United Airlines Flight 608

Last updated

United Airlines Flight 608
A DC-6 similar to UAL's ill-fated Flight 608
DateOctober 24, 1947
SummaryIn-flight fire
Site Bryce Canyon National Park
Garfield County, Utah
United States
37°41′06″N112°08′12″W / 37.685037°N 112.136616°W / 37.685037; -112.136616 Coordinates: 37°41′06″N112°08′12″W / 37.685037°N 112.136616°W / 37.685037; -112.136616
Aircraft type Douglas DC-6
Operator United Airlines
Registration NC37510
Flight origin Los Angeles International Airport
Destination Chicago Midway Airport

United Airlines Flight 608 was a Douglas DC-6 airliner, registration NC37510, on a scheduled passenger flight from Los Angeles to Chicago when it crashed at 12:29 pm on October 24, 1947 about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) southeast of Bryce Canyon Airport, Utah, United States. [1] There were no survivors among the 5 crew members and 47 passengers on board. It was the first crash of a DC-6, and at the time it was the second deadliest air crash in the United States, [2] surpassed by Eastern Air Lines Flight 605 by only one fatality.


Accident sequence

United Flight 608 departed from Los Angeles, California, at 10:23 a.m. on a routine flight to Chicago, Illinois. At 12:21 p.m. the airplane's pilot, Capt. Everett L. McMillen, radioed that there was a fire in the baggage compartment which they could not control, with smoke entering the passenger cabin. The flight requested an emergency clearance to Bryce Canyon Airport, Utah, which was granted.

As it descended, pieces of the airplane, including portions of the right wing, started to fall off and one of the emergency flares on the wing ignited. At 12:27 p.m., the last radio transmission was heard from the airplane: "We may make it - approaching a strip." Accounts from observers state the airplane passed over the canyon mesa, approximately 1,500 yards (1,400 m) from the airstrip. With gusts from the canyon floor flowing down the side of the mesa, the crippled aircraft, only 10 feet (3.0 m) off the ground, was pulled out of control and crashed.

Ground observers reported that occupants of the airliner, prior to the impact, were throwing various items out of the cabin door in an attempt to lighten the load as the DC-6 descended over the canyon. The airliner crashed onto National Park Service land, killing all 52 passengers and crew on board.

The October 25, 1947, edition of The Bridgeport (Conn.) Post reported the incident thus:

Trailing smoke and flame for at least 22 miles [35 km] before It crashed, the giant ship plowed a smoke-blackened swath for 800 yards [730 m] alongside State Highway 22 [Johns Valley Road] just east of the Bryce Canyon airport. The scene is in southern Utah, about 275 miles [443 km] south of Salt Lake City.

The engines, scorched and twisted, were thrown 200 to 300 feet [61 to 91 m] beyond the burned area, while a piece of the tail - 18 to 30 feet [5.5 to 9.1 m] long - was the largest part of the aircraft remaining. The bodies, burned and unrecognizable for the most part, were horribly torn apart. Two infants and 21 or more women were among the victims, one of the women was an expectant mother. The mutilated remains were flung across the 7,300-foot [2,200 m] plateau or blown into the 200-foot [61 m] deep canyon just behind the impact point. All bodies were left at the scene until this morning, with guards posted to protect them from coyotes.

Pending an inquest, several groups of investigators started official probes today on the cause of the crash. One thing that was known, however, was that Capt. Everett L. MacMillen of Balboa Island, Calif., the pilot, reported by radio at 12:21 p.m. (MST), a few minutes before the incident that fire had broken out, probably in the airplane's baggage compartment, and that the cabin was filled with smoke. Five minutes later the veteran of 18 years of flying on western routes opened his microphone and reported: 'The tail fire is going out. We may get down and we may not. Best place we can.'

At 12:27 he reported he had turned back for Bryce Canyon airport and said 'May make it. Think we have a chance now, Approaching the strip.' The next radio message came from the airport tower here at 12:32 p.m. It said, 'Fire one mile east.' The ship had gone down at that point.

Cause of the crash

Just over three weeks later, on November 11, 1947, a similar in-flight incident almost claimed a second commercial DC-6 airliner.

An American Airlines DC-6 (NC90741), on a flight from San Francisco to Chicago with 25 crew and passengers aboard, reported an on-board fire over Arizona and managed to make an emergency landing in flames at the airport at Gallup, New Mexico. All 25 occupants escaped the burning plane, and the fire was extinguished. Unlike the Bryce Canyon crash a month earlier, investigators now had a damaged, but intact aircraft to examine and study.

