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Capital Airlines Flight 20
Accident summary
Date January 18, 1960
Type Engine failure, loss of control
Site Holdcroft, near Charles City, Virginia
Passengers 46
Crew 4
Injuries 0
Fatalities 50 (all)
Survivors 0
Aircraft type Vickers 745D Viscount
Operator Capital Airlines
Tail number N7462

Capital Airlines Flight 20 was a U.S. domestic scheduled passenger flight between Washington, D.C., and Norfolk, Virginia, run by Capital Airlines. A Vickers Viscount flying the route crashed into a farm in Charles City County, Virginia, on January 18, 1960. The flight originated at National Airport, and was en route to Norfolk Regional Airport when it crashed. The accident was the third fatal crash involving Vickers Viscount suffered by the company in as many years; the first two were Capital Airlines Flight 75 and Capital Airlines Flight 67.

The plane was cruising at an altitude of 8,000 feet when it encountered icing conditions. These caused two engines to fail. As the craft descended to a lower altitude, the other two engines also failed, causing the propellers to autofeather. The crew tried and failed to restart the engines, and were unable to unfeather the propellers normally; they then put the plane into a dive in an attempt to force the propellers from their feathered position. Eventually they succeeded in restarting engine number four. They applied full power to this engine, which caused the craft to enter a circling descent until crashing into trees; at the time of impact it had almost no forward velocity. Five trees were driven through the fuselage, yet their trunks remained intact.

The plane burned for hours after the crash, the police said at the time. They also indicated that they had not been able to approach it to make an effort at recovering bodies. In addition, treacherous underfooting made the use of firefighting equipment almost impossible.

Heavy fog had closed many airports throughout eastern Virginia and had blanketed the area when the plane bearing 44 passengers and a crew of four came down on swampland near Sandy Gut, a tributary of the Chickahominy River about 30 miles southeast of Richmond. The plane was flying from Chicago to Norfolk - where the airport was open - by way of Washington. It had left Washington at 9:40 p.m. and crashed at 11 p.m. Capital Airlines in Washington identified the jet-prop aircraft's crew as Capt. James B. Fornasero, pilot; Philip Henry Cullom, first officer; and two hostesses, Diane Margaret O'Donnell and Brigitte Friede Helene Jordt.

New York Times, Jan. 19, 1960

The crash was attributed to the fact that, as per airline policy, the pilots had delayed arming the engine ice protection systems even though they were flying in icy conditions; this caused the engines to lose too much power, leading to the accident. Capital Airlines changed its emergency checklist in the wake of the crash, deleting the instruction that pilots were to descend to a warmer climate to relight the systems and instructing them that, provided that correct procedure was followed, the engine could be restarted at any height.

Even several decades after the crash, the owners of the farm still report finding personal items left in the area of the impact from time to time.


Coordinates: 37°23′00″N 76°57′14″W / 37.3833333°N 76.95389°W / 37.3833333; -76.95389



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