Chicago, IL Plane Explodes In Crash, Nov 1959



Chicago (UPI) -- A four-engine freight plane, apparently on fire and trying to make an emergency landing at fogbound Midway Airport, crashed and exploded amid homes and an apartment house before dawn Tuesday.
At least eight persons were known dead and officials feared the toll might mount as high as 15. Nine persons were listed as missing and nine more were injured, three seriously.
The only positively identified victim six hours after the 5:40 a.m. crash was the plant's pilot, Trans World Airlines Capt. CLAUDE W. HELWIG, 40, Woodland Hills, Calif., a Los Angeles suburb.
A TWA official said it was believed that the two other crew members of the 2 1/2 million dollar Super-H Constellation had also died. They were co-pilot DELMAS E. WATTERS, 37, Los Angeles, and Flight Engineer AERION L. AUGE, JR., 35, Los Angeles.
Two other victims were tentatively identified as DELEAN NICHOLS, 28, and his wife, JO ANN, 21. Their charred bodies were brought to the county morgue clad in pajamas.
A witness said one engine of the plane was on fire when it took off at 5:30 bound for Los Angeles. A TWA spokesman said there was an unconfirmed report that there was a fire warning in the plane's cockpit at that moment.
HELWIG radioed almost immediately after takeoff that he was swinging back for an emergency landing through the rain and fog. About 10 minutes after the Constellation had left the ground, it smashed down three blocks from the airport on the way back. A cluster of flaminghomes and a small apratment building were turned into a flaming junkyard.
The flight had run into trouble almost from the start. A delay in securing equipment delayed its takeoff from New York for an hour. Disaster appeared already in the making when the plane roared off the Chicago runway after a 3 1/2 hour layover.

Edwardsville Intelligencer Illinois 1959-11-24




Chicago (UPI) -- Investigators Wednesday sifted the flame-blackened rubble of a residential neighborhood where a four-engine cargo plane tore a fiery path of destruction, killing 11 persons.
Those dead were:
Capt. C. W. HELWIG, 40, pilot, Los Angeles.
MARK PETRISCO, 5 months.
Unidentified Man presumed to be one of the two other crew-members, DELL E. WATTERS, 37, co-pilot, or AERLON L. AUGE, 28, flight engineer, both of Los Angeles.
Unidentified Man presumed to be the other crewmember.
Four teams of experts tried to piece together the twisted bits of wreckage to find why the Trans World Airlines Super-H Constellation crashed before dawn while trying to make an emergency landing at Midway Airport Tuesday.
One aviation expert said a loss of power might have caused the explosive, roof shearing crash in the densely populated area.
The Civil Aeronautics Board said a public hearing would be helf after investigators have meticulously pieced together and examined the wreckage in a TWA hanger at Midway.
Local officials also were planning an investigation.
Witnesses who saw the plane said the left inboard engine belched flame.
At 5:37, just six minutes after takeoff, the plane skimmed too low over the darkened homes.
The tail section struck a house just five blocks from the airport. It glanced off two other houses, swept through a light post and crashed into two bungalows three blocks from the runway. The tail assembly smashed into an apartment house across the street.
The plane was only 10 seconds from a safe landing.

Edwardsville Intelligencer Illinois 1959-11-25


Red Cross second responders

My father and I responded to this accident in support of the Red Cross Disaster services.
He had a Red Cross Two-Way Radio both at home and in his 59 Plymouth Station Wagon.

We were stationed right next the apt. building and almost across the street from the two bungalows where the plane stopped.

The Midway plane crash on 11/24/1959

I was 7 years old at the time and lived in the 115th and Cicero neighborhood in Alsip. My father had come from home from work at H.P. Smith Paper Company on Cicero avenue near Midway, and while I was watching Woody Woodpecker he grabbed me up just as it was getting dark outside and took me to the crash site in our 56 Chevy. When we got there, the crash area was cordoned off the rubble was still smoking. There were lots of bright lights and police and fireman moving about in the crash area. The image that stays with me was looking at a row the single story houses that had been neatly sheared off, each successive house sheered off a foot or so lower than its neighbor, and then a huge pile of rubble where my father told me an apartment building has stood and where the plane had finally crashed completely. I remember wondering where the plane was, as if I had expected to it to be intact and visible. It also occurred to me that day that the house we lived in was not the solid and invincible fortress I assumed it was. It was really quite a horrendous scene that I still clearly recall 55 years later. I don't think that seeing the crash site 12 hours after the crash left me significantly scarred emotionally but to this day I have a recurring nightmare of seeing a fresh crash site with easily visible human carnage. And the sheered off house image flashes in my head every time I see or hear any Woody Woodpecker reference.

air crash

I remember this disaster as if it were yesterday. My father, then a Chicago policeman, had just picked me up from my high school and told me on the way home of the crash. When we arrived in the area, my father parked the car and we walked a couple of blocks to the sight. We stood on the street in an alley next to a garage that was across the street of the apartment building that had part of it sheared off by the plane. Behind us was one of the engines that had separated from the plane at impact. The fireman who were combing the wreckage of the apartment building came across two bodies. That scene is forever burned into my memory. The bodies were of a female and a baby which were buried in a black mass of debris. The fireman then brought what appeared to be body bags and they began to place the two bodies in the bags. As they pulled the bodies out of the debris, the adult body had its legs severed at the knee but the baby's body appeared to be intact. As a 13 year old I was so taken back by that scene that I have never been able to forget it. I don't remember anything further about the scene except those two.

Connection to crash victim

I'm named for one of the victims of this crash, 21 year old Jo Ann.