Saturday, January 28, 2017

Eastern Airlines Flight 45's Mid AIr Collision And Epic Dead-Stick Landing.

Eastern Airlines Flight 45 Midair Collision. DC-3/A-26
July 1945
Distracted Pilots, And Serious Stick And Rudder Skills.





Many people have trouble getting their minds around the sheer number of military aircraft in the air over the U.S on any given day during World War II. It's probably impossible to come up with even an accurate average number of flights on any given day, but between training, testing new aircraft and technology, ferrying aircraft, and inter-installation transport of supplies, equipment, and personnel there were thousands of flights every day from December 1941 through the end of 1945.

With that many flights on a daily basis, accidents were all but inevitable, and with that era's absolute lack of any regional air traffic control once aircraft were beyond visual range of an airfield, it was equally inevitable that some of those accidents would be mid-air collisions. Modern aviation was still under development, and the war was forcing the volume of traffic to completely outpace the development of the technology and procedures needed to handle it.

The majority of the mid-airs over the Continental U.S. during the war involved a pair of military aircraft, but not all of them. World War II was book-ended by a pair of midair collisions involving airliners...DC-3s in both cases...and the second aircraft involved in both accidents was an Army Air Force bomber. Thing is, the causes of the two collisions were just about 180 degrees apart. While the first collision...The Infamous Palm Springs Midair...was a blatant case of reckless flying, the second midair, involving an Eastern Airlines DC-3 and an Army Air Force A-26 Invader, was simply a case of both aircraft being in the wrong place at the wrong time as well as an early example of a problem that persists..in the air and, especially, on the ground...to this very day. And that still-persistent problem would be accidents caused by someone operating a vehicle...be it airborne or ground-bound...while distracted by other tasks.

When all the investigations into this one were complete, it was determined that neither pilot was flying recklessly, but both of them were, officially at any rate, at fault. And the reason that were both found to be at fault is because both pilots became so preoccupied with tasks inside the cockpit that they both failed...for a critical minute or so...to pay attention to what was going on outside the cockpit.

That being said, this particular accident still ended on a far more positive note than the great majority of mid-air collisions, and we can thank Eastern Airlines Captain Gaston D. Davis for that. While he may have been found to be partially at fault for the mid-air, he performed a bit of serious dead-stick flying after the collision that saved most of his passengers and was a precursor to the amazing dead-stick water landing, very aptly named 'The Miracle On The Hudson', made by a guy named Sully sixty-six years later. Thanks to a couple of little details and differences, though, Captain Davis' feat of dead-stick flying just might out-ass-kick Sully's landing by a point or two.

Don't get me wrong...while Chelsea Sullenberger's Hudson River landing was a truly amazing bit of flying, and while his bird had indeed lost both engines, forcing him to dead-stick it in to that now legendary water landing, his aircraft was structurally sound and gave him a little...not much, but a little...time to pick and choose a landing spot.  Davis, on the other hand, was flying an aircraft that was going down right then after suffering severe structural damage while also loosing both engines (One of them very literally), and, legendary as it is, was saddled with some of the worst stall characteristics of any airplane ever built. Davis, IMHO, wins that one on points.

For this one we head back in time to the tag end of Wold War II, July of 1945, in the skies over South Carolina. The War in Europe had ended in May (And troops not needed for the occupation of the defeated Axis nations were being transferred to the Pacific Theater en masse.). The Japanese forces were on the ropes, but they didn't want to admit it yet, and we were gearing up for an invasion of the Japanese Home Islands that, had it taken place, would have made Normandy look like a cake-walk ...An option that, thankfully, we never had to use. 

While the War in the Pacific was still very much in progress in July of 1945, the end of the War in Europe had allowed life along The East Coast to start a long, slow slide towards normal, though it would take it a while to get there. With the war still being fought in the Pacific gas rationing and restrictions on driving, along with other types of rationing, were still in place and would remain so for nearly a year after Japan surrendered, not being rescinded until mid to late 1946.

Even though driving restrictions and gas rationing were still very much in place, restrictions on air travel had eased to the point that people were being allowed to fly for pleasure again. The number of travelers who were flying for pleasure rather than business was still a tiny fraction of what it had been in, say, 1940, but people were indeed booking vacations and weekend get-aways again. They couldn't drive anywhere, but they could fly there and grab a cab...Taxi companies, I believe, got unrestricted gasoline allotments.

So, when Eastern Airlines Flight 45 lifted off of the active runway at Logan Airport at about 8;55 am  on that warm, clear Thursday morning, enroute to Miami, it's a pretty good bet that at least some of the passengers were heading out of Bean Town simply because they wanted to get out of Boston for a few days.

Note, however, that I didn't say heading for Miami for a few days...Nonstop flights from Point A to Point B weren't a thing yet. Any given flight from one major city to another was going to have a few intermediate stops in between, both for fuel and possibly a crew change, and as a convenience for the flying public who needed to get from, say, Boston to New York or Washington...which happened to be Flight 45's first two intermediate stops...faster than by train. (The wartime National speed limit of 35 miles per hour would have made either trip a long drive even if gas and tire rationing and driving restrictions hadn't made intercity driving impossible for most people in the first place).

A restored Eastern Airlines DC-3 making a low pass at an airshow. This is the paint scheme that Eastern used during that era, with most of the aircraft left in natural aluminum. Eastern even capitalized on this scheme by declaring it's fleet of DC-3's 'The Great Silver Fleet', and proudly painting that slogan on it's planes, above the cabin windows.

Also note that when the DC-3's landing gear was retracted, the main wheels protruded from the wheel wells...a common feature with early retractable gear aircraft. This actually reduced damage some in a gear-up landing on a runway...not sure it helped much if the plane bellied in in a cotton field, especially considering the fact that the A-26's vertical stabilizer tore into the left engine nacelle just about even with the left main wheel.

