Hinsdale, IL Plane Crash, Sept 1961
The FBI, the Federal Aviation Agency and the Civil Aeronautics Board rushed experts from Washington to find the cause of the crash, which ranked as the ninth worst in the history of commercial aviation in terms of lives lost.
FBI in Investigation
An FBI disaster team from Washington was part of the investigative unit. The FBI confirmed that it was looking for any signs of sabotage - even a bomb - but that this"is a routine measure in disasters of this type." The FBI spokesman said any report of evidence that the four-engine Constellation was destroyed by a bomb â€œis mere speculation."
CAB investigators searched for an unidentified ham radio operator who was reported to have head a dramatic last-second conversation between the pilot of the doomed plane and the control tower at Midway.
T. A. NIEMEYER, who lives close to the crash scene, said he met the ham operator amidst the smouldering wreckage of the airliner.
NIEMEYER said the operator told him he heard the pilot, Capt. JAMES H. SANDERS, 40, Manhattan Beach, Calif., say: "I've got an electrical fire - what should I do?"
"Circle or set it down," the ham operator said the tower replied.
"I can't circle," the ham operator said SANDERS replied. 'It's too hot."
Look for Operator
B. R. ALLEN, CAB supervisor for air safety at Chicago, assigned an investigator to search for the operator. He said it was entirely possible that someone heard such a conversation. But his investigator, CLIFFORD SCHACHER, said he had checked the only two known ham operators in the immediate area and they knew nothing of the broadcast.
J. D. HARRIGAN, TWA regional vice president in charge of sales, said the report of the conversation could not be true.
HARRIGAN said neither the Midway control tower nor the control tower at the Kansas City airport, which would also pick up such a message, heard anything from the pilot in the minutes before the crash.
"The report has to be false because it's impossible for a ham radio operator to hear it when our control towers heard nothing," HARRIGAN said.
Tower Refuses Comment
The Midway airport tower refused to make any comment on the crash or any conversation with the falling plane. Officials said they were investigating an eye witness report that the plane was in flames in the sky. All witnesses agreed that the major explosion - a thundering roar followed by leaping flames - occurred moments after the Constellation plunged like a comet into the ground.
The CAB set up special investigative headquarters at the edge of the corn field to determine whether the crackup could have been caused by the weather, structural defects, human error or mechanical failure.
In the hours before dawn, the corn field was littered with the bodies of the victims. At first the field of death was lighted by white hot flames from the wreckage. Then, a graveyard silence settled over the field.
Rescue workers covered the bodies with sheets, before moving them to the Cook County morgue in Chicago. National Guardsmen stood sentry duty around the cordoned-off area.
Despite the troopers, looters could be seen moving through the light rain which fell upon the bodies. They were searching for wallets and other valuables.
Despite the rain, the weather apparently played no part in the disaster. Heavy thunderstorms had raked Chicago and its western suburbs earlier in the night. But visibility was three miles, with broken and overcast skies, when the Constellation went down.
TWA headquarters in New York at first set the number of persons aboard the plane at 776 and then raised the number to 77 - 5 crew members, 70 adult passengers, and 2 infants.
The crew members, including two stewardesses, were all from the Los Angeles area. Many of the passengers were from Eastern Seaboard cities. They included what may have been a family of five named CHAMBERLAIN which boarded the plane at New York and another group of four named GILLIAM - a mother and four children. They got on the Constellation at Boston.
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