The cause of both the Bryce Canyon crash and the near-fatal Gallup incident was eventually traced to a design flaw. A cabin heater intake scoop was positioned too close to the number 3 alternate fuel tank air vent. If flightcrews allowed a fuel tank to be overfilled during a routine fuel transfer between wing tanks, it could lead to several gallons of excess fuel flowing out of the tank vent and then being sucked into the cabin heater system, which then ignited the fuel. This caused the fire which destroyed the United aircraft at Bryce Canyon and severely damaged the American aircraft that landed in flames at Gallup. [3]

In the Bryce Canyon crash, the Civil Aeronautics Board found the causes to be the design flaw, inadequate training of the crew about the danger, and the failure of the crew to halt the fuel transfer before the tank overflowed.


The aircraft wreckage was loaded onto trucks and moved to Douglas Aircraft Company in California where the airplane was reassembled in an effort to determine the cause of the crash.

As a result of the disaster the entire fleet of 80 Douglas DC-6 aircraft, including the U.S. President's aircraft (which was a sister ship), were ordered grounded and recalled. Design changes that were made thereafter still stand today.

See also

Related Research Articles

McDonnell Douglas DC-10 Wide-body tri-jet airliner

The McDonnell Douglas DC-10 is an American tri-jet wide-body airliner manufactured by McDonnell Douglas. The DC-10 was intended to succeed the DC-8 for long-range flights. It first flew on August 29, 1970; it was introduced on August 5, 1971, by American Airlines.

Aviation accidents and incidents Aviation occurrence involving serious injury, death, or destruction of aircraft

An aviation accident is defined by the Convention on International Civil Aviation Annex 13 as an occurrence associated with the operation of an aircraft, which takes place from the time any person boards the aircraft with the intention of flight until all such persons have disembarked, and in which a) a person is fatally or seriously injured, b) the aircraft sustains significant damage or structural failure, or c) the aircraft goes missing or becomes completely inaccessible. Annex 13 defines an aviation incident as an occurrence, other than an accident, associated with the operation of an aircraft that affects or could affect the safety of operation.

ValuJet Flight 592 1996 passenger plane crash in the Florida Everglades, USA

ValuJet Flight 592 was a regularly scheduled flight from Miami International Airport to Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport. On May 11, 1996, the ValuJet Airlines McDonnell Douglas DC-9 operating the route crashed into the Everglades about 10 minutes after taking off from Miami as a result of a fire in the cargo compartment caused by improperly stored cargo. All 110 people on board died. The airline already had a poor safety record before the crash, and the accident brought widespread attention to the airline's problems. The airline was grounded for several months after the accident. When operations resumed, ValuJet had a decline in full fare passengers. It acquired AirTran in 1997, but the lingering damage to the ValuJet name led ValuJet executives to rebrand under the AirTran name.

Douglas DC-7 Four-engine propeller-driven airliner

The Douglas DC-7 is a transport aircraft built by the Douglas Aircraft Company from 1953 to 1958. It was the last major piston engine-powered transport made by Douglas, being developed shortly after the earliest jet airliner—the de Havilland Comet—entered service and only a few years before the jet-powered Douglas DC-8 first flew. Unlike other aircraft in Douglas's collection of propeller-driven aircraft, no examples remain in service in the present day, as compared to the far more successful DC-3 and DC-6.

Saudia Flight 163 August 1980 aircraft fire in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Saudia Flight 163 was a scheduled Saudia passenger flight that caught fire after takeoff from Riyadh International Airport en route to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on 19 August 1980. All 287 passengers and 14 crew on board the Lockheed L-1011-200 TriStar died from smoke inhalation after the aircraft made a successful emergency landing at Riyadh.

Air Canada Flight 797 1983 in-flight fire on a DC-9

Air Canada Flight 797 was an international passenger flight operating from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport to Montréal–Dorval International Airport, with an intermediate stop at Toronto Pearson International Airport. On 2 June 1983, the McDonnell Douglas DC-9-32 operating the service developed an in-flight fire behind the lavatory that spread between the outer skin and the inner decor panels, filling the plane with toxic smoke. The spreading fire also burned through crucial electrical cables that disabled most of the instrumentation in the cockpit, forcing the plane to divert to Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. Ninety seconds after the plane landed and the doors were opened, the heat of the fire and fresh oxygen from the open exit doors created flashover conditions, and the plane's interior immediately became engulfed in flames, killing 23 passengers who were unable to evacuate the aircraft.

