If you happen to walk by Seventh Avenue and Sterling Place in Park Slope today, stop and look around. Fifty years ago a jet crashed on that spot, on a cold December 16 afternoon in 1960.
The horrific event began hours earlier, when an aging, propeller-driven Lockheed Super Constellation took off from Columbus, Ohio, and a year-old Douglas DC-8 jet lifted off from Chicago. Around 10:30 a.m. both airplanes, en route to La Guardia Airport, converged in the foggy airspace above the New York City metro area.
The Constellation, being flown at 8,000 feet by Trans World Airlines pilots, approached from the west, while the DC-8, a United Airlines aircraft, approached from the southwest at 15,000 feet. As the planes came closer to New York Harbor air-traffic controllers ordered the DC-8 to drop its altitude to 5,000 feet. Minutes later the same order was given to the Constellation.
What air traffic controllers didn’t know was that the DC-8 had made a major miscalculation in its flight-path taking a shorter route than it was first ordered to follow. This meant that when the DC-8 was told to enter a holding pattern above Preston, NY, the flight had already passed over the spot. As the flight neared the airspace above Great Kills Park in Staten Island, the mistaken DC-8 pilot told air traffic controllers the plane was just beginning to circle Preston.
Less than a minute later the last radio transmission from either plane that day came from an open microphone on the Constellation. Soon after the edge of the DC-8’s right wing tore into the fuselage of the Constellation, breaking the old plane into three pieces that fell onto Miller Field, an Air Force airfield in Staten Island.
The burning DC-8 continued flying for 11 miles before crashing in Park Slope. All 128 passengers on the two planes perished, along with six people on the sidewalks of Park Slope.
To commemorate the event, the Brooklyn Historical Society will display a scrapbook of all local news coverage that stemmed from the disaster. In total the articles span more than three years and one hundred pages. There are pieces from the Daily Mirror, a now defunct Brooklyn city paper, as well as items from the archives of the New York Times (which ran this article about the crash last Sunday) and the NY Post.
Stop by the Brooklyn Historical Society’s Othmer Library from 1 to 5 p.m. to take a peek at the scrapbook and to find out more about the crash and its aftermath. Librarians said that although the society normally requires appointments to view it, the book will available for public perusal today.