Note how low the engines are mounted in relation to the fuselage, and how long the prop blades are, and you can see how the mechanics of the actual collision and damage worked. The top of the A-26's fuselage came real close to kissing the underside of the DC-3 when it was kicked up into airliner's the right prop.  When the DC-3's left engine was torn loose,it's prop probably tore into the fuselage just about dead center of the Eastern Airlines Logo...according to the C.A.B. report, just aft of the baggage compartment door. Only sheer luck kept it from taking out the control cables while it was at it...the fact that they remained intact allowed Captain Davis to belly it in in a cotton field, saving all but one of his passengers.


Flight 45 made a crew change in New York, with veteran Eastern Airlines Captain Gaston D.Davis taking over command and chief pilot duties, and Norman L Martindale taking over as 2nd Officer. They probably added fuel either there or in D.C, and when they took off from Washington's National Airport at 12:22 PM, they still had two stops to make before reaching Miami...Columbia, South Carolina, about two hours away, and Jacksonville, Florida, which they'd never reach, not on that day or on that particular DC-3 at any rate. The New York-Miami leg of the trip was probably Davis and Martindale's regular route, making the flight routine to the point of near boredom for them until they approached the small city of Florence, South Carolina.

As long as they didn't hit any of the infamous Summer turbulence that was caused by thermals rising above the sun-heated farm fields the flight was probably a pleasant one for Flight 45's passengers. Other than a few puffy cumulus clouds drifting around at or just above their cruising altitude of 5000 feet with the wispy mares-tails of cirrus clouds riding way above them, the weather was clear, with visibility of six to ten miles. Those passengers not reading, dozing, or talking with their fellow passengers were probably watching the rural South's summer-patchwork pass by beneath them.  Mrs A.E.Williams was entertaining her two year old son, as the mother of another baby on board the flight was doing with he own child. A couple of passengers who were bound for Columbia probably checked their watches as Flight 45 approached Florence, knowing they were only about fifteen or twenty minutes out from their destination.

Little did they know they were about to share a experience that would stay with them for all of their lives. And little did Davis know that he was unknowingly getting ready to set them up for it by taking what he thought was a precaution that would make this part of the trip safer.

Before we go into just exactly what that precaution was we have to remember something...Aviation in the 1940s was a far, far different animal than it is today. Radar wasn't available to civilian authorities yet, and wouldn't be for close to a decade, so there was no regional air traffic control as there is today because without Radar there was absolutely no way for an air traffic controller to monitor traffic that he couldn't actually see from the control tower cab. This, of course, also meant that there was absolutely no way to alert a pilot hundreds of miles away of possible conflicting traffic, or to even be aware of that conflicting traffic in the first place.

The airway system, however, was already in place, though it, too, was a different beast from the system in place today. There were no high altitude jet airways, because there was no need for them...the 'J' prefixed Jet airways hadn't even been contemplated yet, because there were no high-flying pressurized airliners to take advantage of them.

Back then all of the airways were low altitude airways because the unpressurized airliners of the day (Mostly DC-3s) cruised at altitudes ranging form 5,000 to 10,000 feet. The airways were designated using a color and a number, and the airway that Flight 45 was following as it approached Florence, S.C. that afternoon was designated Amber 6.


*


If you take a look at a satellite view of  today's Florence Municipal Airport, look closely at the northern portion of the airport and you can see the remains of what was Florence Army Airfield. Back in July 1945 the field was the home of the 334th Army Air Forces Base Unit (Replacement Training Unit, Light Bombardment), and on July 12th at around 1:15 PM, an Army Air Force A-26 Invader attached to that unit and wearing BuNo 44-35553 left Florence Army Air Field under the command of 1st Lieutenant Steven Jones.  The A-26 was en route to a training area about 40 miles Northwest of Florence for an exercise that was supposed to take them about two hours to finish. It would be an eventful two hours.

Florence Regional Airport today...you can still see the old Army Airfield's runway pattern, also Florence Regional's original runway pattern, at the north end of the property (Circled in red) . Note the yellow 'X's denoting them as closed runways. The airport's terminal and executive/general aviation terminal are still at that end of the airport, and use one of the old runways as a taxiway. 

Of course, seventy-two years ago, those two runways and the area immediately surrounding were packed with olive-drab painted aircraft and teemed with activity. Our A-26 departed from one of those runways,of course, it and two of it's crew of three, sadly, never to return.

The A-26 was a twin engine light bomber/ground attack aircraft, also built by Douglas...it was 48 feet long with a 61 foot wing span and a bomb load of 2000 pounds. It was also armed with a trio of 50 caliber machine guns...a twin turret on the upper fuselage, and a single tail gun...and carried a crew of from 3-5 depending on the mission profile.

It had a top speed of just shy of 360 MPH, but just giving the dry facts about the plane sells it short, because the A-20 was probably one of the most adaptable and sweetest flying planes to take to the air during World War II. Pilots loved it because they could throw it around the sky like a fighter, and crews loved it because it was tough, dependable, and had a reputation for bringing them home even with severe damage.

BTW...see that high, high vertical stabilizer? It's going to be a factor...
*

Because Flight 45's New York-Miami leg was Davis' regular gig, he was well aware that the Amber 6 Airway put him just West of Florence and, more importantly,  within a couple of miles of the Army Air Field and it's often heavy traffic. And this could be a problem. Florence was both a position reporting point, and the point where they began their descent into Columbia, 62 miles and, at their cruise speed of 210 MPH, just over fifteen minutes south. When he started his descent into Columbia, he'd have enough to contend with without having to keep his neck on a swivel in order to stay out of the way of any errant Army Air Force pilots and aircraft.

This is why they were actually about ten miles west of Florence, and eight or so miles west of the airway when Flight 45 reported over Florence at about 2:30 PM. Remember that precaution I told you that Davis took...this was it. While still a good bit north of Florence, and the Army Air Field, Davis eased into a right turn, flew diagonally away from the airway for about two minutes and change, then resumed his southerly course. Basically he was creating his own airborne bypass, something he'd probably been doing for the entirety of the war, to avoid the heavy military traffic going in and out of F.A.A.F.

