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United Airlines Flight 826
Trans World Airlines Flight 266
Accident summary
Date December 16, 1960
Type Mid-air collision
Site Brooklyn and Staten Island
New York City, New York
40°40′38″N 73°58′26″W / 40.6772°N 73.9740°W / 40.6772; -73.9740Coordinates: 40°40′38″N 73°58′26″W / 40.6772°N 73.9740°W / 40.6772; -73.9740
Total fatalities 134 (including 6 on ground)
First aircraft
Type Douglas DC-8
Name Mainliner Will Rogers
Operator United Airlines
Tail number N8031U
Flight origin Chicago O'Hare Airport
Destination Idlewild International Airport
Passengers 77
Crew 7
Survivors 0
Second aircraft
Type Lockheed L-1049
Name Star of Sicily
Operator Trans World Airlines
Flight origin Dayton International Airport
Destination La Guardia Airport
Passengers 39
Crew 5
Survivors 0
Flight paths of the two aircraft involved.
Front page of the Syracuse Post-Standard on December 17, 1960.

The 1960 New York air disaster was a collision on December 16, 1960, between two airliners over Staten Island, New York City, New York, United States, in which one plane crashed into Staten Island and the other into Park Slope, a Brooklyn neighborhood. The crash killed all 84 people aboard Flight 826, 44 on Flight 266 and six people on the ground.



United Airlines Flight 826, Mainliner Will Rogers, registration N8013U, was a Douglas DC-8 en route from O'Hare Airport in Chicago to New York International (Idlewild (now JFK)) Airport in New York City, New York, on December 16, 1960.

Trans World Airlines Flight 266, Star of Sicily, registration N6907C, was a Lockheed Super Constellation en route from Dayton and Columbus, Ohio, to New York's LaGuardia Airport.


The two aircraft collided in mid-air in heavy cloud a mile west of Miller Field, a military airfield on Staten Island, at 10:33 a.m. Eastern Time. Weather conditions at the time were light rain and fog (which had been preceded by a snowfall).

According to information from the flight 826's flight recorder (the first time a "black box" had been used to provide extensive details in a crash investigation) the United plane was 12 miles (19 km) off course and in 81 seconds dived 3,600 feet (1,100 m) a minute and dropped its speed from more than 500 miles per hour (800 km/h) to 363 miles per hour (584 km/h) when it slammed into the right side of the TWA plane at between 5,250 and 5,175 feet (1,577 m).[1]

The collision occurred about a mile west of Miller Army Field.[2] The TWA Constellation crashed onto Miller Field, with some sections of the aircraft landing in New York Harbor on the Atlantic Ocean side. As the TWA plane spiraled down it disintegrated, dropping at least one passenger into a tree in the New Dorp neighborhood. It crashed into an empty field at the northwest corner of the field—although within a few feet of the neighborhood.[1]

The United plane was supposed to have been circling a point called "Preston" off the New Jersey coast, to have been at 5,000 feet (and not diving down from 8,700 feet) and to be traveling at no more than 240 miles per hour. United later said that the ground beacon was not working (pilots testified on both sides of the issue).[1]

At 10:21 a.m., Flight 826 advised its company radio operator that one of its VOR receivers had stopped working (although they did not notify air traffic controllers of the problem), making it difficult to navigate in instrument conditions. At 10:25 a.m., air traffic control issued a revised clearance for the flight to shorten its course to the Preston holding point by 12 miles (19 km).

The United plane overshot the Preston holding point and at 10:33 a.m. it collided with the TWA Constellation.

Following the collision, the crippled United DC-8 careened into the Park Slope section of Brooklyn and crashed, setting fire to 10 brownstone apartment buildings, the Pillar of Fire Church, the McCaddin Funeral Home, a Chinese laundry and a delicatessen. Wreckage was scattered over the Seventh Avenue at Sterling Place intersection,[3] killing six people on the ground, including Wallace E. Lewis, the Pillar of Fire Church’s 90-year-old caretaker; Charles Cooper, a sanitation worker who was shoveling snow; Joseph Colacino and John Opperisano, who were selling Christmas trees on the sidewalk; Dr. Jacob L. Crooks, who was out walking his dog; and an employee of a butcher's shop located on Sterling Place.[4]

Although witnesses speculated at the time that United attempted an emergency landing in Prospect Park or at LaGuardia Airport, there is no evidence that the pilots had control of the DC-8 at any time after the mid-air collision. There was no audible voice radio contact with traffic controllers from either plane after the collision although LaGuardia had begun tracking an incoming fast moving unidentified plane from Preston toward the LaGuardia "Flatbush" outer marker.[5]

The only initial survivor of the tragedy was 11-year-old Stephen Baltz of Wilmette, Illinois, a passenger on the United jet, who was thrown from the plane into a snowbank at impact. He later died in Park Slope's New York Methodist Hospital a few blocks from the crash. Baltz told rescuers that moments before the collision he had looked out the window at the snow falling on the city.

"It looked like a picture out of a fairy book. It was a beautiful sight."[4]

Pictures of Baltz appeared on many front pages around the world such as the Syracuse Post-Standard repeating a story from the Associated Press in which he expressed concern about his mother who was waiting for him at the airport. He gave the only description of the crash:

"I heard a big noise while we were flying. The last thing I remember was the plane falling."[6]


With a death toll of 134, the accident was the deadliest U.S. commercial aviation disaster at the time, topping the 1956 midair collision between United Airlines Flight 718 and Trans World Airlines Flight 2 over Arizona's Grand Canyon that killed 128.

Filmmaker and critic Hollis Frampton was scheduled to be on the United flight, but decided to delay his return to New York for one day in order to see a retrospective of the work of Edward Weston in Minneapolis; he said of this decision that he was " to decide whether Weston tried to kill me, or saved my life." [7]

Sir Edmund Hillary (The first person to conquer Mount Everest) had also booked a seat on Flight 826, but missed the flight after arriving too late at O'Hare airport.

United has not retired the use of 826 as a flight number. However, as of October 2006, no United flights currently carry the designation. The most recent route of United Flight 826 was on a San Francisco to Los Angeles route, and was last used on September 5, 2006.

United had named the ill-fated DC-8 jetliner after well-known American entertainer Will Rogers. Rogers, along with Wiley Post, was killed in a plane crash near Barrow, Alaska in 1935.

Related incidents

Within two months there would be two more major air disasters involving Idlewild Airport.

On January 19, 1961, an Aeronaves de Mexico DC-8 crashed onto Rockaway Beach Boulevard after taking off from Idlewild in a snowstorm, killing four — 102 of the 106 passengers and crew escaped.

On January 28, 1961, American Airlines Flight 1502, a Boeing 707 named "Flagship Oklahoma", departed Idlewild on a training mission when it nosedived 300 yards (270 m) off the Atlantic coast at Napeague, New York, killing all six crew members aboard.

See also


  1. ^ a b c High Speed Laid to Jet in Crash - New York Times - January 10, 1961
  2. ^ Google Maps location
  3. ^ Google Maps location
  4. ^ a b Disaster in Fog - New York Times - December 17, 1960
  5. ^ Excerpts of Tape Conversations at Time of Air Crash - New York Times - December 22, 1960
  6. ^ Lone Survivor Worried About His Mother - Associated Press via Syracuse Post-Standard - December 17, 1960
  7. ^ Frampton, Hollis. "Impromptus on Edward Weston: Everything in Its Place." October 5 (Summer 1978): 48-69.




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