Holdcroft, VA Airliner Crash Kills Fifty, Jan 1960
50 DIE IN FLAMING AIRLINER WRECKAGE.
CAPITAL PLANE CRASHES IN VIRGINIA FOG.
Holdcroft, Va. (AP) -- A Norfolk-bound airliner groped erratically through dense fog, then plunged into a swampy ravine near here late Monday night. Fifty persons died in the flaming wreckage.
The crash of the Capital Airlines prop-jet Viscount was the nation's worst air disaster in nearly a year and the worst in Virginia history.
It wasn't until nearly 8 a.m. -- more than nine hours after the big four-engine plane dropped nearly straight down into the mushy ground -- that rescue workers could enter the cooling wreckage in search of the 46 passengers and 4 crew members.
The first body was brought out at 7:50 a.m. and by 9:15 a.m. searchers, crawling through the tangle on hands and knees, had emerged with six stretchers.
"Have you ever seen an old shed that's been set on fire and fallen down with the tin roof on top of it?" asked JOHN FINNEGAN, JR., a Richmond fire battalion chief who drove the 30 miles to offer assistance. "That's what it looked it."
"I would say absolutely there was no chance for anyone to get out of it."
Among the victims were MRS. EUGENE GILBERT, 25, of New York City, a partner with her husband in youth research work; ALBERT W. RUEFF, 52, and CHARLES A. TRUHN, JR., 42, Ford Motor Co. executives at Louisville, Ky., and the wife and stepson of a pilot for another airline, MARY BLANCHE O'CONNELL and TROY WOODALL DURHAM, 10.
The plane, Capital Flight 20, was en route from Chicago to Norfolk via Washington. It left Washington at 9:45 p.m. and the pilot, Capt. JAMES B. FORNASERO, 52, a veteran of almost 20 years of airline flying, made a routine radio check with the Norfolk tower while over Tappahannock. He was due at Norfolk at 10:30 p.m.
Then at 10:20 p.m. farmer ROBERT H. TENCH heard the plane circling over his home, 50 miles northwest of Norfolk.
It made one pass overhead, too low, TENCH thought, but "not so severe." Then a minute or so later -- "long enough to read a few sentences in my book" it came over again. This time the house shook.
"The third time he came over, the motors were wide open. Then she hit. The noise just stopped ... When I heard the engines stop, then I figured he'd gone into the river."
The yard was filled with black smoke, TENCH said. From an upstairs window he could see "just a little glow" in the thick woods about 300 yards behind his home. It took him 30 minutes by car to reach the scene.
"Not a living human being around," he said.
The cause of the crash, second major air disaster in Virginia within three months, remained unknown. Officials of Capital, the Civil Aeronautics Board, the FBI and other agencies made on-the-spot studies, then moved to Richmond to open official investigations.
A heavy fog blanketed most of central and eastern Virginia Monday afternoon and night, but the airport at Norfolk was open. A speculation of tornado-like winds around the crash scene was discounted by the Weather Bureau at Richmond. A spokesman said the radar did not show anything like a tornado in the area.
Wind at flight level was reported at 59 m.p.h. at Norfolk and 46 m.p.h. at Washington.
All but five of the passengers had boarded the plane at Washington for the short hop to Norfolk. These five had switched planes to continue the trip.
First information listed only 44 passengers, but the airline later reported that two infants -- who did not show on the manifest -- also were aboard.
The wreckage looked as if the plane had dropped straight down into the ravine about 500 yards west of the Chickahominy River. Sheared-off trees and libs poked through the wings and what was left of the plane's fuselage. Only the tail section remained in one piece.
Early arrivals said there was little fire then. Two boys said they saw two sailors sitting in adjoining seats and tried to pull them out. But the body of one sailor fell apart.
Then the fire spread furiously, preventing further rescue attempts. Attempts by fire fighters to quench the flames were hampered by lack of water.
About daybreak the last blaze flickered out and when the wreckage was cool enough the gruesome task of removing the bodies began.
The Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery sent a team to the scene to examine and help identify the Navy victims.
Rescue workers tagged each seat as they came to it. Police said that identifications probably would be made by correlating a seating chart with the tagged seats.
"Tell people to stay away from there," said FINNEGAN, the Richmond fireman. "They're going to get sick if they go in there."
The High Point Enterprise North Carolina 1960-01-19