A DC-6 similar to the aircraft involved in the accident
|Date||June 17, 1948|
|Summary||In-flight fire (false warning) followed by crew incapacitation|
|Site||Conyngham Township, Columbia County, near Aristes, Pennsylvania|
|Aircraft type||Douglas DC-6|
|Aircraft name||Mainliner Utah|
|Flight origin||Lindbergh Field, San Diego|
|1st stopover||Los Angeles Airport|
|Last stopover||Chicago Municipal Airport|
|Destination||LaGuardia Airport, New York City|
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.
The Douglas DC-6 is a piston-powered airliner and transport aircraft built by the Douglas Aircraft Company from 1946 to 1958. Originally intended as a military transport near the end of World War II, it was reworked after the war to compete with the Lockheed Constellation in the long-range commercial transport market. More than 700 were built and many still fly today in cargo, military, and wildfire control roles.
An airliner is a type of aircraft for transporting passengers and air cargo. Such aircraft are most often operated by airlines. Although the definition of an airliner can vary from country to country, an airliner is typically defined as an aeroplane intended for carrying multiple passengers or cargo in commercial service. The largest of them are wide-body jets which are called also twin-aisle because they generally have two separate aisles running from the front to the back of the passenger cabin. These are usually used for long-haul flights between airline hubs and major cities. A smaller, more common class of airliners is the narrow-body or single-aisle. These are generally used for short to medium-distance flights with fewer passengers than their wide-body counterparts.
Los Angeles, officially the City of Los Angeles and often known by its initials L.A., is the most populous city in California, the second most populous city in the United States, after New York City, and the third most populous city in North America. With an estimated population of nearly four million, Los Angeles is the cultural, financial, and commercial center of Southern California. The city is known for its Mediterranean climate, ethnic diversity, Hollywood and the entertainment industry, and its sprawling metropolis. Los Angeles is the largest city on the West Coast of North America.
Flight 624 from San Diego had just completed a routine initial descent as part of its approach into the New York area, when the forward cargo hold fire indicator light illuminated, leading the flight crew to believe there was a fire in that cargo hold. Although this later turned out to be a false alarm, the crew decided to discharge CO
2 bottles into the forward cargo hold, to try to extinguish the possible fire.
San Diego is a city in the U.S. state of California. It is in San Diego County, on the coast of the Pacific Ocean in Southern California, approximately 120 miles (190 km) south of Los Angeles and immediately adjacent to the border with Mexico.
Carbon dioxide is a colorless gas with a density about 60% higher than that of dry air. Carbon dioxide consists of a carbon atom covalently double bonded to two oxygen atoms. It occurs naturally in Earth's atmosphere as a trace gas. The current concentration is about 0.04% (410 ppm) by volume, having risen from pre-industrial levels of 280 ppm. Natural sources include volcanoes, hot springs and geysers, and it is freed from carbonate rocks by dissolution in water and acids. Because carbon dioxide is soluble in water, it occurs naturally in groundwater, rivers and lakes, ice caps, glaciers and seawater. It is present in deposits of petroleum and natural gas. Carbon dioxide is odorless at normally encountered concentrations. However, at high concentrations, it has a sharp and acidic odor.
While proper operating procedure called for opening the cabin pressure relief valves prior to discharging the CO
2 bottles, to allow for venting of the CO
2 gas buildup in the cabin and cockpit, there was no evidence the crew opened the relief valves. Consequently, the released CO
2 gas seeped back into the cockpit from the front cargo hold and apparently partially incapacitated the flight crew. The crew then put the aircraft into an emergency descent, and as it descended lower it hit a high voltage power line, bursting into flames, then smashing through the trees of a wooded hillside.
Ed Darlington of radio station WCNR at nearby Bloomsburg said "there was no sign of life and apparently everyone was killed." The scene of the wreck was in a sparsely wooded area about five miles from Mt. Carmel, a small town 135 miles from Philadelphia where delegates are gathering for the Republican National Convention. News of the crash brought excited whispering from the delegates. No one knew for certain whether any high Republican officials were on the plane.
Mount Carmel is a borough in Northumberland County, Pennsylvania, United States. The population was 6,390 at the 2000 census. It is located 88 miles (141 km) northwest of Philadelphia and 71 miles (114 km) northeast of Harrisburg, in the Anthracite Coal Region. It is completely encompassed by Mount Carmel Township.
Ira F. Roadarmel of Mt. Carmel, one of the first persons on the scene, said "everything was scattered. The largest piece of the plane left was an engine. The rest of the plane was in small parts — so small they could be carried."
George Minnich, an employee of Midvalley Colliery No. 2, which the plane missed by only 100 yards in its descent, said that he saw the plane bank. "Suddenly there was a horrible crash," he said. "All you could see was a mass of flames. It sounded as though the end of the world was coming."
The plane's logbook, found near the scene of the crash in a thickly wooded area, identified the plane's pilot as Captain George Warner.— The Sheboygan Press, June 17, 1948.
Among the passengers were Broadway theatre impresario Earl Carroll and his girlfriend, actress Beryl Wallace; Henry L. Jackson, men's fashion editor of Collier's Weekly magazine and co-founder of Esquire Magazine ; and Venita Varden Oakie, the former wife of actor Jack Oakie.
Broadway theatre, also known simply as Broadway, refers to the theatrical performances presented in the 41 professional theatres, each with 500 or more seats located in the Theater District and Lincoln Center along Broadway, in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. Along with London's West End theatre, Broadway theatre is widely considered to represent the highest level of commercial theatre in the English-speaking world.
Earl Carroll was an American theatrical producer, director, songwriter and composer.
Beryl Wallace was an American singer, dancer and actress.
An interesting item discovered in the wreckage was a script of Garry Moore's Take It or Leave It show broadcast at the time each Sunday night over NBC, but an NBC spokesman in New York said he was "certain" Moore was not on the plane.
The Civil Aeronautics Board investigated the crash and published a narrative describing the following sequence of events in its final report:
The airplane, named Mainliner Utah, arrived in Chicago at 09:52 en route from Los Angeles to New York. After a 52-minute turnaround, the DC-6 departed for New York. The airplane climbed en route to its planned altitude of 17,000 feet. At 12:23, and at 12:27 the crew made a routine acknowledgment of a clearance to descend en route to an altitude between 13,000 and 11,000 feet. A little later a fire warning led the crew to believe that a fire had erupted in the forward cargo hold. They then discharged at least one bank of the CO
2 fire extinguisher bottles in the forward cargo hold. Because they did not follow the correct procedure, the cabin pressure relief valves were closed. This caused hazardous concentrations of the gas to enter into the cockpit. These concentrations reduced the pilots to a state of confused consciousness probably resulting in loss of consciousness. An emergency descent was initiated until it described a shallow left turn, heading towards constantly rising terrain. Five miles east of Shamokin the airplane, flying only 200 feet above the ground, entered a right climbing turn. As it passed to the north of Mt. Carmel, the climbing turning attitude increased sharply. The airplane then crashed in a power line clearing on wooded hillside at an elevation of 1,649 feet. The airplane struck a 66,000 volt transformer, severed power lines and burst into flames.
Investigation revealed that the fire warning in the cargo compartment had been false.
— CAB File No. 1-0075-48
The CAB concluded with the following probable cause for the accident: "The Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the incapacitation of the crew by a concentration of CO
2 gas in the cockpit."
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