Two Commercial Planes BUMP
On December 4, 1965 two commercial planes bumped into each other over Carmel New York. In those days, pilots were told to fly at certain altitudes. However, it was their responsibility to see and avoid crashes. Due to atmospheric conditions it appeared to the pilots and co-pilots of both planes that they were about to crash. They both took evasive maneuvers but "bumped" according to one of the passengers. One plane was a Trans World Airlines Boeing 707 jet (photo #3) flying from San Francisco to NY. It made an emergency landing at Kennedy Airport (then called Idlewild ) even though it was missing a twenty-five foot piece of its left wing.(photo #9)
The other plane was a four-engine propeller plane, an Eastern Airlines Lockheed Super Constellation (photo #2). In the collision, its tail was damaged and the pilot lost all pitch control and hydraulics. The only thing he could control were the engines. Captain Charles White tried to make an emergency landing at Danbury airport but the plane was too high. He was forced to make a landing in a meadow on what is referred as Hunt Mountain in North Salem. At the last minute the pilot increased the throttle to pull the nose up to parallel the slope of the mountain. This allowed the plane to glide into the mountain rather than slam into the mountain. By doing so, his action saved fifty lives.
Brewster firefighter Charlie Erickson was at home when he heard the crash and saw the smoke. Flames could be seen from miles away. He immediately rushed to the Brewster Fire department on Main Street and responded on a 1934 Seagrave Ladder Truck. John Coughlin, BFD Chief (1960 to 1962) was on Route 116 in North Salem and was the first to call in the crash. In a few minutes, it would be difficult to get to the scene.The road to the scene became clogged with civilians as well as several responding fire departments including Croton Falls FD and Miry FD in Danbury. This is why today we have Fire Police to regulate traffic. Today we also set up a staging area to avoid congestion at the scene. The Incident Commander sizes up the situation and requests the appropriate apparatus. Firefighters' now have Scott packs for air but in those days you only had your lungs, and a rubber coat .
When Charlie arrived at the scene, he first he helped a flight officer in a gully with a possible broken back. Charlie was one of the people to put the crew member on a stretcher. He then brought lighting from the Truck to the scene. Even though it was during the day, light was needed to size up the situation in the smoky interior of the fuselage. As Charlie was standing by the cracked fuselage with two big lights, the pilot appeared. The pilot asked Charlie to go back into the interior with him to try and free a passenger trapped in a twisted seat. They both went in but were unsuccessful in freeing the passenger. The pilot went to the front of the plane because he thought he heard someone else up front. Charlie went to the exit for a breath of fresh air (in those days there was no breathing apparatus like today's SCBA's*) and as he did so their was an aviation gasoline explosion. The pilot and trapped passenger were engulfed by smoke and flames. Charlie was the only BFD** firefighter to enter the plane and the last person out of the plane alive. All the other passengers and crew were evacuated out of the plane before that last fatal explosion.
A little while later, while doing a grid search of the area, Charlie found a leg. He brought the leg to the ambulance where a service member with a missing a leg. Charlie said: "It's a helluva thing to give someone back their missing leg!" Just one of those traumatic moments a first responder remembers.
In total four people died, the pilot, the trapped passenger, and two other passenger who wer evacuated from the plane and taken to the hospital . Fifty people lived because of Captain White's airman-ship. For even more information, consult sources 2 and 3.
Some of the other Brewster firefighters who were at the scene but who have but have answered their last call include:
Ed. Butler Sr. (Chief 1970-1972) , Archie Penny, and Buzzy Hoffman. Charlie is the last known BFD**surviving member of those who responded that day.
* SCBA =Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus
** BFD = Brewster Fire Department
1. Interview with responding BFD firefighter Charlie Erickson on 9/26/2021 and 10/12/2021.
2. Danbury News Times 12/01/2015 " A 1965 crash still a vivid memory."
3. April 1966 Reader's Digest article by Admiral Cloudberg entitled "Survival of the Bravest: The Story of the 1965 Carmel Mid-air Collision"