So, as Martindale reported to Eastern's Columbia Office that they were 'Over Florence and beginning their descent' and Davis eased them into a very gentle 200 or so foot per minute descent and pulled the pre-landing checklist card out, they were actually eight or ten miles west of Florence, and well out of the way of the Army...so they thought.


*


When the A-26 took off from Florence Army Airfield and headed for the practice area 40 miles northwest of Florence, they were planning on spending two hours at what the news reports termed 'Combat Training'. Whether they were practicing bomb-runs or ground attack gunnery (AKA strafing), their evolution only took 30 minutes or so, and they were on the way back home by a shade before two PM. Problem...they were supposed to spend two hours training, so they had to use up another hour and a quarter or so doing something of a training-like nature.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that, even though it wasn't mentioned anywhere, this particular aircraft may have had some radio work done shortly before that training flight. Specifically, repair to the Radio Direction Finder. Why do I say this? Because Lt. Jones, who was in charge of the aircraft and crew, decided to practice Aural Null Procedures, which entailed using the Radio Direction Finder, hereafter referred to as the RDF.  I can just about hear them discussing what to do with the remainder of their block of training time, one of them remembering the radio work, then saying 'Wonder if they actually fixed the thing...?' So they decided to find out, and log it as training.

Of course I don't know for sure that's whet happened, but what ever the reason, Jones' decision to practice Aural Null Procedures...a fancy term for using the signal from a radio station at a known location to determine your bearing from that location...at that particular time and place played a huge part in what was about to happen.  A RDF has a rotatable loop antenna, and to get a bearing using an aural null signal you rotate the antenna until the incoming signal is at it's weakest, then read the bearing, and that's your aircraft's bearing relative to the station where the signal is originating.

You can also, of course, turn the entire aircraft, as in make a wide, sweeping turn or three, which is the method Lt. Jones decided to use.

So he tuned the RDF's receiver to a Florence station and began a series of wide turns while checking the signal strength and null signal against the bearing to the station. Which kept his eyes in the cockpit for much of the time. But Jones wasn't worried, because he was likely aware of other Army flights in the area, and any commercial traffic should be at least eight to ten miles east of them as well as a couple of thousand feet above them. Commercial traffic was usually flying at 5000 feet or higher as it overflew Florence...they were at 3200 feet,

He must have glanced at the 8-day-clock on the plane's panel as he banked into a wide, wide left hand turn, because he would later be able to tell both Army and C.A.B. investigators that he entered the turn at just about 4:36 PM.  Jones held the bank angle at about 20 degrees while keeping his airspeed right at 220 MPH...just shy of 4 miles per minute...as he watched the meter on the RDF receiver while listening to the radio station, waiting for both the meter and his ears to tell him when they reached the signal's lowest strength. He held the turn for a good ninety seconds, until he got the null signal, then rolled out of the turn just as sun glinted off of polished aluminum to his right...

*

Meanwhile, Flight 45 had dropped from it's cruise altitude of 5000 feet to about 3200 feet as Davis and Martindale went through the challenge and reply of the pre-landing checklist. In the cabin, passengers talked or read or maybe even snoozed. At that particular moment, though, no one was looking out of the left cabin windows. They were a bit south and west of the town of Darlington, itself about ten or so miles northwest of Florence, and  a couple of miles east and a little north of a wide spot in the road named Syracuse when a flicker of movement...maybe sun glinting off of plexiglass...caught Davis' eye and he looked up from his checklist and out of the left corner of the DC-3's windscreen...

 'Where the hell did HE come from!?!' 

Davis' stomach curled itself into a knot when he spotted the impossible specter of an A-26 about a football field away, at exactly his altitude, and 'blossoming'...getting bigger and closer almost too fast to comprehend, coming at him at an angle that just about guaranteed it would slam into their left side in a classic, devastating  broadside collision.

The instant he saw the A-26 to his left, (Even as he very likely cursed out loud) he pulled back hard on the yoke, probably fire-walling the throttles at the same instant to keep the sudden climb from slowing them below their stall speed, as he tried desperately to climb above the bomber's flight path. As rugged and reliable as DC-3's are, they aren't fighters and the instant or so it took the elevators to bite air and kick the nose up probably felt more like a decade. Still, they were climbing hard as the A-26 disappeared behind the cockpit, already the apparent size of an airborne battleship, and getting bigger by the instant.

Davis was about to prove himself to be a pilot's pilot.

*

With 1400 hours in the air...300 of them in the A-26...Jones wasn't exactly a rookie himself. He rolled out of his turn and spotted the Eastern DC-3 about a football field or so to his right at the exact same altitude and knew that he was about two seconds away from hitting it broadside. He shoved the A-26's yoke forward even as the airliner grew to fill his windscreen in less than an instant. The DC-3 rose above them and flashed overhead as the A-26 shot beneath it...but Jones never had time to even start breathing a sigh of relief.

One of the A-26's distinctive features was a high, squared off vertical stabilizer, and several things happened to it in less than an eye-blink, none of them vaguely good. First, the bomber was slewed to the right as the DC-3's left wing slammed into the upper half of the vertical stabilizer, which then slid along the wing's leading edge and ripped into the left engine nacelle, tearing the engine loose and body-slamming it against the airliner's fuselage while tearing away the top five feet or so of the stabilizer.  If that had been the only damage the A-26 suffered, it may have stayed in the air at least long enough for everyone to bail out...but that damage was already on the way to becoming a mute point...

When the stabilizer slammed into the DC-3's left engine nacelle it slewed the airliner around to the right and kicked the bomber's nose upward slightly, tilting it's rear fuselage up into the airliner's right propeller, which tore into the bomber's fuselage just about even with the upper twin-fifty caliber gun turret, killing the gunner instantly as it destroyed the turret and ripped through the fuselage structure like a buzz saw on crack.  The top five or six feet feet of the vertical stabilizer were gone, but that, again, was a mute point because the fuselage snapped apart like a stick, the tail fluttering and twisting as it went down while the front half of the bomber flipped over on it's back and went straight in..