American Airlines Flight 157 1949 aviation accident

American Airlines Flight 157, a Douglas DC-6, departed on November 29, 1949, from New York City bound for Mexico City with 46 passengers and crew. After one engine failed in mid-flight, a series of critical mistakes by the flight crew caused the pilot to lose control of the plane during the final approach to a routine stopover at Love Field in Dallas, Texas. The airliner slid off the runway and struck a parked airplane, a hangar, and a flight school before crashing into a business across from the airport. 26 passengers and two flight attendants died. The pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer, and 15 passengers survived.

McDonnell Douglas DC-9 Twin-engine, single-aisle jet airliner produced 1965-1982

The McDonnell Douglas DC-9 is a single-aisle airliner designed by the Douglas Aircraft Company. After introducing its heavy DC-8 in 1959, Douglas approved the smaller, all-new DC-9 for shorter flights on April 8, 1963. The DC-9-10 first flew on February 25, 1965 and gained its type certificate on November 23, to enter service with Delta Air Lines on December 8. With five seats across in economy, it had two rear-mounted Pratt & Whitney JT8D turbofans under a T-tail for a cleaner wing, a two-person flight deck and built-in airstairs.

United Airlines Flight 859 1961 aviation accident

United Airlines Flight 859 was a Douglas DC-8, registration N8040U, on a scheduled passenger flight that crashed on landing at Stapleton International Airport in Denver, Colorado after departing from Omaha, Nebraska's Eppley Airfield on July 11, 1961. Eighteen people were killed, and 84 were injured.

United Airlines Flight 624 1948 aviation accident

United Airlines Flight 624, a Douglas DC-6 airliner, registration NC37506, was a scheduled passenger flight that originated in San Diego, California with stops in Los Angeles and Chicago en route to LaGuardia Airport in New York City. The four-engine propeller-driven airplane crashed at 1:41 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on June 17, 1948 outside of Aristes, Pennsylvania, killing all 4 crew members and 39 passengers on board.

1956 Grand Canyon mid-air collision mid-air collision on June 30, 1956 over the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon mid-air collision occurred in the western United States on Saturday, June 30, 1956, when a United Airlines Douglas DC-7 struck a Trans World Airlines Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation over Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. All 128 on board both flights perished, making it the first commercial airline incident to exceed one hundred fatalities. The flights had departed Los Angeles International Airport minutes apart for Chicago and Kansas City, respectively.

Bryce Canyon Airport Airport in Garfield County, Utah

Bryce Canyon Airport is a public airport located four miles (6 km) north of Bryce Canyon, in Garfield County, Utah, United States. It is owned by Garfield County.

Nigeria Airways Flight 2120 Fatal airliner crash in 1991

Nigeria Airways Flight 2120 was a chartered passenger flight from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to Sokoto, Nigeria, on 11 July 1991, which caught fire shortly after takeoff from King Abdulaziz International Airport and crashed while attempting to return for an emergency landing, killing all 247 passengers and 14 crew members on board. The aircraft was a Douglas DC-8 operated by Nationair Canada for Nigeria Airways. Flight 2120 is the deadliest accident involving a DC-8 and remains the deadliest aviation disaster involving a Canadian airline.

American Airlines Flight 28 1942 mid-air collision

American Airlines Flight 28 was a scheduled domestic passenger flight that crashed on October 23, 1942, in Chino Canyon, near Palm Springs, California, after being struck by a United States Army Air Forces B-34 'Lexington' bomber. The B-34 suffered only minor damage, and landed safely at the Army Airport of the Sixth Ferrying Command, Palm Springs.

Ansett-ANA Flight 149 1966 avation accident

On 22 September 1966 a Vickers Viscount departed from Mount Isa, Queensland, Australia for a 73-minute flight to Longreach. Forty-four minutes after takeoff a fire started in one of the engines. The crew were unable to extinguish the fire or feather the propeller so made an emergency descent with the intention of landing at Winton, a small town along the route. The fire spread to the fuel tank and weakened the wing structure so that a large part of the left wing broke away and the aircraft crashed. All twenty-four occupants were killed. The accident remains the fifth-worst in Australia's civil aviation history.

1972 Chicago–OHare runway collision 1972 aviation accident

On December 20, 1972, North Central Airlines Flight 575 and Delta Air Lines Flight 954 collided on a runway at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, in the United States. Ten people died – all on the North Central aircraft – and 17 were injured in the accident. This was the second major airliner accident to happen in Chicago in December 1972; the other was United Airlines Flight 553, which crashed twelve days earlier on approach to Midway Airport.


  1. Accident Investigation Report, File No. 1-0097-47
  2. Accident description at the Aviation Safety Network
  3. "NC37510 accident description". Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved December 4, 2013.