noise of the craft and said it appeared to be descending while moving at 300 mph. Mr. Ginter said the visibility extended 30 miles and there was no smoke as a rapid but gradual descent began.
Mr. Elmer Stahl, Lewisburg a telephone lineman working at Cowan, Snyder County, stated the engines made a “popping” noise but he observed no fire or objects falling from the plane.
Mr. Harry Pope, RD Sunbury, a truck driver stated that the he was at home when a vibration caught his attention, the aircraft was backfiring and the plane was losing altitude but again there was no trace of smoke or a fire.
Mr. Irvin Reigle a farmer living near Shamokin was called, he said. “The plane was 400 feet above him, flying in a straight line with the engines operating normal and there was no sign of trouble as it crossed his farm yard so low that he could read the letters on the plane.
Mr. Arthur Brocious, Sunbury R.D. 1. Testified to the fact that “The engines cut out at a low altitude seven or eight times as it passed his service station at Stonington and that there was a slight popping noise. But I observed no sign of a trace of smoke or fire.
Also called was the juvenile witness, Ronnie Snyder a nine year old boy from second street in Wilburton who testified that he was standing in his uncle’s front yard in Wilburton when “Something shinny” fell from the plane just before it disappeared from his range of vision.
The area indicated by the boy was searched by members of the Civil Air Patrol and Boy Scouts for two days. Nothing was found during the searches.
Testimony of the last six remaining witnesses was taken in the later part of the morning and brought a close to the official inquiry.
Mr. Robert Christ officially closed the hearing in Ashland at 10:50 a.m. this morning and remarked that a continuation of this inquiry will be held in Washington within the next several weeks and will then study the technical evidence along with the evidence gained at this hearing After the technical aspect is taken the board will then release their opinion on the cause of the crash.
There was no knew evidence as to what caused the crash of United Flight 624 read into the record when additional eye witnesses took the stand.
A preliminary statement of facts then in possession of the Board was released on July 9, 1948. The summation of evidence that was garnered from the hearings in Ashland was the fact that there was no visible fire seen on the aircraft as it made its approach to the crash site.
It was also noted by the Miners Journal Reporter that Attorney Cletus C. Kilker, Girard Ville attended the hearing with Miss Agnes O’Neill, Fountain Springs, stenographer, in behalf of the family of one of the victims of the crash.
Following the above mentioned hearing, several of the components of the aircraft were subjected to detailed study and analysis by the Federal Bureau of Standards and the Douglas Aircraft Company.
On August 25, 1948 the Board was reconvened in New York City. At this hearing the testimony of forty-one witnesses, including technical experts, was heard and numerous technical exhibits were displayed.
One of the first witnesses interviewed was Mr. Edward Ball, a mechanic for United Airlines in Chicago, who supervised the turnaround and service of the aircraft when it landed there. Said that all repairs at Chicago were minor in nature and were adequate to dispatch the aircraft to New York. Also testifying with Mr. Ball was CAA Air Carrier Agent, Radio Division, who also affirmed that all repairs were adequate.
On the last day of the hearings Mr. Alton Farr, chief of the CAB designing section, told the CAB hearing that the crashed plane was equipped with a device for clearing the interior of gas fumes. However, it was found that a lever controlling this device was in the “Closed” position.
It has not been determined, he said, whether the lever never was opened or whether it might have been thrown shut by the impact of the crash.
It has been established that containers of compressed carbon dioxide gas, carried on airliners to fight fires in flight, were opened in the wrecked plane, presumably by the pilots in the belief the ship was afire.
Witnesses testified that the standard procedure is to open up the fume clearing mechanism before the carbon dioxide is released. But if the device was not opened or it failed to work, the gas might have seeped into the cockpit, they said.
Dr. Ludwig Lederer, CAB medical consultant, testified that recorded messages from the plane’s pilot and co-pilot prior to the crash indicated that the fliers were under “strain and distress”. Voice inflections in two messages sounded as if the speakers were gasping and agonized, he said, and the final “Emergency descent” message was “thick tongued,” indicating the speaker was nearly over come by some sort of fumes or gas.
He said the irregular course of the DC-6, just before it hit the high tension power line, indicated to him that the pilots were unable to control the aircraft properly.
Clayton S. White, chief of the Aviation Medicine Section of the Lovelace Medical Clinic at Albuquerque N.M. testified that if both banks of CO2 containers were opened, the cockpit probably would have had a 7.8 % concentration of the gas.
A 5 % concentration would be too much for the pilots within five minutes, he said. It has been estimated that the plane took eight or nine minutes in descending.
Robert L. Hoskinson, of the Douglas Aircraft Company Test Division testified that concentrations of CO2 carrying from 4 to 19 % were measured in the cockpit of a DC-6 during fire extinguisher test made earlier this year. He said it was found that the concentration of fumes varied with the speed of the aircraft.
W.W. Davies, United Airlines engineer, told the inquiry board that literature regarding seepage of CO2 fumes in the DC-6 had been prepared for distribution to all UAL pilots. But the instructions were completed only the day before the Mt. Carmel crash and had not been given to the pilots, he said.
Mr. Joseph Fluet, CAB lead investigator for the crash read into the record a summarized result of the investigation of the non-technical hearing held in Ashland, Pa. back on July 2, 1948. Mr. Fluet read the sworn testimony of mechanics who serviced the plane at Los Angeles on its arrival from Seattle on June 16. The testimony stated that the plane was originally scheduled to leave on a run to San Diego but was withdrawn from the flight when the No.2 engine developed a hydraulic lock. After this problem was repaired the aircraft was dispatched to Chicago and on to New York at La Guardia Field.
On August 26, 1948 on the continuation of the inquiry five witnesses were called, all communications specialists who listened to the recordings of the radio messages from the flight shortly before the aircraft crashed.
It is interesting to note that at the time of this accident radio communications were mainly done by way of HF (High Frequency) radio transmission. HF radio has the ability to transmit over very long distances, but is subject to many forms of interference, thunderstorms both local and distant, and many types of atmospheric interference. The radio transmission that was sent from Flight 624 was over the HF range and it is possible that the garbled and noisy communication was due to some type of atmospheric anomaly. United Airlines had various HF stations along the route, using frequencies in the 5600 kc range for daytime transmissions. The stations were located in Chicago, Cleveland New York, Buffalo area to name a few, anyone of which could be contacted to relay any message. In its infancy at the time was VHF (Very High Frequency) radio. This type of radio was used generally in the area of the airport. VHF radio transmissions make radio communications clear, because of not being affected by atmospheric conditions and thunderstorms. At this time VHF radio only had a range of about 60 miles.
