Elkton, MD Lightning Explodes Air Liner, Dec 1963
Hold Faint Hope.
"We have had torn tapes from other flight recorders and we were able to make readouts. It is probably a faint hope that this tape will not be distorted."
The plane crashed during a thunderstorm, falling in fiery fragments about 15 miles southwest of Wilmington, Del. The plane carried eight crewmen and 73 passengers -- two of them infants.
Flight 214 of Pan American World Airways was en route from Puerto Rico to Philadelphia. Only a few minutes before the tragedy about 65 passengers stepped safely from the plane during its stop in Baltimore.
Despite the damage to the recorder, Boyd said, considerable information might be determined from the marks made in the ground by scattered parts of the aircraft.
Believed on Fire.
All four engines were found.
"It is apparent there was a fire of some kind in flight," Boyd said.
"It is going to be a long time before we are gonig to be able to make any sort of definitive conclusions on what caused this unfortunate accident."
He added, however, that "our technician can derive a tremendous amount of information from the engine and the wreckage pattern."
In response to repeated questions, Boyd said there was nothing so far to indicate any sabotage.
Earlier in the day, a federal investigator expressed the certainty that the airliner exploded before it crashed, but did not rule out lightning or a bomb as the cause of the explosion.
"I am convinced that there was an explosion before it hit the ground," said Robert Allen, deputy director of safety for the Civil Aeronautics Board.
"What type it was I don't knkow. It could be decompression of the hull or rupture of fuel cells. Disintegration of this magnitude is hard to imagine."
"We knew there would be no survivors out of it, because it was just a ball of fire," said Mrs. Dean Wilmoth, who lives in the nearby village of Meadow View.
At a news conference in the Elkton firehouse, Allen was asked if there was any sign of a bombing.
"I would say not at this particular time, but we have not ruled out any possibility," he said.
"It was reported there was lightning activity at the time but whether or not this particular plane suffered a strike we cannot at this time tell."
The last words of crewmen aboard the plane were contained in an unofficial and partial transcript played for newsmen in Elkton.
"Clipper 214 is going down in flames" was the last message received by Paul Alexy of the Federal Aviation Agency in the control tower of the Philadelphia Airport. Then there was only silence.
Strewn over an area of a square mile was wreckage ranging in size from tiny chips of metal to large segments of what appeared to be wingtips, some eight and ten feet long. Pine trees in the muddy field were festooned with debris.
Continued on Page 4.