Elizabeth, NJ Plane Crash, Dec 1951

Investigate Plane Crash Fatal to 56

ELIZABETH, N. J., Dec. 17 --(UP)-- Investigators sought to determine today whether a non-scheduled war surplus airliner was inspected properly before it took off on a cut-rate flight to Florida that ended six minutes later in fiery death for all 56 persons aboard.

Smoke poured from the right motor of the twin-engine converted Curtis Commando as it lifted off the runway at Newark Airport at 3:03 p.m. EST yesterday with its 52 passengers and crew of four.

Capt. C. A. Lyons of Miami, pilot of the doomed plane, tried to bank the ship to return to the field for an emergency landing when the right wing snapped. The plane burst into flame and plummeted into the shallow Elizabeth River.

Those who were not killed instantly were trapped in the flaming wreckage and died screaming as would-be rescuers were held back by the intense heat.

It was the worst air crash of the year and the second worst in the nation's history. Another tragedy was averted yesterday at Amarillo, Tex., when a crippled Trans-World Airliner landed safely in a wheat field without injury to any of the 61 persons aboard.

The worst plane crash in the nation's history occurred when a Northwest Airlines DC-4 plunged into Lake Michigan June 24, 1950 killing all 58 persons aboard.

Patrolman Nicholas Bilsky, on duty near the Elizabeth crash scene, said the pilot seemed to be searching for a clear place to land in the heavily populated area.

"The plane suddenly dipped and zoomed to the ground, shearing off the roof of an unoccupied three story frame dwelling and hit the Elizabethtown water works," Bilsky said.

"I heard cries from inside the plane," Bill Kapio of Union City, N.J., said. "but I didn't know what to do."

Joseph O. Fulet, chief of the New York regional office of the Civil Aeronautics Board, hurried to the crash scene to make a preliminary investigation.

"It is self evident," he said, "that the plane started to break up miles away from the scene of the crash."

Fluet [sic] said a conference of federal, state, and local officials will be held today to organize an official inquiry.

He said the investigation will seek to determine what inspections should have been made in the plane vefore its takeoff and whether they were made.

The airliner was operated by Miami Airlines, Inc., a non-scheduled carrier operating five planes between New York and Miami. The crash was the line's first since it started operating in 1946, a company spokesman said.

Safety regulations for scheduled and non-scheduled airlines are "almost identical," the CAB said. A specific limit on the number of passengers and crew members is not set, he said, but a maximum takeoff weight is established for each type of plane.

The passengers, mostly from the New York-New England area, were bound for Tampa and Miami. The dead included two children and two families of four each.

MIddlesboro Daily News, Middlesboro, Kentucky, 17 December 1951