Three of theses experts who listened to the recordings testified that the pilot or another voice said, “There are fumes.”
The two other radio experts testified they were unable to make out that interpretation of the call that came some eight minutes before the flight plunged into the hillside as the voices were excited and garbled.
All five men did agree that the pilot began his brief exchange with New York in a highly excited voice and that he reported a fire in extinguisher was released in the forward baggage pit.
The testimony of R.W. Cassel, a CAB investigator was read into the record. The other four radio experts were L. M. Zell, Chief of Communications for UAL. At La Guardia Field , New York John F. Olinger, CAA Air Carrier Operations Agent; William S. Ridenour, CAA Airways Operation Specialist and Robert Nagle, CAA Carrier Agent all appeared in person before the board.
The hearings in New York lasted until August 30, 1948. Following the hearing the Board’s technical staff began its analysis of the many exhibits that had been received as evidence. In December 1948, United Airlines requested the Board to withhold judgment on the accident until further tests could be made with respect to the position of the cabin pressure relief valves. These test were scheduled to take place at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (M.I.T.) The request was granted.
Before the parts in question were sent to M.I.T. they were disassembled and sent to the Federal Bureau of Standards, who made there own tests and released their data on April 14, 1949.
The study that United Airlines requested from M.I.T. resulted in a preliminary report that was reported on April 26, 1949.
The Douglas Company also requested permission to re-inspect the parts because at the time of their test the parts had not been disassembled. The Douglas report was received on June 21, 1949.
The outcome of the Boards analysis for the pressure relief valves study showed that the evidence including the reports described indicated that the relief valves were closed. The M.I.T. report on behalf of United airlines concluded that the cabin pressure relief valves were open.
THE ANNALYSIS AND PROBABLE CAUSE
As the Board ended its inquiry into the crash of United Airlines Flight 624 and ended the investigation they had developed their theories along two lines a technical line and a pathological line. Clinical analysis indicated the effects of large amounts of CO2 on the pilots and their incapacitation and in the technical line along the aeronautical engineering reconstruction of the aircraft state prior to impact. The Board released there report on August 2, 1949, fourteen months after the accident.
The crew’s last transmission reported the release of the fire extinguisher in the forward cargo-pit, (actually the forward under floor baggage compartment.) It was very evident to the investigators that a discharge of CO2 was released into the forward cargo compartment by the pilot’s in belief that they had a fire in the lower compartment. Examination by the CAB investigators and tests made during the investigation showed that no in flight fire existed in any of the compartments.
It took ten minutes from the time of the crews last transmission received in New York announcing that they had an emergency until the aircraft impacted the 66,000 volt transformer on the hill side. This period of silence, coupled with the fact that the aircraft was descending rapidly and that they had passed over visible emergency landing areas, to include Sunbury Airport, and continued on flying toward ever increasing terrain where a safe landing could not be made. It was also apparent that the aircraft was in a stable and flyable condition mechanically.
With this data in hand there is only one explanation. The pilots were physically unable to perform their flight duties. The crew reported releasing CO2 into the forward baggage compartment. It has also been established that the crew never opened the cabin pressure relief valves. With the valves closed a dangerous concentration of CO2 existed in the cockpit. According to the expert medical testimony, a six percent concentration for three minutes would have reduced the pilots to a state of confused consciousness and a higher concentration would have rendered the pilots unconscious.
Medical testimony into the effects of CO2 on the human body was not consistent. One specialist stated that incapacitation occurred at three percent at sea level, another said five percent and still another stated he could not set a specific percentage to use as a standard. It is known however that an individual resistance depends on many factors, such as age, activity level, personality type, altitude, temperature, humidity and the presence of other toxic gases. It was also shown that at first the effects of CO2 act as a stimulant and then as the percentage of gas gets higher it acts as a depressant. Although it was shown that if the person gets into air free of CO2 the recovery rate is rapid and within one or two minutes sensible behavior is possible. But during the early part of the recovery the subject is apt to be confused and irrational.
Upon emerging from the effects of CO2 some individuals will continue the activity in which they were engaged prior to losing consciousness. A large amount of CO2 will displace oxygen rapidly. It’s actually possible for the subject to loose consciousness and recovers with out even knowing it. Medical specialists differ in regards to the human tolerance to CO2. One fact is well established CO2 in addition to reducing the oxygen content of the air, producing a positive, anesthetic effect on the central nervous system.
On May 19, 1948, a TWA Lockheed Constellation, cruising at 19,000 feet, experienced a false fire warning in a forward cargo compartment. CO2 was released in the compartment, and due to the design of the Constellation, including a circulating booster fan, CO2 entered the cockpit and the crew was partially incapacitated. An emergency landing was made at Chillicothe, Missouri.
Following this incident, tests were conducted on June 9, 1948, in the same airplane by TWA. Representatives of the Administrator and the Board present. Under the same conditions that the TWA flight of May 13 had. A concentration of CO2 was released in the compartment and the gas seeped into the cockpit. The CO2 was sufficient to cause one of the crew members to lose consciousness.
On June 11, 1948 the CAB notified officials at United Airlines of the test conducted on the TWA Constellation. The Director of Aviation Safety of the CAA informed all CAA regional offices by telegram that it had been reported that a rapid descent following discharge of the CO2 in the forward compartment of the Lockheed Constellation 49 causes a dangerously high concentration of CO2 on the flight deck and it had tentatively been established that utilization of emergency cockpit smoke clearance procedure would alleviate the problem.
On June 10, 1948, seven days before United Flight 624 would crash the Air Transport Association sent the following telegram to all DC-6 operators.
“Following information received from TWA flight tests simulating forced landing at Chillicothe revealed serious oxygen deficiency in the cockpit when CO2 bottles are pulled in the cargo compartment. Recommendations to flight crews include the following steps.
2. Open cabin window
3. Open cockpit window
4. Pull CO2.
Under all circumstances oxygen should be used before releasing CO2. It has been recommended to us by TWA that a similar situation may exist on DC-6 aircraft. Therefore, we suggest if possible you carry out necessary tests to determine if such can occur on the DC-6.”