Even strapped into his seat, Jones was knocked around the ship's narrow cockpit like a bean in a rattle as the two planes slammed together with a cataclysmic 'CRUMP!!! that was instantly overshadowed by a shrill metallic screeching as the DC-3's right prop tore into the A-26's fuselage. The bomber's engines were still roaring as it's tail tore away, and Jones hadn't even finished bouncing off the sides of the cockpit before the plane flipped over violently, giving him a glimpse of the shattered tail flipping and twisting as it fell. 

The A-26's tail gunner had been killed in the collision, but a nose gunner/bombardier was in the plane's nose, ahead of and below (Now above) the cockpit. With the ground coming up fast, Jones yelled for the nose gunner to bail out even as he hit both the canopy jettison and the quick-release for his own harness. With the plane inverted, he probably didn't even have to push off...he just fell out of the cockpit, maybe kicking  off of the cockpit coming to try and kick himself clear of the plane. Jones was at about 900 feet when he bailed out, so when he yanked his ripcord and his 'chute opened he was already almost kicking tree-tops...he probably barely even swung once before hitting the soft soil of a South Carolina cotton field. The bomber didn't beat him down by much, augering in in a ball of fire only an instant or two before the his boots hit the field.


*

Bedlam erupted aboard the DC-3 at the same instant that the bomber disappeared behind and below the cockpit...Davis was thrown forward against his seat belt as the wing slammed into the A-26's vertical stabilizer, then shoulder-slammed into the cockpit's left sidewall as the vertical stabilizer cracked into the airliner's left engine. The side window smacked a starry fireworks display behind his eyes even as the engine ripped free from the left nacelle, and, trailing fuel lines, wires and the odd structural support or two, caromed into and ricocheted off of the fuselage with another heavy thud that made the cockpit shiver. Though the engine shut down the instant it ripped free, the prop was still windmilling and tore into the fuselage just aft of the baggage compartment and just below the floor of the passenger cabin, miraculously missing both passengers and control cables.

In the passenger cabin, none of the passengers saw the bomber until maybe the instant it hit them, but they felt it and heard it...The loud, apocalyptic metallic 'CRUMP!!' of impact as they were jerked sideways, the passengers in the left window seats smacking the side of the plane just as Davis had even as the engine smacked the side of the airliner with a second solid and heavy 'Thunk!!' that probably shook the passenger cabin like the blow from a giant mallet.. I'm thinking that Mrs Williams was in one of those left hand seats with her son sitting in her lap...he was catapulted into the sidewall head first, his mom, while trying to hold him, did a header into the sidewall as well. 

The violence of the collision itself lasted maybe a quarter of a second and then it was over...they were still in the air and the plane seemed to be under control, though the nose was angling downward. One engine was running...but it seemed to be racing, running far faster than normal and the plane was shuddering as if in a seizure. Then Mrs Williams picked her son up...and started screaming....

*
"The hell did we hit???" Davis heard Martindale ask him as he popped back out of the head-crack induced semi-consciousness that couldn't have lasted more than a second or two. "A bomber hit us This thing coming apart on us??" Davis asked, as if he was asking 'Is it still raining outside? The plane was shuddering and the right engine was racing...there was NO noise from the left engine because...unbeknown to them right then...there was no left engine any more.

The first thing Davis likely did was yank both throttles back to Idle-Cutoff, and the shuddering stopped as the right engine quit beating the air with the mangled and useless right propeller. The shuddering and racing engine was replaced by a silence that can only be that deafening in an airplane with the engines out. It wasn't absolute silence though...wind was rushing past the cockpit and whistling through the rip in the fuselage where their own left prop had eaten into the plane's skin. And there was a woman in the passenger cabin screaming about her baby.

The impact had slewed them around, and, without power and with unknown structural damage, Davis didn't want to do a whole lot of maneuvering...where ever the nose was aimed was where they were putting this crate down. Thankfully, Florence County, South Carolina was Cotton Country, so they were pretty well surrounded by cotton fields. 

Of course they had to keep the airliner from stalling...loosing airspeed to the point the wings no longer provided lift...at all costs. DC-3s had (And have) a nasty tendency to drop their nose and snap over into a spin when they stall, and that would absolutely be the end of the ball game.  Davis pushed forward on the yoke putting the DC-3 into a fairly steep dive ('We still have elevators!) to keep airspeed up. It wasn't so much 'Picking a field' as 'Where ever this thing's nose is aimed is where we're going to land'

Martindale grabbed the radio mike, and told their Columbia, S.C. dispatcher that they had been involved in a mid-air and that they were going down 'Somewhere south of Darlington' as Davis gazed through the windshield, trying to figure out exactly where they were going to end up given their present glide path. Wind was roaring past the DC-3's 'V' windshield and screeching through the tear in the fuselage as he spun the elevator trim wheel, trying to find the best trim configuration for a power off, one engine gone glide.  This was one of those situations that they don't have figures and procedures for in the DC-3's thick operations manual.

"I'm gonna belly it in..." 

"Flaps?"

"NOOOOO...hell no, she's behaving now, lets not piss her off..."

I don't know if the field that the DC-3 basically picked for them had trees on the approach end, or maybe the inevitable road and power lines, or if it was surrounded by other fields, but however it was set up, Davis waited until the last minute to ease it out of the dive (Praying that the damaged left wing stayed with them as he did so), maybe babying the damaged plane over an obstruction before letting her pancake in on her belly, flaring...pulling the nose up...to slow them just a few feet off the ground.
  
This dumped their airspeed and she belly-flopped into the cotton, maybe getting one good solid bounce in before slamming back down and sliding across the field, throwing cotton plants and dirt clods aside as she went, finally slowing as she bounced across the rows. The right wing finally snagged on something, corkscrewing the plane around 170 degrees, and causing it to slide sideways for the last few yards of it's final landing.  As the DC-3 finally shuddered to a stop, the right engine gave up the ghost and dropped away from it's nacelle, burying the damaged prop beneath it as it landed.

