New York City, NY Plane Crashes Into East River, Feb 1959

Saw Plane Crack Up.
A tugboat crew heading down the river heard the crash and rushed to the scene.
"We heard a terrific crash," said Everett Phelps, 48, coskipper to the tug. "The noise seemed to come from about 800 feet away. We turned on a searchlight and saw a plane cracking up in all directions."
He added:
"I pulled three persons out. There seemed to be bodies all around, and there were continual screams for help."
Phelps said his crew had picked up eight survivors using boat hooks for some, before the wreckage slipped away from them in the darkness.
Coast Guard boats raced to the scene and gave a tragic report of "picking up bodies everywhere."
A temporary morgue was set up at a nearby Queens Point, and survivors were rushed to Flushing Hospital. Seven were in critical condition.
Pilot Missing.
Among the missing was the pilot, Capt. ALBERT H. DeWITT of Decatur, Mich.
An official of the new Federal Aviation Agency said that "the last contact with the pilot was routine in nature."
Joseph D. Blatt, FAA regional administrator, said the plane was making a "standard instrument approach to LaGuardia from the northeast."
The last contact was made as the plane flew over a range station, 2.8 miles from the end of the runway.
"At this time the pilot acknowledged clearance to land," Blatt said.
Normal altitude for the plane over the range station would have been 800 feet.
Blatt said the plane was coming in on one radio beam which told the pilot if he was directly in line with the runway.
The pilot did not have a second radio beam, which operates at the runway's other end and which would have indicated whether he was too low or too high in his approach.
The FAA began an immediate investigation of the crash. In Washington, the civil aeronautics board said its two top investigators for New York were en route to the scene.

Members of Crew.
The airline identified the crew members in addition to DeWITT as:
FRANK S. HLAVACEK, the flight officer, Wilmette, Ill.
WARREN E. COOK, the flight engineer, Aurora, Ill.
MAE MARKIDIS, stewardess, of Rochester, N. Y.
JOAN MARIE ZELLER, stewardess, Riverside, R. I.
HLAVACEK, COOK and MISS ZELLER were among the survivors.
Another survivor was BOBBY SULLIVAN, 8, who was picked up swimming free. Phelps, the tugboat captain, said the boy "was numb with cold and unable to talk."
"If only there had been more boats around," Phelps said. "Survivors couldn't last long in that water. We waited until we were sure there were no more living around, and we started toward shore."

The Times Record Troy New York 1959-02-04



Flight 320

Hi, My parents were on this flight and did not survive. I always felt a kinship with Bobby Sullivan because he and I were the same age at the time of the accident. Through the years I have always wanted to try and find him to talk about this tragedy. I felt so sorry for him that he lost his family even while grieving my own loss. If it is possible, can you ask him to contact me through email.

I’m glad to hear he had a wonderful life. I did too although, of course, the loss never leaves you.

Thank you so much. My parents names were Joe and Jeanne Kaye. They were only 34 and 37 years old and left behind four children ages 8, 5, 2 and 4 months.

Bobby Sullivan

Hello Mr. Pagliuca,

I'm not absolutely certain but I think I may have answered your email at least a year ago. Forgive me if I'm being redundant. Young 8-year-old survivor Bobby Sullivan is now in his mid sixties and apparently married and had children. Not long ago his 'grandson' posted a brief note on either this site or another one like it, to say his grandfather was a "very happy retired man now." It made me smile and tear a bit, as I'm sure it will touch you as well. Hope this helps. You may enjoy my recently published book titled ANGEL ON THE WING which is a chronicle of that fateful night from my perspective as a flight attendant. Hard copy is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, as well as a download for any device you may have.


Do any of you former crew

Do any of you former crew members remember having ever flown with Joan "Wes" Patterson AA Stew 1951-1953 or Paul A Bergman, Capt AA (ret.) years of employment 1950 - 1981?

Bobby a happy grandfather

Dear Mr. Pagliuca,

Bobby Sullivan's grandson has posted a message on this very same site. In case you've missed it, he says his grandpa is a happy man today and anyone who would like more information to write to him!

Please check out the site you originally posted your message on and you'll find the grandson's message. Hope this helps you.

Best regards,
Joan Zeller
(surviving stewardess)

1959 AA flt.320 crash into the east river.

Hello Argie,

Just a brief note to let you know my book detailing my own experience from the crash into the East River. Includes commentary from the start of the journey when checking in at crew schedule to the main event, and the struggle for survival. It is now on sale. If you care to read it.... It's titled :
ANGEL ON THE WING in honor of Mrs. Sullivan. The sub-title is Flight 320...Come In! You can down load to a kindle or other device from Amazon, or order hard copy from, or directly from the publisher,

It's a quick detailed read, with no fluff..just the facts as they unfolded. Amazon gave it a 5 star rating!! Thought it might be of interest to you.