A copy of this telegram was sent to the Douglas Aircraft Company dated June 14. On June 15 Douglas replied “Reference your telegram June 10 to DC-6 operators regarding CO2 concentration in the cockpit of the constellation. Douglas made CO2 smoke evacuation tests on the DC-6 for CAA purposes in February of this year with entirely satisfactory results. Copies of this report are available on request.”
Douglas continued, “ Please contact all recipients of your June 10 wirer and withdraw any reference to the DC-6 aircraft as tests you recommended are extremely hazardous to conduct, requiring considerable emergency equipment. Also recommendation regarding smoke evacuation for other aircraft does not necessarily apply to the DC-6. All recommendations presently enforce by DC-6 operators based upon extensive tests made under varied conditions carrying CAA approval. Believe you should use extreme caution in issuing instructions of this nature on DC-6 aircraft without prior coordination with Douglas.”
The Air Transport Association upon receipt of the telegram from Douglas dispatched another telegram to all DC-6 operators. “Regard all DC-6 operators in regard to DC-6, CO2 concentration possibilities. Having been advised by Douglas this adequately covered by their report DEV-133 results of which were included in the DC-6 operations manual.”
The test results that Douglas based their findings on were conducted in January 1948. Due to the accident of United Flight 608 which crashed at Bryce canyon, Utah on October 24, 1947. These flights were made for two reasons one to check the fuel transfer system and also to test for concentrations of CO2 in the habitable compartments of a modified DC-6. During one of these flight tests the CO2 that accumulated in the flight deck was sufficient to cause partial incapacitation of the crew.
Following the January flight tests an additional cabin pressure relief valve was installed below the floor and at the rear of the cabin. When installed it provided greater ventilation and lower concentrations of CO2 in the cockpit and cabin.
An interesting fact was revealed during another flight test. It showed that an aircraft flying at 20,000 feet and at 300 mph and having one or two banks of CO2 released in the under floor compartments. The actual concentrations of CO2 in the cockpit were found to be no greater than two percent. Although the above test did not include tests for the simultaneous discharge of both banks of CO2 in the under floor forward baggage compartment. Not including the forward baggage test the original test was still accepted as having a satisfactory result.
As a result of this entire test the Douglas Company made modifications to the ventilating system and also revised the procedure for the operation of the fire extinguishing system.
The Douglas procedure specifically included the warning "Failure to open the cabin relief valve may result in excessive amounts of CO2 in the cockpit and cabins.” This revised procedure was required to be placed in all DC-6 operations manuals. United Airlines included the revised procedure in its operations manual and in the airplane check list although the warning, as quoted above was omitted.
Following the flight tests in January, the Douglas Company employed medical specialists to make a study of the human tolerance to CO2 gas. Completed in February 1948 the test showed that a maximum allowable CO2 concentration at sea level for all operating personnel should not exceed five percent for more than five minutes and that the gas had a toxic effect on the body, increasing the rate of breathing, irritating the eyes, nose and mouth, creating muscular weakness and lack of coordination and causing dizziness, faintness and frontal headaches. Unfortunately this study was not released by the Douglas Company until after the date of the accident.
The investigators knew that the Air Line Pilots Association had recommended to the CAA on March 3, 1948 that “Smoke masks type oxygen equipment be required for all members of the crew on transport aircraft.” The reason was for the recommendation was so that the flight crew would be able to carry on their work of landing the aircraft safely in spite of possible smoke interference in case of a fire. The ALPA recommended this because they had witnessed the flight test for both smoke and CO2 hazard in the cockpit of the DC-6 back in February 1948. The CAA considered that additional protection of a smoke mask was unnecessary at the time. A second recommendation was sent to the CAA dated April 13, 1948 from the ALPA requesting the need for smoke masks, after this letter the CAA instituted a medical study of the effects on CO2 and smoke on the flight crew. This study was not completed until after the crash of United 624.
The investigation reviled that the cabin pressure relief valves were closed prior to the accident. This led the investigators to indicate that the pilots did not follow the approved emergency procedure when discharging CO2 into the forward cargo compartment.
During the investigation the CAB members were not able to determine the position of the flaps due to the extreme breakup of the aircraft. However finding that the landing gear was retracted indicated that the crew had made the decision to descend at the 300 mph flaps up, gear up configuration.
On June 15, 1948 two days prior to the accident United Airlines decided to instruct all of its DC-6 crews to use oxygen masks when CO2 is released. A company bulletin to this effect was being prepared at the time of the accident. Unfortunately neither Captain Warner nor First Officer Schember received this bulletin. At the completion of the modification program flight tests were made with CAA and ALPA ( Airline Pilots Association) members on board the aircraft.
Had the crew followed the proper procedures for this emergency in this descent configuration the accident possibly would have been avoided. Here in lies some confusion, although the retracted position of the landing gear indicates the crew elected the 300 mph descent procedure. It was also recognized by the CAB board that possibly the crew elected to make a descent at 160 mph, with flaps and gear extended. According to the Douglass Company tests performed after the accident, a hazardous concentration of CO2 gas would still have existed in the cockpit even though the pilots had adhered strictly to the approved emergency procedure.
On the basis of all evidence the CAB Board finds that:
1. The pilots, aircraft and carrier were duly certificated.
2. One or both of the pilots of the aircraft, in a radio transmission received at 12:31 on June 17, 1948, by the company radio operator at La Guardia Field, reported that a fire extinguisher had been released in the forward cargo pit and that the flight was making an emergency descent.
3. The aircraft, after descending to a low altitude, assumed an erratic course in the direction of constantly rising terrain and finally crashed into a transformer in a power line clearing on wooded mountainous terrain approximately three miles east northeast of Mt. Carmel, Pa.
4. The aircraft in its descent flew over the Sunbury Airport, Sunbury, Pa. at an altitude of approximately 4,000 feet. On or within ten miles of the flight path and the scene of the crash there were other visible areas on which an emergency landing could have been made.
5. A fire warning caused the crew to discharge at least one bank of the CO2 fire extinguisher bottles in the forward cargo pit.
6. Six 15 pound bottles and six discharge valves were found in the wreckage, however, both the bottles and valves which became separated from their bottles during impact. They were so damaged no conclusions could be drawn as to how many of such bottles had been discharged prior to impact.
7. At the time of impact, the emergency cabin pressure relief valves were closed, and the control mechanism for such valves was in the closed position.
