Portland, OR Jetliner Crashes, Dec 1978


By Bob Baum
Associated Press Writer.

Portland, Ore. (AP) -- Passengers on a United Air Lines DC-8 were warned to "hunker over" and brace for a crash before the jetliner slashed through trees Thursday night and flattened two unoccupied homes.
At least 10 of the 185 people aboard died, and whereabouts of 14 passengers still was not known this morning. Witnesses said it was a miracle that there weren't more casualties.
Elwood T. Driver, vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said authorities did not think there were any more bodies aboard Flight 173, which flattened two houses that had become vacant in the past two weeks.
The flight, which originated in New York and stopped in Denver, smashed into a dense residential area three miles short of the Portland International Airport runway on the eastern outskirts of the city.
"Mayday, Mayday. The engines are flaming out. We're going down. We're not going to make it to the airport," the pilot said in his last transmission from the tower. The conversation was recorded by a ham radio operator.
A nine-member investigating team headed by Driver began sifting through the mangled wreckage this morning, trying to determine what caused the craft to suddenly lose power.
"At this stage we know what happened," Driver said, "but we don't know why it happened."
He said there were several possible explanations for loss of power. The plane may have run out of fuel, he said, or it may have lost its electrical system. There was no fire after the crash, which added to speculation that the plane may have run out of fuel.
Driver said the craft had refueled in Denver.
The only problem reported by the pilot before the crash was a failure of an instrument-panel light that indicates whether front landing gear had lowered.
"The indications are the only problem at the surface was the gear problem," Driver said.
Recordings of the cockpit conversation and the craft's instrument readings were recovered from the plane and sent to Washington, D.C., for analysis, Driver said.
The plane slammed into a two-story, vacant house, bounced across Burnside Street, and came to rest on top of another empty house in a grove of large evergreen trees. Both wings were sheared from the plane, and the cockpit was folded beneath the rest of the fuselage by the impact.

The 300,000 pound plane missed a small house occupied by a woman and her two-year-old daughter by about 30 feet.
By the time the first fire truck arrived at the scene, dozens of passengers were wandering around in the street, and one fire official was amazed that none of them were injured or killed by the dozens of high-voltage power lines that covered the ground in the area.
"It's incredible that nobody was electrocuted when they were all wandering around out here," said Walt Porter, battalion chief for the Portland Fire Bureau. "But a lot of things about this are incredible."

Officials say as many as 50 people were hospitalized as a result of the crash. No one on the ground was injured. Spokesmen for United Air Lines said many of the passengers who walked away from the craft apparently found their way home without notifying authorities.
Most of the deaths apparently occurred in the first-class section at the front of the plane. The pilot apparently walked away from the crash.

The dead included three children and seven adults, authorities said. A United official said two crew members were among the victims:
Second Officer FORREST MENDENHALL, 41, of Parker, Colo., who had been with the airline since 1967, and
Senior Flight Attendant JOAN WHEELER, 36, of Englewood, Colo., with United since 1964.
Dave Ostwald, news bureau manager for United in Chicago, identified the dead, in addition to the crewmembers, as:
GABOR ANDOR, a cook for United who lived in the Portland area;
ANDOR's wife, ROSINA; and the couple's two daughters, GABRIELLA, 2, and ROSINA, 1;
The ages and hometowns of several of the victims were not immediately available.

"It was a miracle," said Richard Harrison, returning to Portland from Tulsa, Okla. "I didn't know people lived through plane crashes."
Steven Heitzel, a passenger, said those aboard were alerted by the pilot that the plane had a problem with its landing gear. He said flight attendants began instructing them on emergency landings, and the pilot said he hoped to touch down normally.
"Next thing I know, 'boom boom' ... I didn't know if we were dead or alive after the crash," Heitzel said.
"They really briefed us well, otherwise I wouldn't have known what to do," said Amy Conner, 17, of Holden Village, Wash., who sprained an ankle. "They told us what might happen. They braced us for the worst."

The pilot, MALBURN McBroom, 52, of Loveland, Colo., was hospitalized in good condition at Gresham Community Hospital, an airline official said. McBroom started flying for United in 1951, he said.
Dennis Feldman, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration in Washington said the pilot radioed the emergency to the control tower and crashed at 6:17 PST.
The plane did not burn, but was surrounded by spilled fuel. The wings and front of the plane -- to the fourth or fifth row of the passenger section -- were sheared off.
A fire official said it was "a miracle we didn't have a fire. It was just incredible with all the power lines down and the fuel leak."
Some investigators theorize the pilot may have been circling to burn up excess fuel, thereby reducing the fire hazard in the event of a crash landing. But, the theory goes he cut it too close and the plane ran out of fuel before it got to the airport.
When asked if there was an validity to that theory, Keith Phildius, Portland sales manager for UAL, replied: "None that I am aware of."

The plane pulled down power lines for several blocks as it skimmed the trees and crashed into two homes, cutting of electrical service to about 7,000 customers for two hours. The fire official said downed power lines were "arcing and dancing in the street."

There were no reports of injuries to persons on the ground.


Portland, Ore. (AP) -- An escaped prisoner being returned to Oregon aboard a United Air Lines DC-8 was reported missing today after the airliner crash-landed in a residential neighborhood.
Police said KIM EDWARD CAMPBELL, 27, was last seen wandering around at the crash scene in east Portland. Ten persons died in the crash.
As a precautionary measure, police said an all points bulletin was issued for Campbell, as escapee from the Oregon State Penitentiary. He was in the custody of two Oregon officers before the crash.
It was not immediately known on what charges Campbell was being held.

Daily Sitka Sentinel Alaska 1978-12-29


My perspective

This plane crash happened on December 28th, my birthday. My husband, two sons and I were waiting for friends to drive out to Gresham for cake with us. There was a fairly good snow falling too. But when the phone rang, my husband thought the other guy was joking when he said they wouldn't be coming out... there was a downed plane in the way, lol My husband thought he was joking and said he didnt have to make up such a big excuse. Just a simple, "we can't make it would do." Immediately we saw it all on TV. Happy Birthday to me! Lol
The pilot was stripped of his licence!