Washington, DC plane crash lands in Potomac, Dec 1949

Survivor of Air Crash Says One Engine Failed

Total of Four Killed As Air Line Lands In Potomac River

Washington, Dec. 19. - (UP) - Flight Attendant Joseph W. Buell, only surviving crew member of the Capital Airlines DC-3 that crash-landed in the Potomac river Monday night, disclosed Tuesday that one engine of the plane failed at a crucial moment.

Four persons, including Pilot W. J. Davis and Co-Pilot L. L. Porter of Alexandria, Va., were killed. But Buell and 18 passengers were rescued from the ice-shrouded river by speedy crash boats from Bolling air base.

One of the survivors, George C. Harrison of Arlington, Va., was still unconscious at Bolling hospital Tuesday night and doctors listed him in "very critical" condition.

Two others were reported in "serious" condition: Mrs. Raymond Wright of Philadelphia, underwent surgery for a compound leg fracture, and Thomas Morris of Millburn, N.J., was transferred to George Washington university hospital with a possible skull fracture.

Bolling physicians said all other survivors were in good or fair condition. Six navy men who were among the injured were transferred to the Bethesda, Md., naval hospital, and some of the less-seriously hurt civilians also were moved to other hospitals in Washington.

Buell, 26, of Washington, said the twin-engine plane was flying a level course at about 300 or 400 feet as it approached National airport for an instrument landing. He was at his station in the tail. He said the pilot apparently was not satified [sic] with the landing approach and decided to gian altitude - possibly to circle the field again.

But as the plane began to clim, Buell said, "the right engine sputtered and gave out."

What happened after that was not quite clear.

"I thought I'd heen asleep. In a flash, I woke up and found myself standing on the wing, on the left side of the plane," he said.

Bolling field airmen who saw the plane swoosh into the water said the pilot "gunned" the engines at the last moment in order to pull up the nose and ease the impact from the water. This maneuver - reminiscent of war-time "ditching procedure" for air force planes forced down in the ocean - apparently helped prevent heavy loss of life.

On the basis of Buell's story, some aviation experts here speculated that the plane's riht engine might have gone into a power stall when the pilot tried to pull up to recircle the field.

Still unexplained was how the plane got off the instrument landing beam and over the river about half a mile from the National airport runway.

The civil aeronautics administration discounted the possibility that tthe radio instruments may have been working improperly, causing the landing to "drift" off course.

C.A.A. officials said 95 planes were brought in to safe instrument landings by the beam during the heavy fog hours Monday.

Seeking answers to the riddle, crash detectives of the civil aeronautics board impounded recordings of radio broadcasts from the airport control tower to the ill-fated plane. But they said the recordings do not include radio messages from the plane.

Investigators planned to examine the wreckage for evidence of engine trouble or failure of electronic landing instruments. They said public hearings will be held soon.

But the whole story may never be known. The best hopes of solving the mystery apparently died with the pilot and co-pilot who alone could tell how controls and instruments performed in the last, fateful minutes aloft.

Meanwhile, Chairman Robert Crosser, Democrat, Ohio, of the house commerce committee, said he will press for congressional action early next year on new air safety legislation. He said the mounting crash toll of recent weeks has demonstrated the need for his bill to establish an independent federal air safety board.

The Billings Gazette, Billings, MT 14 Dec 1949