8. Except for the apparent failure of the fire detection instruments referred to in finding No.5 the investigation revealed no mechanical failure of the aircraft or fire in flight.
9. The emergency procedure for operation of the DC-6 fire extinguisher system was established after flight tests were conducted in descent configuration of 300 mph, with the landing gear and flaps up, no flight tests were conducted prior to the accident in a descent configuration of 160 mph with gear and flaps down, which configuration was also approved for DC-6 operations.
10. At the time of impact the landing gear was in the “up” position, thus indicating that the aircraft had descended in the configuration of 300 mph. The extensive breakage of the aircraft precluded any positive determination as to the position of the flaps.
11. After the release of CO2 gas hazardous concentration of the gas entered into the cockpit.
12. Due to the physiological and toxic effects of high concentrations of CO2 gas in the cockpit, which would probably not have occurred had the cabin pressure relief valves been open, the members of the flight crew of the aircraft were rendered physically and mentally incapable of performing their duties.
The Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the incapacitation of the crew by a concentration of CO2 gas in the cockpit.
An interesting editorial was written in the Pottsville Miners Journal in late August 1948 entitled “NO AIRFIELD”.
This section of the coal region is getting world-wide publicity just now but it is of the kind we regret to have for it is being paid for by the sacrifice of 43 lives. This airplane crash near Mt. Carmel is the fourth worst accident in the history of aviation in the United States. There wasn’t even a miracle to save a simple life.
If Pottsville had a suitable airport where big transport planes of this kind might land in an emergency and which might be used for regular commercial stops, probably this accident would not have happened. In five or ten minutes more it might have been safely landed and all these lives saved.
The Federal Government has contributed huge sums for airports all through the country but has not been asked for any assistance from the Pottsville region. Pottsville has not been sufficiently sold on the idea that a big commercial airfield is necessary for present day business life. It would be well for some agency to take over the task of providing such a field for the safety of air traffic.
We have all become accustomed to asking for all sorts of money for all purposes, some needed and others not which local community interests should themselves provide. We have sacrificed too much the spirit of self reliance in that weakness which whines-let the government to it.
Air traffic has come to stay. It is increasing rapidly. This accident near Mt. Carmel may have not converted to quick modern transportation, but it will not stop the steady progress of the direct and speedy route through the skies.
Many living today may not turn to this method of travel but their children will. It will become as common as automobile transportation. We must realize that we must prepare for this new condition which will be with us at an early date. The more airfields we have the safer will flying become.
The 38 passengers who boarded United Airlines Flight 624 represented a typical cross section of American life. They were young, they were old, some were rich others just fit the middle class of a normal working class American family. They represented all walks of life. There was also one foreign national on board. These people whether they wanted to or not had to put their trust in the skill and knowledge of the Captain and First Officer and the two stewardesses who made up the crew of United 624. The Captain and his crew were very experienced members of the aviation fraternity who put their trust in the CAA, the engineers, the aircraft builders, and the mechanics who worked for Douglas Aircraft Corp. and United Airlines. The system was good for the time period, yet sometimes even with the most perfect of situations things will go wrong, creating unforeseen circumstances that end with a marvel of modern time like the DC-6 airliner crashing into a hillside in Pennsylvania.
The passengers listed by United Airlines were:
1. Earl Carroll, 57, Hollywood theatrical producer.
2. Beryl Wallace, star of Carroll’s theater restaurant show.
3. Mrs. Venita Varden Oakie, Hollywood, divorced wife of the motion picture actor. Jack Oakie.
4. E. George von Sebo, New York, head of the warehousing and merchandising control division of Devoe & Reynolds, Inc. paint concern.
5. Parker W. Silzer, 48, 79 Graham Ave. Metuchen, N.J., assistant to Von Sebo, and only son of the late former Gov. George S. Silzer, of New Jersey.
6. Mrs. Alta Gwinn Saunders, professor of Business English at the University of Illinois, Urbana.
7. Hugh McCloskey, the Texas Company, New York.
8. Lt. Cmdr. C.S. Avery, 5775 Eddy St., San Francisco, Calif.
9. Nathan Berke, Berke Bakeries, Brooklyn, New York.
10. Ernest Winckoff, Berke Bakeries, 65 Knickerbocker St., Brooklyn, New York.
11. Rowland Brown, auditor, Brown Brothers, Harriman and Company, New York.
12. Arthur B. Smith, a department head of Brown Brothers, Harriman and Company, New York.
13. Frank Campi, 583 Bird Ave. San Jose , California.
14. H. Jackson, Crowell-Collier Company, publishers, New York.
15. W.A. Kendall, 149 Wilmont St. Scarsdale, New York.
16. D. Marcus, 817 West Lakeside Ave. Chicago, Illinois
17. Mrs. Joy. Marcus, 817 West Lakeside Ave. Chicago, Illinois
18. The Marcus Infant, 817, West Lakeside, Ave. Chicago, Illinois.
19. Mrs. L.O. Weiser, 1947 West Albion St. Chicago, Illinois.
20. The Weiser Infant, same address.
21. A.S. Angus, the Texas Company, 135 East 42nd St. New York.
22. A.G. Devito, Joraleman St. Brooklyn, New York.
23. Hans Joachim, American Trans. Co. 1489 Folsom St. San Francisco, California.
24. R. Harvey, 310 106th St. New York City, associated with Recotron Corp.
25. H.L. Slater, 134 West 58th , New York City.
26. Miss Kay Thorpe, NBC staff announcer in Chicago.
27. E. Hinchliff, Burson Knitting Mills, Rockport, Illinois.
28. G.W. Rogers, Lamont Corliss Company, New York.
29. Dr. Y. Lecorre, No. 3 Rue du Bacador, 8th district France.
30. T.J. Gallagher, 516 Fischers road, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.
31. L. Dieringer, Comstock Electric Company, 155 East 44th St., New York.
32. R.B. Stewart, Comstock Electric Company, New York.
33. N.V. Pessin, 53, a market executive, 1911 N. Edgemont Dr., Los Angeles, California.
34. Mr. G. Harris, Boyertown, Pennsylvania.
35. Mrs. G. Harris, Boyertown, Pennsylvania.
36. R. Bufano, 107 Waverly Street, New York.
37. William Casmer, 14 Ave. A. New York, New York.
38. Albert W. Stempel, Box 608, Stratford , Conn..
39. Paul March, 32, 1208 J. Street, Sacramento, California.
On Friday June 18th, the Pottsville Republican reported that because of the total devastation of the DC-6 it took investigators over 24 hours before they could positively identify any of the passengers. United Airlines officials stated that identification was made by the use of rings, scars, teeth and dental records, that were supplied by relatives of the passengers. The first passengers positively identified were Mrs. Joy Marcus, Chicago, Nathan Berke, Brooklyn, Rowland Brown, New York and Hans Joachim, of San Francisco.