They were down.

Somewhere between forty-five seconds and a minute passed between the collision and Davis' epic emergency landing, very likely the longest minute any of them would ever spend. With the exception of  Mrs Williams, whose two year old son was unconscious and gravely injured, Flight 45's seventeen passengers remained calm and didn't panic during that never-ending minute, even though they, too, had been bumped, bruised and knocked around by both the collision and the landing. With the exception of Mrs Williams and her son, the injuries were comparatively minor and, most importantly, all were able to get out of their seats with no assistance.

In the cockpit, Davis and Martindale snapped master switches and ignition off and pulled themselves out of their own seats, making their way to the cabin. While the actual term 'Un-ass the airplane' hadn't been coined yet, the concept sure existed, and, as downed airplanes had this unfortunate tendency to light off and burn like a torch, I can just about bet that very concept was already going through Davis, Martingale, and their unnamed flight attendants' minds. (There were two, one male and one female, aboard flight 45). A column of black smoke to their north, marking the site of the downed A-26, reinforced that concept.

 It's a good bet that the flight attendants already had the cabin door on the aft starboard side of the plane open by the time that Davis and Martindale emerged from the cockpit, One of them had probably already made the short jump from the cabin to the ground and they very likely already had the evacuation of the downed airliner well under way. The right wing had snagged the ground, so they were tilted to the right, making the cabin door even closer to the ground, so getting everybody off of and away from the plane was likely a pretty quick and painless process.

 Mrs Williams was both inconsolable, and one of the two worst injured of the seventeen passengers...sadly, her little boy was the worst injured, and they knew that getting him to a hospital was their top priority. Thankfully the accident hadn't happened in a vacuum by any means...there had been several witnesses to the collision and crashes, and the land-owner of the property where the airliner bellied in was probably among the first on scene. I don't know if he had a phone yet, but if he did it was on a party line so either he wasn't able to report the airliner's crash landing and location...or he was, and was able to notify several neighbors while he was at it.

Citizens began showing up at the DC-3 crash scene within a quarter hour or less of the airliner's emergency landing, followed closely, more than likely, by a unit or two from the Darlington Fire Department. While I couldn't find anything concerning the emergency response it's a good bet that DFD faced a sudden quandary...two crash scenes within a couple of miles of each other...so they probably dumped the house, and very likely got some mutual aid assistance enroute while they were at it. The units...and car loads of citizens...that arrived at the cotton field where the DC-3 bellied in were pleasantly surprised to find an essentially intact airplane sitting in the middle of said field, no fire, and the passengers...most of them uninjured...standing in a group well away form the plane.

This pleasant surprise was stained, however, when they realized that the 2 year old Williams boy was gravely injured, and that his mom had received a nasty head injury as well. Keep in mind that it would be at least a quarter century before advanced prehospital care of any kind was available, and the most oft-used standard of care was 'Big Engine, Heavy Foot, Fast Trip To Hospital'. With that being said, I'm not even sure there was an ambulance on scene, meaning that Mrs Williams and her son could well have been bundled into the back seat of a car rather than loaded into an ambulance.  Whether they were transported by car or ambulance, the driver hauled ass for the nearest hospital, which would have been The McLeod Infirmary, a modern 200 bed hospital located in Florence, a good fifteen mile ride on back country and two lane state roads, so ambulance, or private vehicle, it was likely a fast and rough ride.

Sadly the Williams child died very shortly after arrival at the hospital, to become the only fatality on the airliner. His mom survived her injuries, and the three other injured passengers received minor bumps and bruises. The other baby and her mother were among the uninjured.

 It's a good bet that as soon as Captain Davis made sure his passengers were safe he found a phone somewhere and notified the Columbia Eastern Airlines office that they were down, in one piece, and sitting in the middle of a cotton field and then told them exactly where the cotton field...and the crumpled DC-3...might be found. Meanwhile, a couple of miles away, Lt Jones, who was also bruised and banged up but otherwise uninjured, had likely also managed to find a phone and officially notify his command at F.A.A.F of the collision and the location of the crash site, even as Darlington and possibly Florence firefighters attacked the burning nose section of the bomber and the very probable field/brush/woods fire that the crash had caused.

In Columbia, a couple of Eastern executives headed for Darlington after notifying the State Aviation board...who in turn notified the C.A.B...before heading North. The Eastern officials arrived within two hours of the crash, followed closely by the State officials (Also coming form Columbia) and they were met a few hours later by C.A.B. investigators. The Army, of course, already had an investigative team on the ground at the scene of the A-26 crash by the time they arrived. The may not have had immediate access to the bomber's crash site though... and as soon as firefighters had the fire under control they probably threw a cordon up around the bomber, allowing no one near it except for authorized Army personnel and, ultimately, the C.A.B. investigators.

This investigation would actually be a fairly quick and simple one, because once they interviewed the two pilots the cause of the collision became pretty obvious. In fact, both the civilian and Army investigators probably had a strong suspicion about exactly what had happened by the time another DC-3 picked Eastern Flight 45's remaining passengers up later that evening and continued the flight to Miami.

As these interviews were taking place the wreckage of the A-26 was photographed with the bodies of the two crewmen who went down with it still in place, then once the bodies were removed investigators combed through the wreckage of both planes with the oft-noted fine tooth combs. While the nose section of the A-26 was nothing more than a pile of burned aluminum, the tail section was intact enough for them to examine it and note the damaged vertical stabilizer.  The DC-3 had paint transfer from the bomber on the leading edge of it's left wing, and when it's left engine was located the mangled cowling also had paint transfer, and I'll bet dinner at Applebees it also bore the perfect indentation of the leading edge of the Bomber's vertical stabilizer, so they knew what the points of impact were...the question was just exactly how that impact managed to occur.

The answer to that one was as age-old as it was simplistic. No one was watching where they were going...literally.

