Falls City, NE Plane Crash, Aug 1966

Flight Recorder Proves Valuable In Study of Crash

By Charles Nicodemus
WASHINGTON - A rushing whoosh of wind whistles eerily through the cockpit of the doomed airliner, as the plane begins to disintegrate.
A claxon blares, triggered automatically a few moments earlier as the jetliner, manhandled by violent turbulence, suddenly looses airspeed and stability, and sloughs into a fatal stall.
A crewman shouts a warning about one of the plane's control surfaces, as the co-pilot and pilot unsuccessfully battle the controls and the storm-tossed BAC - 111 heads in a death plunge toward the dark Nebraska plains, 5,000 feet below.
Then the crew seems strangely silent, and only the "honk"of the claxon and the whistle of the wind are heard as the craft plummets down with stupefying speed.
Finally the brief roar of a crash signals the death of the Braniff airliner in a rainswept field near Falls City, Neb., Aug. 6.
These are the sounds of a unique tape recording, produced by one of the recently installed airline cockpit voice recorders. The Braniff accident was the first fatal crash by an airliner carrying the new equipment.
Highlights from the recording were described by Rep. Roman Pucinski, D-Ill., after attending a playback of the tape conducted after a few key congressional figures and top officials of the Civil Aeronautics Board and the Federal Aviation Agency.
Pucinski, who fathered the idea of installing the voice recorders, and pushed the FAA into requiring them, said CAB investigators probing the Braniff tragedy affirm that results from this first crash recording are 'highly gratifying" even though they are far from perfect.
"As we hoped, the recording is proving a valuable tool," Pucinski said - particularly because the plane's flight recorder, which takes down airspeed, altitude, gravity stress and other flight data, was rendered useless by the fiery crash.
"With the experience we have gained from this first fatal crash tape, we can make needed revisions to improve performance even further," Pucinski predicted.
The CAB, which investigates air accidents, will not officially release a transcript of the recording or analysis of its significance until hearings on the Braniff crash open, probably in mid-November.
And both Pucinski and the CAB emphasize that no conclusions can be drawn as yet from the tape, particularly since parts of it are still being clarified by sound engineers, who are trying to ungarble certain faint sounds that may prove to be voices.
However, the recording does make certain things clear:
-- Wind started whistling through the cockpit shortly after whatever the disaster struck. Where did it come from?

Investigators believe this may well indicate that the plane was ripped apart by turbulence. Pieces of the plane were found scattered over a wide area, reinforcing that theory.
-- Turbulence was so severe that the plane went into a stall just before it began its fall. The claxon shows that.
Conversation with air traffic controllers and among the crewmen establish that the plane had flown into a thunderstorm with turbulence far than they expected. They were desperately looking for a "hole" in the weather just before the crash.
-- No clearly identifiable sounds are heard from the crew in the last seconds, even though the stall claxon, the wind - and ultimately, the crash - come through clearly.

This has led investigators to wonder if the crew could have been knocked out at that point - and if so by what? The force of the turbulence? Fright? Disintegration of the airframe?
The recording has nothing like the quality of the records you buy in the store, or even an air traffic control tape.

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