Chief Burgess, Joseph Gallgagher of nearby Centralia, said “ None of the bodies was intact, there isn’t one whole body in the place.” The bodies and parts of bodies were taken to a temporary morgue set up by the Mid Valley colliery.
All of the bodies recovered were taken to the Joseph Stutz Funeral Home in Centralia. United Airlines stated they would fly special planes for relatives to be able to identify the bodies.
By the evening of Saturday June 19th the headlines in the Pottsville Republican read. PARTS OF BODIES OF 21 IDENTIFIED, IN ARISTES CRASH.
Twenty one others including Actress Beryl Wallace and two infants already have been positively identified.
But the mangled remains of Miss Wallace’s producer, Earl Carroll of Broadway and Hollywood fame, still lay in a mound of smashed humanity in an emergency morgue.
By Saturday evening the identified included: Lt. Cmdr. C.S. Avery, Nathan Berke, Rowland Brown, Mrs. Joy Marcus and her infant child. Mrs. L. O. Weiser and here infant child, Hans Joachim, H.L. Slater, Miss Kay Thorpe, G.W. Rogers, Dr. Y. LeCorre, R.B. Stewart, G. Harris, William Casmer, Albert W. Stempl, First Officer Richard Schember, L. Dieringer, Lorena R. Berg, Nancy Brown both of the stewardesses. And Beryl Wallace.
According to reports Beryl’s body was thrown clear of the aircraft and she was easily identified, were here friend and producer Earl Carroll was only identified by finger prints.
The families of the crew and passengers killed in the crash except for one, Mr. George Von Sebo, who’s family elected to have him buried in the Saint. Ignatius Cemetery in Centralia had their loved ones remains returned to them.. All the remaining bodies that could be identified were turned over to their families and were transported to their homes for burial in private cemeteries. There were many unidentified body parts collected from the crash site. These parts were collected and buried in a grave in the cemetery above Centralia. The grave is marked by a simple bronze plaque marked “Unidentified June 18, 1948.”
The indentification of the human remains was very difficult for the officials of United Airlines. When the DC-6 crashed into the hillside it was traveling in excess of 250 mph. Though the aircraft was designed to take extreme amounts of stress, the deceleration force of hitting the hillside disintegrated the aircraft, along with the deceleration factor the fuel in the tanks also exploded creating further devastation. No passenger aircraft has the capability to absorb the energy that was dissipated at the time of impact
Today many aircraft accidents that are investigated improve upon the design features of the different aircraft and the results of the investigations influence various design changes that in the long run will improve occupant survivability.
After the first signs of a problem (the glowing red light indicating a cargo hold fire) the flight crew immediately reacted. The Captain would have notified the stewardesses by telephone that they were having a problem and making an emergency descent and to prepare the cabin for the emergency . The stewardess would have reacted immediately and went into their emergency training of having everybody seated with seat belts on, all types of smoking would have been extinguished and they would have given their briefing for preparation for an emergency landing.
For the next ten minutes the passengers had to live with that frightening aspect of not knowing what was going on. They would have the hope and belief that everything was in control and they were descending to a safe landing at a nearby airport. During those long ten minutes from the onset of the emergency it had to be very apparent to any of the passengers who chanced a glance out of the window in the last minutes that the aircraft was in serious trouble, hearing nothing from the flight crew as to their status the anxiety had to be extreme. In the last minute anyone looking out the right side windows of the aircraft could see the tree covered hillsides and city of Mt. Carmel streak by at an ever decreasing altitude and high speed. Unknown to the passengers was the fact that the pilots were incapacitated and not in control of the plane. Had one of the stewardesses worked her way to the flight deck and discovered the crew incapacitated and possibly helped one of the pilots to regain consciousness will never be known. There is a high probability that one of the pilots did regain some consciousness and pulled hard on the control yoke and tried to save the aircraft.
As the last seconds of Flight 624 began any of the passengers who were still alert and functioning would have felt the aircraft make a 30 to 35 degree bank and begin to pull up to the right. At the moment of impact with the ground an enormous amount of kinetic energy was applied to the aircraft and its occupants.
The forces transmitted to a passenger or crew member in an aircraft accident is determined by the manner in which the fuselage deforms and dissipates the high amount of energy expended during the impact. Structural deformation and the resultant impact force on this aircraft was beyond any survivable means. Also the ensuing explosion and fire immediately after the impact was another non survivable aspect.
The human body reacts to these combined forces with a combination of acceleration, strain and finally deceleration. The major death causing injuries results from the deformation of tissues and organs and from the trauma to the anatomic parts caused by the collision with the structural components of the aircraft such as seats, overhead compartments, fuselage airframe structure, windows and panels. At the moment of impact the G forces generated on the body act in a horizontal and longitudinal way. In a micro second a wave of energy was transmitted through the body of everyone aboard, the cells comprising the physical body virtually exploded turning the body into a mass of jello. At the high speed and kinetic energy released in this accident the people were literally blown apart. Seat belts cut some in half and others were thrown completely away from the aircraft. As the investigators stated while searching for clues. There virtually were no whole bodies found intact. And what remained of the bodies in the area would have been scorched on burnt beyond recognition because of the large explosive fire that followed a second after impact. Life ended for the 43 persons on board Flight 624 in milli seconds.
After the accident investigation there where several damage suits filed against United Airlines in the District Court of Pennsylvania. The most notable was that filed for Miss Beryl Wallace filed on 13 April 1949 charging United Airlines with negligence in the operation of the airplane seeking $1,020,000. A very small amount considering what would be filed in a negligence case in this day and age. By the summer of 1950 some of theses suits were still pending.
Also the notable producer Earl Carroll estate filed a $2,000,000 damage suit also. The suit filed charged the airline with negligence, alleging fire broke out on board the aircraft before it struck the power line and crashed into the hillside.