The first thing that the C.A.B. noted was the fact that both pilots were operating under what was then termed 'Contact Flight Rules''...what we call "VFR" or Visual Flight Rules today...therefore both pilots were responsible for seeing and avoiding other aircraft. They also noted that, because the DC-3 was flying in a straight, set course, and the A-26 was maneuvering in a way that would cause it to intersect with that course, the DC-3 had the right of way...and that's where things fell apart. See, in order to follow the rules of the road...and to avoid a collision if those rules aren't followed...the pilots of two aircraft have to be aware of each others existence.

In order to be aware each others existence, of course, our two pilots should have simply been what rules and regulations term 'Properly Vigilant' and looked outside of the cockpit in order to 'See and Avoid' each other. But that's the problem here... they didn't watch out for other aircraft, therefore, they didn't see or avoid each other.

Lets take a look at Lt Jones actions first, as his maneuver was both the most complicated and, arguably, was the maneuver that actually caused the mid-air. (My opinion there).  The maneuver they were carrying out had a very legitimate purpose as the RDF was an indispensable piece of navigation equipment back in the day and making sure it was working the way it was supposed to (And, if work had been done on it, that said work was done properly) was a top priority task. Usually in larger aircraft a radar operator, navigator, or co-pilot will handle duties such as this while the pilot flies the aircraft.

One problem though...on that particular training mission the A-26 was, essentially, a single pilot aircraft. The navigator/weapons officer who normally would have been part of the crew didn't seem to be aboard for this trip. If he had been, he would have been handling the RDF while Jones flew the plane. And there we have our problem...Jones was having to split his duties between flying the plane, and monitoring the RDF's gain meter while listening for the aural null signal. To make things even worse, they weren't in restricted airspace dedicated to military training, a fact that the C.A.B. noted when they stated that Jones should have been mindful of the possibility that there could be other aircraft in the vicinity.

And, of course, there was another aircraft in the vicinity. When I read the C.A.B. report's analysis of the mid-air it hit me that, when the A-26 banked into that final wide left hand turn, it probably flew across the DC-3's flight path, only a few of miles ahead of it...had Jones looked to his left as he crossed the DC-3's line of flight, he'd have seen it, and realized he needed to keep clear of it. But that's not the worst of it. Not by far.

As Jones came around into the last thirty seconds or so of the turn, he was flying towards the DC-3, at it's exact altitude and basically tracking it as he turned, Meaning that the airliner was all but dead ahead of him for almost thirty seconds, and within what the C.A.B. called the 'normal azimuth of vision'...the arc of sky that the pilot would have scanned had he been watching for other aircraft...for another 30 seconds prior to that, meaning that the airliner was all but dead ahead of him for nearly a full minute. But Jones wasn't scanning for other aircraft...he was focused on the RDF, until he got the null signal, and rolled out of the turn and saw the sun glinting off of the DC'3's natural aluminum finish only a football field or so away. And by then it was too late.

Now for Captain Davis. As awesome a job as he did after the mid-air, Eastern Airlines' Captain Davis bore his share of blame before the collision as well.

Trust me on this...during the War Years, every pilot of every airliner flying over the Continental U.S. including Captain Davis remembered what happened to American Airlines Flight 28, and that memory popped into focus any time they were anywhere near a military air field. Davis had also reportedly had a couple of near misses of his own involving Army pilots, so he modified his route, flying well west of the airway...and Florence Army Airfield's traffic pattern...because he'd decided that staying as far away from them as possible was a prudent thing to do.

With that thought in mind, the C.A.B. noted that he should have been mindful that, being that close to a military field, military aircraft would be transiting the very airspace he was flying through in order to access training areas, among other reasons. This being the case, they also noted, he also should have been keeping an eye out of the cockpit for other aircraft.  But he was distracted as well...they had begun their descent into Columbia, and he was preoccupied with the myriad little tasks that had to be completed in the fifteen or so minutes before they landed.

Because of this he, like the A-26 Pilot, missed two chances to see and avoid the bomber...first, when it crossed his flight path a few miles ahead of him, then in the last forty five seconds to a minute of it's turn, when it, too, was in Davis 'normal azimuth of vision'. Meaning that all he...or, for that matter, Martindale...would have had to have done was looked up and scanned, and he would have probably seen the bomber in time to climb above it's flight path, and make it a near miss...or even just a miss...rather than a mid-air.

Of course, Davis redeemed himself when he managed to put the damaged DC-3 down in one piece with only a single fatality, but that doesn't change the fact that he was partially responsible for putting them in that situation in the first place, not because of something he did do, but because of something he didn't do. He didn't let his eyes roam outside the cockpit, (and worse, neither did his second officer.) and not through ignorance or incompetence...Davis' actions immediately after the collision rule out any possibility that he was incompetent. He didn't look outside the cockpit due to a few minutes worth of good old distraction-driven negligence.

Meanwhile, aboard the A-26, another dose of distractions led to it's pilot committing the exact same act of negligence, and again, not through incompetence, but rather because he was trying to do too many things at the same time. 

It would be nice to be able to say that this was a one-off incident, and that distracted pilots are exceedingly rare, but sadly, that's not entirely true. Distracted flying accidents aren't anywhere near as common as distracted driving accidents, of course, and airline crashes caused by distracted pilots are rarer still, but they do happen. This is what caused the drafting and enacting of the 'Sterile Cockpit Rule' that bans non-flight-specific conversation in the cockpit of commercial aircraft during certain critical portions of the flight.

Of course, even with all the rules, regulations, and training in the world, there's no easy and absolute fix for this one, because, again, being distracted is a unshakable byproduct of human nature. Changing human nature, as we all know, is almost as easy as moving, say,  Mt Rushmore.

Has Mt Rushmore moved even an inch in the last century? No? Exactly.

We can just be thankful for the fact that fatal airline crashes have become a rare commodity, and that crashes caused by distractions are rarer still.