Hope all is well and you are enjoying your summer!

Best regards,
Joan Zeller

American Airlines Flight 320 Crash into East River

I'm Joan Zeller, the surviving stewardess of AA Flight 320 that crashed into the East River in 1959. I'm so sorry for your loss, it broke my heart too! Your uncle was a wonderful outgoing, good natured man, and a superb pilot. The Feb. 3, 1959 incident was one of those quirky happenings where many faulty items singularly were harmless, but collectively spelled disaster, and it was noted later that the Electra was not exactly the best air worthy craft. AA and all of the other airlines that had adopted the Electra, got rid of them because of the many scary mishaps.

Your uncle was an ace pilot and I'm sure you are very proud of him. God rest his soul.

If you'd like to read more about that fateful night, I've recently published a book on the subject from my own perspective but it'll give you an idea of what it was like leading up to impact, the impact itself, and the rescue effort. After that, the rest of the book is my own personal story of survival. It's named ANGEL ON THE WING
Flight 320...Come In!
It can be ordered from, or directly from the publisher, and will be in other outlets such as airport gift shops, book stores etc.,once the distributions start. It's just been released three weeks ago at this writing, and someone told me yesterday that Amazon gave it a five star rating?!??! I hope it will help bring closure for you and your family.

Joan M. Zeller.

Reply to Robert Markidis

Hello Robert,

How nice of you to write. It seems the Markidis are all very open, sweet people. I can tell by your note to me, you must take after your Dad and Mae. I think of your aunt so often and hold her in my heart as I do all that were aboard that night. It's never left me, even after 58 years, albeit I can handle it better now. Live a full life and be happy, you'll see Mae on the other side of the thin veil that separates us presently. I know she'll greet you with love and warmth, because that's the way she was. God Bless you and your wonderful family.

3 Feb. 1959

Dear Joan,
I remember that night well! Mary Lou Parkes and I, Argie Hoskins were stewardesses flying to where I do not remember. That night I just remember sitting stunned with the American Airline crew weeping and thinking of your awful situation. Our crew was based out of LAX. I stumbled on this site and thought I would like to say, Kiwi Hugs and best to you Joan. I wonder if you were trained at Midway as I was. Good evening and God bless,
Argie Hoskins Class of 57-6

Bobby Sullivan

Hello, my name is Joseph Micheal Sullivan, and I am the grandchild of the 8 year old boy, Bobby Sullivan. After the plane crash and the doctor said his whole family died, my great aunt (who was the sister of Bobby mother) took care of him and he living a happy life now. If you have any more question about my grandpa, I can try to help you find the answer.

I served your Dad on Flight 320

Dear Elizabeth,

I am the surviving stewardess of the ill fated American Airlines crash of 1959. I have always wanted to communicate with your Dad's family and am so happy to see your posted note. I remember your Dad well because we had an on-going dialogue most of the trip.

As you may not know, we encountered foul weather in Chicago and Flight 320 was to be the last flight out before they closed the airport, passengers were informed that seat choices were no longer valid, insofar expediency in seating passengers was essential so we could become airborne ASAP.

We welcomed passengers aboard, helped with their carry-on parcels and got them buckled up ASAP. Your Dad missed the PA announcement that seat choices were not going to be honored due to the impending storm and complained to me. Of course I explained what was going on and got him settled several rows behind his "chosen" seat in an aisle seat, and made him comfortable, but he wasn't too happy.

It was a snack service out of Chicago, so I got to speak with him several times again, as I poured coffee and passed out snack trays, and then again when I picked up trays and checked seat belts for landing, etc.. He was okay and didn't seem as upset as he had been originally.

The HAPPY part is: It was that very seat that "SAVED" him, and I get goose bumps talking about it today. It's STILL very emotional for me. God Bless him, I'm so glad to learn he had a long good life. I imagine he told you how he was thrown clear of the sinking craft still strapped to his seat and was able to paddle over to the partially submerged wing where the Flt. Engineer and Co-pilot helped pull him to relative safety until the tug boat Teti could picked them up.

If you care to communicate with me, my email is available to you I believe, just be sure to clearly identify yourself so I don't delete your email in error thinking it's spam.
Joan M. Zeller
Former American Airlines Flight 320 Stewardess