By May of 1950 a federal court jury consisting of six men and six women after deliberating for seven hours found United Airlines was not to blame for the crash. Therefore denying the damages brought by the plaintiffs. Appeals were made.
FLIGHT PROFILE UNITED 624*
10:35-10:40 AM.....Flight 624 departs the terminal and taxi’s to the active runway.
10:43 AM………...Flight 624 begins take off roll.
10.44 AM………...Flight 624 reaches V2 speed and climbs out of Chicago Airport. At
120 knots to 140 Knots. @ 850 to 1000 fpm. Climbing to 17,000 feet.
Heading 143 deg. To Lansing.
10:56AM………...Passes Lansing and turns to a heading of 090 degrees.
11:02AM………..Flight 624 reaches cruise altitude of 17,000 feet. In the air for 23 minutes.
11:17AM………..Flight 624 passes Goshen range. @ 17,000 feet on a 097 degree heading on Green
Airway 2. 34 minutes in the air. G/S 296 knots.
11:29AM……….Flight 624 passes Toledo range @ 17,000 feet G/S 296 knots. In the air for 46 minutes
Heading 097 degrees.
11:46AM………Flight 624 passes Cleveland range @ 17,000 feet G/S 296 knots Heading 101 degrees.
In the air 1:03.
11:55AM…… Flight 624 changes over from Chicago dispatch to New York dispatch. In the air 1:12.
11:58Am………Flight 624 passes Youngstown range @ 17,000 feet G/S 296 knots. Heading 101 deg.
In the air 1:15.
12:23AM……...Passes Phillipsburg range @ 17,000 feet G/S 296 knots. Heading 104 degrees in the
12:27AM……...Flight 624 receives clearance to descend to 13, 000 -11,000 feet. Heading 101 degrees.
G/S 280. In decent.
12:31AM…….. Flight 624 is SW of Lewisburg. Heading toward Sunbury, Pa. Off the airway and
Descending at a high rate.
12:33AM……...Flight 624 passes over Sunbury Airport @ 4,000 feet, 9,000 feet below assigned
12:36AM……..Flight 624 slightly north of Shamokin turns to the left heading 090 degrees.
Flying erratically and only 1000 to 500 feet agl.
12:38AM……..Flight 624 passes to the north of Mt. Carmel. @ 250 feet or less. G/S 250 knots.
12:40AM…….Flight 624 approaches the Mid Valley breaker at less than 200 feet. Sharply banks
To the right and tries to climb over high ground.
12:41AM……Flight 624 in a right turn hits transformer and wires of the Mid Valley Colliery and crashes
Into a hill, explodes and is totally destroyed. Total flight time 1:35.
*Note all speeds are average speeds based upon times given in the CAB accident investigation. Author realizes that the speed would have varied over the course of the flight, but to have a basic understanding of the flight the speeds have been averaged. The headings given are from original Green Airway 2 flight charts.
All distances are given in nautical miles. And all times are Eastern Standard Time.
Cockpit checks on the Douglas DC-6 Airplane.
At the time of this accident the Douglas DC-6 was a state of the art design. To the uninitiated the cockpit of the airliner looked quite complicated. Each instrument, lever, handle, switch, knob and button fits into a familiar operating pattern which was second nature to Captain Warner and First Officer Schember long before they were given control of a DC-6. Routine cockpit checks from before takeoff to after landing were performed by the crew. These cockpit checks are performed by the first officer calling off the items listed on the checklist, while the captain checks and calls back the actual position or reading of each instrument or control. All the checks followed the conformity with the progress of the flight.
Following are examples of the actual checks that were performed during the flight. Some are quite lengthy and will be only shown when it is need for clarity of the story.
BEFORE STARTING ENGINES COCKPIT CHECK
1. To include ten steps in the flight compartment, including Electrical system breakers located overhead in aft portion of the cockpit.
2. Main Panel Switch (Forward Section) 9 checks.
3. Heater CO2 Panel 2 steps.
4. Heater Control Panel 6 steps.
5. Upper Instrument Panel 6 steps
6. Cabin Supercharger Panel 4 steps
7. Generator Switch Panel 2 steps
8. Firewall Shutoff Valve Panel. On this step it is important to know that the crew checked the warning lights for a. Engine Zones, B Engine Zone 2-3 & Baggage CHECK CO2 DISCHARGE HANDLES&RESET SMOKE DETECTOR CIRCUITS.
9. Main Instrument Panel and Side Walls. 12 steps
10. Pedestal 15 steps.
STARTING ENGINES COCKPIT CHECK
1. Ignition switches …………………… “On” (all engines)
2. Fuel Booster pump (main Tanks) ….. “High”
3. Engine Selector Switch …………….. Set to engine being started.
4. Starter and Booster Switch ………… .“Engage”
5. Prime ………………………………. “As necessary”
6. Mixture Control……………………. “auto rich”
7. Fuel Booster Pump ………………... “Off”
8. Engine selector switch………………“Off” (after all engines have been started”
9. Generator Switches……………….. .“On”
10. Battery Transfer Switch…………... “Plane Battery”
PRIOR TO TAXING COCKPIT CHECK LIST
1. Seat, Rudder pedals, Seat Belt…………….Checked
2. Ground Crew Clearance…………………..All Clear, Gear locks and tail post removed.
3. Door Warning Light ………………………”Out”
4. Tower Clearance…………………………..”Received”
5. Parking Brake……………………………..”Off”
ENGINE RUN-UP COCKPIT CHECK LIST.