<***>NOTES, LINKS, AND STUFF<***>


If Life was always fair, and the fates always kind, Eastern's Capt Davis would be just as well remembered for putting his mortally wounded DC-3 down in a cotton field and saving all but one of his passengers as Sully is for making an Airbus pretend it was a flying boat.

But life , of course, isn't fair. Back in 1945, there was no Social Media, no YouTube, no Instant News, and no smart phones with Hi Res video capability to record events as they happened, so he got a bunch of Attaboys in newspaper articles, his passengers remembered him for saving their lives, The C.A.B. said 'Awesome job getting that thing down in one piece...but you're still partially at fault', and the incident was pushed aside by more pressing news of the day...there was a major World War still being fought as you may recall. As the years rolled by the incident ultimately dropped off of the historical radar until only a few serious historians and a few equally serious Aviation History and Aviation Archaeology buffs remember it.

The end result, of course, is that Sully got a major motion picture made about his landing while Davis got a blog post in a very minor history blog written seventy six years and change after the fact by a crotchety old guy. But that certainly doesn't minimize his feat...getting that DC-3 down was one hell of a job of flying.

All of that being said, had the C.A.B. report also been a victim of time and history, and not been available, the afore mentioned Crotchety Old Guy (That'd be Yours Truly) would have dropped this one in the 'Notes...' section of the last post as a two or so paragraph note, because there is very little available on line about it. There was an article on my genealogy site, and maybe one other news paper article and that was pretty much it. The C.A.B. report allowed me to flesh out the details about the mid-air itself as well as the findings of the investigation while giving me enough data and detail to allow me to speculate about the details I couldn't find in what I hope was a reasonable and intelligent manner.

As always, I hope I managed to make this one enjoyable and informative...Now, on to the notes!


<***>

This mid-air collision foreshadowed every crash caused by every person who ever blew through a light or crossed the center line while texting.


'How?' you ask. The technology needed to text just didn't exist seventy years ago so again...how???.

'Simple', I say...The A-26 pilot was distracted because he was preoccupied by the RDF receiver. 

And just what was the RDF receiver? An electronic device...just as every smart phone that some driver's staring at as he or she blows through a stoplight is an electronic device.

So this incident was very possibly one of the very first accidents, on land or in the air, whose root cause can be traced back to one of the pilots/drivers being distracted by an electronic device...a  problem that's become a deadly thorn in the side of every DMV or it's equivalent in the world.

<***>


Flight 28 wasn't the last midair collision involving an airliner and a military aircraft to occur in the U.S. during the 40s, and the decade's third and final such accident harked all the way back to the very first mid-air involving an airliner, twenty years earlier in San Diego. Both of those incidents involved a fighter pilot who was stunting, and both ended badly for everyone involved.

In another twist of irony, this incident also occurred in July and involved another Eastern Airlines flight which had also departed from Boston's Logan Airport. Eastern Flight 557 departed from Logan on the morning of July 30th, 1949...five years and small change after Flight 45's departure from that same airport...enroute to Memphis, Tennessee with several stops in between. Also mirroring Flight 45, Flight 557's first stop would be New York's LaGuardia, but there their route's and fates diverged.

Flight 557 departed LaGuardia at about 10 AM with 12 passengers aboard for a short, 45 minute hop to Wilmington Delaware with veteran Captain L. R. Matthews in command and 2nd Officer J. B. Simmons flying right seat. The weather was nice, visibility 10 plus miles, and it was promising to be a smooth, routine flight. They wouldn't climb higher that 2000 feet on the short hop between LaGuardia and Wilmington, so their 12 passengers would get an up close and personal look at the passing scenery that today's airline passengers miss out on.

Meanwhile, Navy Lt (J.G.) Robert Poe had launched from Washington, D.C.'s Anancostia Naval Air Station at 9:37 AM...twenty three minutes before Flight 557 departed form LaGuardia...flying a Grumman F6F Hellcat on a training and proficiency Flight. His destination was Quonset Point N.A.S in Quonset Point, Rhode Island. and his flight plan routed him northbound up the same Red 3 Airway that Flight 557 was using southbound. Lt Poe's flight plan called for a cruise speed of 185 knots and an enroute time of just about two hours.

Sometime in the midst of these two departures, a single engine Piper Super Cruiser took off from an airstrip somewhere in the vicinity of Chesterfield New Jersey. The Super Cruiser's a single engine, high wing, three place fabric covered aircraft that was an upgraded version of Piper's famed J-3 and J-5 Cubs. It was a docile, forgiving, and extremely popular aircraft that cruised at 105  MPH, stalled at 50 MPH, and could land almost anywhere. It was popular, beloved, and was absolutely no match for a Grumman Hellcat...so why would a Navy fighter pilot see the need to simulate a dogfight with one?

Maybe, an hour and a half or so into his flight he had gotten bored. Maybe he wanted to show off. Maybe he still hadn't worked all of that youthful 'Piss and Vinegar;' out of his system. But whatever the reason, when he spotted the also northbound Super Cub ahead of and about 1000 feet below him, Poe decided to 'Buzz' it. On his first pass he shot beneath it and hauled back on the stick, throttle fire walled and Pratt and Whitney R-2800 'Wasp' screaming as he went into a vertical climb just 100 feet ahead of the Super Cruiser, whose already startled pilot had a busy few seconds on his hands as he was tossed around by the fighter's wash.

He lost sight of the Hellcat but, emulating every fighter pilot who was ever involved in a dogfight, he craned his neck around to try to spot the Navy Fighter, maybe throwing the little Piper into a couple of 'S' turns so he could see behind him...and just as he suspected, Poe wasn't finished with him yet.

A Grumman F6F Hellcat, pictured in a climbing right turn just as the fighter that hit Flight 557 was. Note the three wing guns on the leading edge of each wing. When the F6F hit the DC-3, the airliner's left wing connected with the F6F's left wing just about at those gun bays, tearing most of the fighter's left wing off while also ripping away about 15 feet of the DC-3's left wing. Two of the fighter's guns fell just about straight down, giving investigators a good datum point to use in determining where the collision occurred. The fighter's pilot was either killed or rendered unconscious in the collision, then thrown clear as his aircraft tumbled after the collision.


