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Mid-Air Collision of Flight 853

Updated on December 29, 2017
Anita Hasch profile image

I live on a homestead in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Writing and reading are my passion.

Mid-Air Collision On a Routine Flight

On a routine flight in December 1965 Captain White, four crew members and forty nine passengers were on their way from Boston to Newark, New Jersey. The Eastern Airlines Flight 853 was about fifty miles north of New York when a large Trans World Airlines jet Flight 42 came streaking towards their plane.

Captain White felt a slight bump and the plane started pulling left and into a headlong descent, and found that the movable panels on the wings and tail were no longer working and could not be pulled out of the dive. Even in this life and death situation the Captain was calm when he spoke to the passengers on the loudspeaker. He asked then to fasten their seat belts as they had been in a mid air collision. In fact, although the crew did not know it, a large portion of the plane’s finned tail had been sliced off in the collision. The forty nine passengers were of all walks of life.

The Pilots Tried To Reverse Their Actions

At the New York Air Route Traffic Control Center, Dave and Mel, radar/radio controllers, were watching their radar screen and scanning the area while following the ‘blips’ that showed the locations of the planes, Richardson directed the Eastern’s Flight 853 to fly at 10,000 feet and Mel directed the TWA jet to fly at 11,000 feet.

Co-pilot Holt saw the TWA jet first and he and Captain White, hauled back on their control yokes, to avoid a collision. At almost the same time, the pilots of the jet saw the Constellation. They also pulled back on their yokes. The jet’s pilots saw that their maneuver would not clear it. They then reversed their action, and tried to dive below or behind the Constellation.


Source

The Plane Stalled

To avoid a collision the Constellation flew up at a difficult flying angle. Then the inevitable happened. The plane stalled, and went into a dive. By instinct the Captain switched off all the power. The flight engineer noticed the red alarm lights flashing on his screen. The dials indicated that the amount of hydraulic fluid was close to zero. The damaged plane was gathering more and more speed as it fell.

In such an emergency thought and training that have been implanted throughout his career helped the Captain to make the right decisions. The co-pilot suggested that they increase the power which should lift the nose of the plane. The Captain was learning fast how to have some control over the stricken plane. Using the throttles he found a throttle setting which gave him enough power to keep the nose out of a dive. The plane kept on circling to the left. The Captain twisted the alignment of the four throttle levers to make the propellers on the left wing spin faster than those on the right. He also made the greatest speed contrast between the two propellers farthest out from the center. By doing this he could lift the low left wing to a more level position.

The Passengers Focused On Keeping Calm

The passengers helped to keep each other calm and knew that there were really only two things to do, follow the emergency instructions, and pray. The flight engineer began to try and contact air traffic control. ‘Mayday, Mayday, This is Eastern 853. We have had a mid aid collision. We’re out of control.’ Controller Richardson at last heard him and assured the Eastern crew that he could see the plane on radar and would keep open all the altitudes from 10,000 feet and below.

But although the plane was flying more or less level it was slowly sinking. Manipulating the throttle settings gave the plane about half its normal cruising power. They could not reach an airport in time.


Darkness Was Setting In

But then the Captain spotted a small empty pasture. He decided to try and land and moved towards it. Captain White knew that the rough field was far from an ideal place to land a fragile airliner. What made it worse was that darkness was setting in and visibility was weak. He warned the passengers on the loudspeaker to brace themselves as he was going to try and land.

Two houses and a large barn stood in front of the field. The Captain had to maneuver his plane down almost to roof level and fly between the buildings, to utilize the full length of the field. In the barn there were twenty horses, the loud noise of the aircraft threw them in a panic, but fortunately they could not get out.


The Fuselage Broke Into Three Pieces

Because he had no controls the Captain would have to put on the power again to lift the nose as he landed. If he did it too soon, the plane would leap up and miss the field, then stall and burst into flames. The Captain had chosen the right moment. He revved all the engines to full blast at the precise instant needed to tilt up the nose before impact. That final maneuver alone, sensing when to put on the power, saved the lives of the passengers.

The plane’s belly skimmed over the grass on the field and the left wing smashed into a tree. It tore the wing completely off. The plane then slammed against the far bank of a gully, and skidded loudly up the hill. There was a huge explosion on impact. All four engines broke free and the fuselage broke into three pieces.

A Helicopter and Ambulance Soon Arrived

Of the young soldiers, all could escape from the plane, some with burns but not seriously injured. Unfortunately Private Flucker, could not get out. His seat belt jammed, and although his friends tried to unbuckle his seat belt, they failed in their attempt. Dr Lord had set up a treatment center in the stable, where he treated the injured. The field was full of injured passengers lying on horse blankets.

A helicopter and ambulances soon arrived to take the injured to local hospitals in nearby towns. The other passengers, who were not seriously injured, as well as the rest of the crew were transported by rescue vehicles.

Captain White was later found in the passenger cabin. He had tried to save the last passenger, Private Flutter who was trapped by his seatbelt. He had succeeded in unfastening Flucker but they had both been overcome with poisonous fumes as they were on their way out. Captain White was buried with honors in Washington Arlington National Cemetery.

The official probable cause report, issued by the US Civil Aeronautics Board puts the primary blame on an optical illusion.

How Did The Baby Survive

In this crash there was a young mother with a small baby that managed to leave the plane with the baby in her arms. In a previous plane crash that I wrote about a baby was fortunate to slide into a baggage container, 'the plane was upside down,' and was saved with no injuries. A little boy of about two years old disappeared with the crash and was later found dead. Both these kids were secured at their parents feet. Of course they were not secured but only surrounded by pillows and blankets. A small child has little weight and with a crash would go flying or sliding. So, how did this young mother manage to save her child from any injury. I can't imagine that the child was left at her feet? Did she perhaps fasten the child against her with a pillow at its back and her seat belt holding them both. If that is possible? Please comment as this really interest me.

© 2017 Anita Hasch

Comments

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  • Nadine May profile image

    Nadine May 

    8 months ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

    Great article and I wonder if this plane crash was in one of the plane accident TV series? About the baby...It might be that it was not the time to leave...its earthy life?

  • Anita Hasch profile imageAUTHOR

    Anita Hasch 

    11 months ago from Port Elizabeth

    Thank you for reading Robert. I believe the airlines now have a safety device on board that are preventing many accidents.

  • Robert Sacchi profile image

    Robert Sacchi 

    12 months ago

    An interesting article about the December 4, 1965 mid-air collision. Interestingly this mid-air collision happened 5 years after another mid-air collision in the same area. That collision also involved a Super-Constellation and a 4 engine jetliner. Fortunately the December 4, 1965 mid-air ended much better than the December 16, 1960 tragedy.

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