1. Parking Brake ……………………………”On”
2. Mixture…………………………………...”Auto Rich”
3. Propeller Controls………………………..”Full Forward”
4. Generators………………………………..”Check for DC 28V
5. AC Invertors……………………………...”115 Volts
6. Carburetor Heat…………………………” Full Cold”
7. Magnetos and Blowers…………………..”Blowers High Return to Low.
BEFORE TAKE-OFF COCKPIT CHECK
2. Horizons……………………………………”Un caged”
3. Fuel Tank Selectors………………………..”Main Tanks On”
4. Cross feed…………………………………..”Off”
5. Props……………………………………….”Full Forward”
6. Trim Tabs………………………………….”Checked”
8. Auto Pilot………………………………….”Off”
9. Carburetor Heat………………………………….”Cold”
10. Hydraulic System…………………………”On”
11. Wing Flaps………………………………..”20 degrees”
12. Gust Lock…………………………………”Off”
13. Cowl Flaps……………………………….”4 Degrees”
14. Surface Controls………………………….”Free”
CLIMB PROCEDURES COCKPIT CHECK LIST
1. Power ………………………………………158 BMEP-2500rpm
2. Cowl Flaps…………………………………..”Trail” (4-6 degrees)
3. Seat Belt/No Smoking……………………...”Off” Above 1500 feet Captains discretion
4. Cabin Heater………………………………..Check
5. Cabin Superchargers………………………..Check
6. Landing Lights………………………………”Off”
7. Hydraulic System…………………………..”Off”
8. Auto Pilot…………………………………. “Off”
9. Best Climb Speed………………………….160 MPH
CRUISE PROCEDURE COCKPIT CHECK LIST
1. Power………………………………………...148 BMEP-2100 RPM-(1100HP)
2. Cowl Flaps…………………………………...”closed
3. Mixtures……………………………………..”Auto Lean”
4. Hydraulic System……………………………”Off”
5. Fuel Selectors or Cross feeds…………………As desired
6. Cabin Pressure………………………………..”Start Pressure Altitude”
7. Auto Pilot……………………………………As Desired
The Flight Log
In order to indicate the conformity of the flight to its plan the Captain maintains a chronological written record of it progress. He enters a written record of its progress. The captain is required to log the weather encountered along the route, the estimated time and actual time of passing all required check points to the nearest minute. If the estimated time over a point is missed by more than three minutes reasons must be given.. En route fuel checks are made at least once between each refueling station and entries made ion the log showing on which tank the check is made. The true airspeed and ground speed is logged for each position passed. The altitude flown is logged.
The flight log provides a basis for computing factors which vary with the time and depreciation and to give the maintenance department information on any problems that might have been encountered during the flight.
Douglas DC-6 Inspections.
During the period of operation this particular aircraft Douglas DC-6, NC-37506 was subjected to various types of inspections. During its normal operation of flying the line it was routed through many different station inspections. The aircraft had well over 100 service inspections. A service inspection was performed at each scheduled stop where the airline’s mechanics are available. The general purpose of a service inspection was to replenish the supply of fuel, oil, alcohol, or hydraulic fluid as required and to do any maintenance work necessary to make the aircraft airworthy.
The aircraft had many preflight inspections by ground crew and flight crews. A pre-flight inspection is a visual inspection plus a ground test or operational check of the airplane and power plant systems to determine that they are functioning properly; that the airplane is properly serviced and ready for flight.
As the information related in the CAB report indicated that the aircraft underwent two major periodic inspections to include Number .2 -3 periodic inspections. A number 2 is performed about 115 hours and a number 3 is performed around 230 hours. The CAA regulations had a maximum amount of time accumulation of 130 hours for a number 2 and 260 hours for a number 3 to be completed. A number 2 -3 inspection was a complete visual inspection of the engine, including with over 125 items to be checked. To determine the general condition of the engines and aircraft, to detect oil, fuel and hydraulic leaks. The number 3 inspection includes all of the number 2 inspection items and also included a careful wash down of the engine. Clean up all the old oil stains and dirt from the engines, its accessories and cowlings.
THE UNITED AIRLINES
FLEET FLYING IN 1948
The Douglas DC-6 was developed to provide a stretched and more powerful version of the popular
DC-4. United Airlines had great service from their DC-4’s and many were still flying at the time of this accident. The DC-6 used the same wing structure as the DC-4 but the engineers had lengthened the fuselage by 6’9” This created a larger passenger capacity for the aircraft and increased the number to 52 in the basic passenger configuration. The aircraft was also pressurized for greater comfort for the passengers. It had more powerful engines and was developed with an increased payload.
After many months of flight testing the DC-6 entered service with American Airlines and United Airlines simultaneously on April 27, 1947.
Tragically six months after going into service a United Airlines DC-6 crashed at Bryce Canyon, Utah and an in flight fire on an American Airlines DC-6 caused the entire fleet of DC-6’s flying to be grounded.
After the investigations into these accidents and corrections were made the fleet once again resumed flying in March of 1948.
The DC-6 provided United Airlines with many years of reliable service and was a favorite of the passengers and crews who flew on them. Listed below is a list of the 34 original aircraft that were flying for United Airlines up to the accident of June 18, 1948. Up to 1950 Douglas produced a total of 175 aircraft in the basic DC-6 model. The list will show that the aircraft had a reliable and safe flying career.
United would also fly DC-6A and DC-6B throughout the early years of flying. This aircraft was one of the companies favorite airliners used.
1. N37501 United Airlines “Mainliner Bonneville”...
Fleet No. 5201.
In service on November 24, 1946
5201 had a long career flying with different airlines up to December of 1983.
2. N37502 United Airlines “Mainliner New York”
Fleet No. 5202
In service November 30, 1946
With over 54, 855 hours the aircraft was scrapped in 1969
3. N37503 United Airlines “Mainliner Grand Coules”
Fleet No. 5203
In service on November 26, 1946
Scrapped in 1968
4. N37504 United Airlines “Mainliner Hawaii”
Fleet No. 5204
In service March 3, 1947
55,814 hours when scrapped in 1968
5. N37505 United Airlines “Mainliner Sequoia”
Fleet No. 5205
In service March 14, 1947
Later named “Mainliner Yosemite”
Scrapped in 1968
6. N37506 United Airlines “Mainliner Utah”
Fleet No. 5206
In service April 23, 1947
Crashed June 17, 1948 Mount Carmel, Pa
43 killed crew poisoned by carbon dioxide fumes.
7. N37507 United Airlines “Mainliner Connecticut”
Fleet No. 5207
In service 1947
Scrapped with 55,852 airframe hours in 1968
8. N35709 United Airlines “Mainliner District of Columbia”
Fleet No. 5209
In service November 3, 1947
Scrapped in 1962
9. N37510 United Airlines” Mainliner Seattle”
Fleet No. 5210
In service April 31, 1947
Crashed at Bryce Canyon Utah, October 24, 1947, 52 killed by a hold fire.
10. N37511 United Airlines “Mainliner Arizona”
Fleet No. 5211
In service March 26, 1947
Later renamed “Mainliner Idaho”
Broken up in 1962.