Flight 557 reported over Freehold N.J...about 25 minutes out of Wilmington...at 10:17 AM, about six minutes later they were just over a mile southeast of Chesterfield NJ when the Hellcat made another pass at the Super Cruiser. Poe again came in from behind and beneath the Piper and hauled back on his stick, throwing the Hellcat into a climb...but this time he didn't go vertical, instead wracking the fighter over into a climbing right turn, throttle again fire walled. The Super Cruiser's pilot probably again spent a couple of busy seconds fighting the fighter's wash, but he managed to look up to see a DC-3 about 1000 feet above him, heading south...and his eyes went huge as he watched the Hellcat climb towards it on an obvious collision course.

The crew of the DC-3 never saw what hit them as the Hellcat came at them from ahead and below, moving from right to left in a 10 degree bank. The fighter's left wing slammed into the airliners left wing about 15 feet in from the tip at the same instant that it's prop shredded the airliner's left wingtip.
The DC-3's wing ripped into the fighters wing only a few feet out from the cockpit, right at it's gun bays, tearing two of the fighter's guns free to tumble straight down while also tearing the left wing away, leaving only a stub. Poe's head had slammed hard into the canopy when he hit the airliner, either knocking him unconscious or killing him instantly. He was thrown clear of the Hellcat as it tumbled and spun away from the collision, shedding parts as it fell to slam into the ground as a crumpled mass of bent aluminum about a half mile away from the point of impact with the DC-3. Poe's body was found about 200 feet away from the wrecked fighter. Though his 'chute burst open when he hit the ground, the ripcord had never been pulled.,

 Matthews and Simmons probably tried desperately to save the airliner, but with the outer fifteen or so feet of it's left wing gone,  it was also mortally wounded and inevitably fell into a graveyard spiral, slamming into the ground in a ball of fire about a mile beyond the collision point, killing all fifteen people aboard.

With a slew of eye witnesses, including and most particularly the pilot of the Piper Super Cruiser, this was another investigation that didn't take much time to close. Poe was judged to be completely at fault due to his blatant act of reckless flying, The report also went into detail in noting that aerobatics were absolutely forbidden in the vicinity of civilian aircraft and most definitely forbidden on a civilian airway.

This incident has fallen even further off the radar than Flight 45's Mid-air...I ran up on it's GenDisasters page and aviationsafety.net page while researching Flight 45, and a little digging gave me the C.A.B. report, but other than than, the well was dry on Flight 557's midair. It should be noted, BTW, that the Gen Disaster page's description of the mid-air...which was a contemporary news paper article...and the C.A.B. report differed greatly.

As well as being caused by reckless flying, it'd be easy to chalk this one up as another incident caused in part to the lack of regional air traffic control during that era...but this wouldn't be true

Why not?...

<***>


 Military air craft would be a hazard for commercial aircraft even after meaningful regional air traffic control was developed and instituted in the mid to late Fifties for the very simple reason that Civil Aviation and Military Aviation utilized two distinct and separate air traffic control systems, and the two systems did not communicate with each other. At. All.

This, of course, meant that when an airliner was on it's decent or climb-out into or out of a commercial airport or even at it's cruise altitude, a fighter on a training or ferry mission could just suddenly appear...and such incidents happened on a not even vaguely infrequent basis right on up to the early Seventies, causing several deadly mid-air collisions. This problem was finally mitigated in the early Seventies when regulations were  enacted requiring all aircraft operating in U.S.airspace, be they military or civilian, to operate under the same air traffic control authority.

 <***>

Had radar been available to civilian authorities in 1945, and been installed in control towers and utilized by Air Traffic Control it may have prevented Flight 45's mid-air...but then again it may not have. Of course we have the above-noted hazard that military aircraft presented even after radar was introduced, but we also have another problem that would have existed for Flight 45 had radar been available to Air Traffic Control back then. The controller would have had absolutely no idea who to warn.

Transponders...devices that allowed an aircraft to transmit a unique numeric code along with it's return on the radar scope...didn't exist yet, and Flight 45 left the airway without announcing it's intention to do so, so it's 'blip' would have been several miles west of where ti was supposed to have been, and therefore, unidentified. The A-26's blip would have been likewise unidentified.

Short of keying up and transmitting 'BOTH unidentified aircraft X miles west of Florence, make an immediate left turn!! (The DC-3 would have turned away form the bomber, which would have... Hopefully...gone behind the airliner ) and hoped both pilots realized he was talking to them in time to make the emergency maneuver. OF course, unless the A-26 was monitoring the civilian ATC frequency, he wouldn't have even heard it.

Yeah...I'm thinking it, too...they would have most likely still collided.


<***>LINKS<***>

With so little information about Flight 45 out there, and even less about Flight 557 (That one doesn't even have a Wiki Page) there aren't a whole lot of links either..but I do have the links for the C.A.B. reports from both incidents.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_Air_Lines_Flight_45   Flight 45's Wiki Page. It's actually pretty sparse, and is pretty much a repeat of the contemporary newspaper article that comprises the incident's GenDisasters page.

http://specialcollection.dotlibrary.dot.gov/Document?db=DOT-AIRPLANEACCIDENTS&query=%28select+320%29   The text of the C.A.B. Report. There's also a link to a PDF version of the report, which is downloadable.`

https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19490730-0   Flight 557's AviationSafety.net Page.
Aviationsafety,net has an enormous database of air crashes, with the raw, basin=c info about all, and some pretty informative narratives about several.

http://specialcollection.dotlibrary.dot.gov/Document?db=DOT-AIRPLANEACCIDENTS&query=(select+442)  Text of the C.A.B. report for Eastern Flight 557's mid-air.  Like Fight 45's report, a link for the downloadable PDF version is also included.



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