Port Deposit, MD Airplane Crash, May 1947
Bainbridge, Md. (UP) - Government investigators today sought evidence of a structural failure in the huge Eastern Airlines luxury liner which carried 53 persons to death in a 6,000 foot plunge out of a clear sky last night.
The New York-to-Miami Douglas DC 4 - one of Eastern's "Silver Fleet" -- crashed and burned near here shortly before 7 p. m. EDT.
All aboard perished, including a tiny infant whose decapitated body was found still clutched in its mother's arms. The plane carried 49 passengers and four crew members. Many of the bodies were so badly mangled that identification was difficult, if not impossible.
It was by far the worst domestic disaster in the history of commercial aviation. The death toll equalled that of any heavier-than-air calamity in the world.
Witnessed by Investigator
The airliner's plunge into the swampy woods of rural Maryland was witnessed by a group of Civil Aeronautics board investigators, who were flying back to Washington after studying the United Air Lines disaster at New York's LaGuardia airport just 23 hours earlier.
Within an hour, they were at the scene for a preliminary look at the wreckage. They had no official opinion as to cause of the crash, pending a more extensive investigation.
Conference In Washington
A conference with Eastern officials was called in Washington this morning.
But it was known that the CAB authorities were much interested in the story of a young sailor, who told shocked bystanders at the wreckage that he saw a piece of the tail break from the fuselage just before the plane hit.
The CAB offifficials[sic] ordered a special search made for pieces of wreckage that might have come loose before the plane crashed.
They themselves had witnessed the beginning of the plunge. From their plane they saw the airliner, which had taken off from Newark, N. J., at 6:04 p. m. EDT., flying along at an altitude of 6,000 feet. The sky was clear, and the plane apparently was proceeding safely on its non-stop trip to Miami.
"All Is Well"
The pilot, WILLIAM CONEY, one of Eastern's "top men," had reported "all is well" over Philadelphia.
Suddenly the plane began a dive toward the earth at a 30-degree angle and never came out of it. From their own plane, the horrified investigators saw it go on down into the swampy woodland, and explode. That was all they saw until they came back to the scene an hour later to view the twisted metal and charred, mutilated bodies.
But, they said, something obviously had gone wrong with the plane. It was perfect flying weather.
Rescuers worked all night to gather up the fragments that had once been human beings. A temporary morgue was set up in the naval training station here, and the grim, difficult task of identifying the remains began.
176 Dead in 24 Hours
The disaster came in a 24-hour period in which at least 176 persons perished in eight separate crashes around the globe.
The CAB officials notified the Bainbridge naval training authorities, and police cars and naval ambulances were on their way to the death glade within a matter of minutes. There, they found a scene of unspeakable horror.
Although the blistering heat of the still burning plane kept them temporarily at a distance, they could see the charred twisted bodies of passengers and crewmen strewn about the area. Bits of arms and legs were scattered everywhere and wreckage of the plane stretched over a 100-yard area.
The plane had cut a swath 75 yards long through the trees.
Three huge trees were completely uprooted. On their limbs hung wearing apparel and bits of bodies.
It was fully two hours after the crash when rescuers were able to begin a close-up search for bodies. They gathered up 30 within an hour.
Assistant Police Chief WILLIAM BULLOCK of Havre de Grace was among the first to reach the scene. It was he who found the tiny body of the infant, later identified as the child of a MRS. E. STUART, of Miami Beach, Fla.
"The first bodies I took out of the wreckage were those of a mother with a child clasped in her arms," the white-faced BULLOCK told newsmen. "Both were decapitated."
The passenger list was international in scope. It included a young student from Lima, Peru, M. KONSTANTIN, of Paris, JOSEPHINA DE LA FUENTE of Santiago, Chile, and TOM LUM, a New York Chinese.
Also aboard was NORMAN McKAY, manager of radio station WBAY, Coral Gables, Fla., who, ironically, had been a guest aboard EAL's record-breaking flight from Miami to New York last Tuesday. Another passenger was ABRAHAM KOHN, 46, of Stamford, Conn., who pretended he had drowned last summer in order to effect a reconciliation with his estranged wife.
Rescuers Work At Scene
Rescuers worked at the scene of the wreckage through the night, gathering up bits of bodies and the little personal possessions of the passengers.
In the light of a portable electric-generating unit from a nearby garage, the navy corpsmen found a photo of a bride, a powder-puff case engraved with the name "ARLENE," an identification tag of one "H. M. O'BRIEN" and a woman's red-leather shoe and broken leather belt. There were also a myriad of â€œball-point" fountain pens - evidently the shipment of a New York firm to one of its salesmen.
Rescue workers were hampered by the rugged terrain.
To reach the scene, ambulances and hearses had to plow their way 2 Â½ miles over a narrow country lane from the much-travelled[sic] Philadelphia-Baltimore-Washington highway. Then they had to slash through a footpath that led to the wreckage.
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