11. N37512 United Airlines “Mainliner Idaho”
Fleet No. 5212
In service May 22, 1947
Crashed on a training flight Mcarthur Field, New York April 4, 1955
12. N37513 United Airlines “Mainliner Missouri”
Fleet No. 5213
In service January 4, 1947
Scrapped in 1968
13. N37514 United Airlines “Mainliner Delaware”
Fleet No. 5214
In service June 7, 1947
Later named “Mainliner Estes Park”
Scrapped in 1968.
14. N37515 United Airlines “Mainliner Rhode Island”
Fleet No. 5215
In service June 13, 1947
Still flying as a water bomber in 1995
15. N37516 United Airlines “Mainliner New Hampshire”
Fleet No. 5216
In service June 13, 1947
55,787 hours scrapped in 1968
16. N37517 United Airlines “Mainliner Virginia”
Fleet No. 5217
In service June 13, 1947
Scrapped in 1968
17. N37518 United Airlines “Mainliner Baltimore”
In service June 18, 1947
Later renamed “Mainliner Kansas”
Exported in 1976
18. N37519 United Airlines “Mainliner Maryland”
Fleet No. 5219
In service June 23, 1947
Scrapped in 1968
19. N37520 United Airline “Mainliner Wisconsin”
Fleet No. 5220
In service June 26, 1947
20. N37521 United Airlines “Mainliner California”
Fleet No. 5221
In service July 8, 1947
21. N37522 United Airlines “Mainliner Wyoming”
Fleet No. 5222
In service July 11, 1947
Scrapped in 1968
22. N37523 United Airline “Mainliner Oregon”
Fleet No. 5223
In service August 6, 1947
Scrapped in 1968
23. N35724 United Airlines “Mainliner Pennsylvania”
Fleet No. 5224
In service August 13, 1947
Used for spares in 1962
24. N37525 United Airline “Mainliner Massachusetts”
In service October 1, 1947
Used for spares 1962
25. N37526 United Airlines “Mainliner Iowa”
Fleet No. 5226
In service August 16, 1947
Destroyed in 1976
26. N37527 United Airlines “Mainliner Indiana”
Fleet No. 5227
In service August 27, 1947
Stored in 1972
27. N37528 United Airlines ”Mainliner Nebraska”
Fleet No. 5228
In service September 15, 1947
Scrapped in 1968
28. N37529 United Airlines “Mainliner Michigan”
Fleet No. 5229
In service September 26, 1947
Scrapped in 1962
29. N37530 United Airlines “ Mainliner Ohio”
Fleet No. 5230
In service October 3, 1947
30. N37531 United Airlines “Mainliner Nevada”
Fleet No. 5231
In service October 3, 1947
31. N37532 United Airlines “Mainliner Illinois”
Fleet No. 5232
In service October 3, 1947
Used for spares in 1947
32. N37533 United Airlines “Mainliner Utah”
Fleet No. 5233
In service October 20, 1947
55,708 Scrapped in 1968
33. N37534 United Airlines “Mainliner West Virginia”
Fleet No. 5234
In service October 16, 1947
Later named “Mainliner Mount Vernon”
34. N37535 United Airlines “Mainliner Vermont”
Fleet No. 5235
In service October 25, 1947
1. Civil Aeronautics Board Accident Investigation Report File No. 1-0075-48
United Airlines, Inc. Near Mt. Carmel, Pennsylvania June 17, 1948.
2. Douglas DC-6 Operating Manual, Douglas Aircraft Company.
3. Aviation Safety Network.
4. Aviation Study Manual, August 1949
5. FAA Aircraft Crashworthiness Research Program
6. Aviation Maintenance & Operations, August 1947 Airline Operations Issue.
7. Great Air Disasters, Mallin.
8. Pottsville Evening Republican, June 17, 18, 19, July 2,3, August 25,26,27,28,29,30 1948
9. Pottsville Miners Journal August 28, 29, 1948
10. DC-6 Flight Engineers Manual ASA Airlines 1950
11. Effects of gravity, Aerospace Medicine.
12. DC-6 A Production & Pictorial History P.R. Smith
My purpose in writing this book is to furnish for the record a detailed description of a fatal and tragic aircraft accident that happened when air travel in the United States was just passing its thirtieth year of scheduled operations. Because of the investigation of this and other airline accidents in those thirty years air travel was converted from a hazardous occupation, into a method of travel that was twice as safe as traveling via automobile.
Any airline crash is devastating, but through each and every accident something good was salvaged and lives were eventually saved. As with the investigation and final conclusions of United Flight 624.
This accident was important to me because it happened close to an area where I grew up. It was well known throughout the area. I knew of it while taking flying lessons 20 years after the fatal crash, when I was sixteen years old. Flying out of Joe Zerby airport in Schuylkill County. I over flew the area where it happened many times on training flights. Ironically one of my flight instructors was one of the major eye witnesses to the disaster, Mr. William Tidmore.
It tells the story of an airliner the Douglas DC-6 an airplane that had teething troubles in the beginning but later served for over 40 years of service with the airlines of the world and the United States Air Force, flying routes extending from coast to coast, Canada, Mexico and Europe. I personally had the privilege of working on the C-118 the military version of the DC-6A as an aircraft mechanic while in the USAF. I can still smell the grease and oil that accumulates on an old aircraft like the DC-6, the look of the well worn cockpit that flew thousands of miles, a memory that will remain with me forever. The Old Work horse the DC-6 had a long career that had very few accidents related to mechanical problems.
It is important to mention the investigators of the CAB who pieced together an extremely difficult puzzle and solved a major disaster that has saved many lives in doing so.
The CAB men of today are called the NTSB, (National Transportation Safety Board) these men today owe all what they know to the men who spent hours combing through the devastation of an accident scene with nothing more than their knowledge of the aircraft and its systems. It is a pleasure to relate the courage, self sacrifice and unflagging devotion of the men of the CAB who have dedicated themselves to the idea that aviation can be made safe, economical and practical and a benefit for us all. I think they have surely succeeded in this program. Through their combined efforts of all segments of airline accident investigations, people have enjoyed flying safety for over 90 years.
The airline industry today has achieved amazing goals in safety. In the present day and age airliners fly over us by the thousands, through all types of weather. Very rarely do you find an airliner go down because of a design flaw or maintenance problem. The American aviation industry can be extremely proud of these magnificent accomplishments. Credit is due to the men and women who have diligently worked in the industry especially those who worked and set the foundation of the commercial aviation industry during the early years. They have made flying the airlines a safe and efficient method of transportation.