Richmond, VA Army Recruits Perish In Airliner Crash, Nov 1961




Richmond, Va. (AP) -- A disabled Imperial Airlines plane with 78 Army recruits and a crew of five aboard crashed and burned in a wooded ravine hear here Wednesday night while struggling to make an emergency landing.
Only two were known to survive.
All of the 81 who apparently perished in the crash, worst in Virginia history, were entombed inside the flaming wreckage, which lit up the night sky for miles around.
Pilot Survives.
The plane's captain, RONALD CONWAY, 29, of West Hollywood, Fla., was one of the survivors. He said the plane was carrying 78 recruits to Ft. Jackson S. C., from Newark, N. J., Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and Baltimore, Md.
The aircraft had taken off late Wednesday from Friendship International airport in Baltimore bound for Columbia, S. C. Imperial Airlines' Baltimore agent said the company has a contract with the Army to haul recruits in unscheduled flights five nights a week.
The plane -- an early model Constellation -- had experienced engine trouble some 10 miles west of Richmond.
Zooms Over Field.
Witnesses at Byrd field said moments before it crashed it zoomed over the airport at an altitude of about 700 to 800 feet, battling trouble with two of its four engines. It made one unsuccessful pass at landing, pulled up, turned south -- then came down into the woods about a mile southeast of the airport, mowing down trees as it fell.
Leaping flames engulfed all but the tail section of the plane. The tail broke away and fell about 50 feet from the blazing main portion of the fuselage.
Late Wednesday night the fire had died down enough for rescuers clad in asbestos suits to climb into the charred hull and search for bodies.
State police at first erroneously identified the plane as belonging to Eastern Airlines. Its actual owner, Imperial, has headquarters in Miami.
CONWAY'S flight engineer, W. F. POYTHRESS, 30, of Miami, was the other survivor. CONWAY suffered from burns, smoke inhalation, and shock. POYTHRESS was burned about the hands and face.
Thirty-one of the recruits boarded the plane at Wilkes-Barre-Scranton airport in Avoca, Pa., and 17 at Baltimore. Apparently all the others boarded at Newark airport, from which the flight originally started.
Byrd Field, near which the plane came down, is just east of Richmond off U. S. 60, the busy highway to Williamsburg.
Enter Plane.
Rescuers who sped to the scene of the crash said they spotted no bodies outside the plane. By shortly before midnight, the flames had diminished to the extent that two men in asbestos suits were able to enter part of the fuselage to search for bodies.
"It's a hell of a mess," said one of them.
A. P. WEBB, customer service agent for Eastern Air Lines at Byrd Field, said he was on the ramp at the airport when the aircraft limped over.
"I watched it come over the tower and turn on its final leg for landing," WEBB said. It started to settle down into the trees southeast of the field, very slowly, as if it were stalling.
"I saw it disappear behind the trees. Suddenly, the horizon lit up."
"After the pinkish glow died down, a great ball of flames came up."
WEBB and three Eastern Airlines employes immediately left for the crash scene, in the mistaken belief it was an EAL plane. It took them 15 minutes to get there.
Finds Survivors.
"As I was walking to the scene," WEBB said, "I met a jeep coming out through the swamp. I stopped it to see if I could identify the plane."
"In the back of the jeep were two survivors, both sitting up and both burned."
"I asked one of them what company it was. He mumbled something at me, but I couldn't make out what it was. I went to the scene to try to identify the plane."
"After I saw it wasn't ours (EAL's) I left. There was just nothing that could be done."
WILLIAM MOYER of the Federal Aviation Authority said the plane had filed a visual flight plane over Washington, advising it was en route to Columbia, S. C., and would land at Richmond because of engine trouble.

Wisconsin State Journal Madison Wisconsin 1961-11-09




Richmond, Va. (AP) -- Federal aviation authorities began their detailed hunt Thursday for the cause of engine failure that dropped an Imperial Airlines Constellation to a flaming crash in a Virginia marshland Wednesday night.
Seventy-four young Army recruits -- most of whose service time could be measured in hours -- and three of the plane's crew of five perished in the flames, two scant miles from the haven of a Byrd airport runway.
Last Message.
Investigators disclosed the pilot of the plane messaged seconds before the crash as he pulled away from a planned emergency landing:
"I can't get my (landing) gear down and I'm losing another engine."
The plane began a banking climb and had regained about 700 feet of altitude when it settled and crashed in the marshy woods to the southeast.
It was a crash heard in stunned shock and grief by families of the young soldiers in such cities as Passaic and Newark, N. J., Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and Baltimore where goodbyes to sons and husbands had been said such a brief time earlier. Florida families heard it in sorrow for Stewardess LINDA JOHNS, Co-Pilot JAMES GREENLEE, and Cabin Attendant PETER CLARK of Miami -- and in thanks for Pilot RONALD CONWAY, 29, of West Hollywood and FLight Engineer WILLIAM POYTHRESS, 31, of Miami.
Only Survivors.
CONWAY and POYTHRESS, the only survivors, scrambled to safety through the pilot compartment door. They are hospitalized with slight burns and bruises.
Disaster teams worked through the cold clear night and through most of the day bringing out the last of the charred bodies to a Medical College hospital morgue. A team of Army pathologists was assisting the Virginia medical examiner in the painstaking job of trying to establish identification.
The flight was a non-scheduled contract operation by Imperial which bid for the transport job. The plane -- one of a two-section flight -- picked up the passengers in Newark, Wilkes-Barre, and Baltimore -- and was on the last leg of its trip to an Army post near Columbia, S. C., when it began to falter.
Second Accident.
The crash, the worst in Virginia history, ranked high on the loss of life list of the nation's air disasters, civilian or military.
It was the contract carrier's second fatal accident involving military personnel, Federal Aviation Agency records disclosed.
In 1933 when the firm operated as Regina airlines of Miami Springs, Fla., 21 persons -- two crew members and 19 soldiers en route to McChord Air Force base -- were killed in a crash at Centralia, Wash. The company also was involved in two incidents in which there were no fatalities. Landing gear on its planes collapsed at Aberdeen, S. D., in January 1954, and Charleston, S. C., in February, 1955.
The company was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine by the FAA in November, 1959, on charges of operating a C-46 plane which the FAA said was not airworthy with 30 marines aboard. Two of the airline's pilots have been suspended by the FAA for relatively minor violations of civil air regulations.
No Insurance.
None of the soldier victims were covered by insurance unless they took out individual policies, the Army said. The GI insurance progam came to an end after the Korean war.
There will be some belefits, gratuity pay of six months and payment of up to $112 a month to dependents plus 12 per cent of base pay.

Wisconsin State Journal Madison Wisconsin 1961-11-10