New Orleans, LA Gulf of Mexico Airline Crash, Nov 1959
42 Die in Gulf Airline Crash
No Hope Held For Passengers, Crew Of National DC-7
NEW ORLEANS (UPI) - A National Air Lines DC-7B carrying 42 persons on a midnight flight across the Gulf of Mexico crashed into the open waters early today, apparently killing all aboard.
Search planes reported a number of bodies, many clad in life preservers, floating in the area - about 120 miles east-southeast of New Orleans.
Debris and pathetically-empty life rafts bobbed in the turbulent water.
Coast Guard and National Air Lines search planes reported not a sign of life.
The wreckage was found in about 90 feet of water. The Coast Guard said an early report that a section of the tail was sticking above the surface was erroneous.
The debris was spotted simultaneously by a National search plane and by a Coast Guard plane.
Lost On Radar.
The plane last was sighted on an Air Force radar screen at an altitude of 14,000 feet. Then it suddenly dropped off the screen. Whether it plunged suddenly into the Gulf was not known.
Another burning question was why, if the passengers had time to don life jackets, the crew did not radio a distress signal.
If they had issued such a signal "we would have received it," an Air Force officer said.
The Coast Guard said there was "plenty of bodies, life preservers and life rafts" floating in the debris, scattered over about a half-mile radius of the wind-swept Gulf.
The plane was on the Tampa-New Orleans leg of a Miami-Los Angeles flight when it disappeared without a word of warning. It carried 36 passengers, five crew members and a man believed to be with the Federal Aeronautics Administration.
Near Previous Crash.
The plane crashed near the area where National Air Lines last fatal accident early in 1953 killed 45 persons.
Fog enveloped much of the area at the time of the crash. For a time early today the fog seriously hampered search operations. Planes took off "on guts alone," one Coast Guard spokesman said, and surface vessels had to rely on radar.
As daylight grew stronger the fog began to lift, however, and at mid-morning uncovered the scene of death.
The plane, a National-Delta-American Interchange flight, was using Delta equipment. National is in charge of the run from Miami to New Orleans, Delta from New Orleans to Dallas, and American from Dallas to the west coast.
Nine of the passengers were bound for New Orleans, 14 for Dallas and 13 for Los Angeles.
A cutter bearing two doctors and a store of medical supplies left Gulfport, Miss., under full speed early today.
Near Island Chain.
A fishing boat reported that a four-engine plane circled over it for a time and then headed north, but the Coast Guard put little stock in the report. It pointed out the boat was located about 155 miles from where the plane last was observed.
The Coast Guard said the last fix on the plane put it in the vicinity of Chandeleur Island, a long, narrow chain of islands between Mobile and New Orleans.
A radar station on Dauphin Island, 30 miles south of Mobile, was watching the plane on its screen when "it just dropped off."
The plane, Flight 967, took off from Miami at 11:05 p. m. landed in Tampa at 12:02 a. m. and took off at 12:29 a. m. for New Orleans. When last heard from it was at 14,000 feet which might have provided enough glide time for it to reach land, an airline spokesman said.
The craft carried standard escape equipment for a flight over water - including inflatable life rafts and lifejackets.
An airline spokesman said the plane had two outside chances of hitting land. He said it might have been possible to make it to a sandy island chain or to a swampy area on the mainland. There are no large trees in the swamp.
Such a plane could float for some time if a relatively smooth water landing was made, experts said. On the other hand, it would sink immediately if a rough landing split the cabin open.
The area where the plane last was heard from was the same where a National DC6 crashed on Valentine's Day of 1953, killing 45 persons. Since that time, National has flown 6,172,000,000 passenger miles.
Continued on page 2