Figure: Eastern Air Lines DC-3, from the National Air and Space Museum (Andrew Thomas, 1 March 2010)
The Civil Aeronautics Board was pretty brutal in their treatment of this captain and I suppose it is justified. He should have been more vigilant checking the weather. He should have flown a better circling approach during his first attempt. He should have made a better decision rather than attempt a straight-in landing with a 13-knot tailwind. And he should have put the airplane onto a proper glide path and at the proper speed while on that approach. All that is true. But underlying it all is the need to make the schedule happen, to satisfy the Point A to Point B mantra of our profession. Based on the weather at this airplane's alternates, they should not have taken off at all.
What follows are quotes from the relevant regulatory documents, listed below, as well as my comments in blue.
- Date: 30 December 1945
- Time: 21:13
- Type: Douglas DC-3-201
- Operator: Eastern Air Lines
- Registration: NC18123
- Fatalities: 0 of 3 crew, 1 of 11 passengers
- Aircraft Fate: Destroyed
- Phase: Landing
- Airport: (Departure) Philadelphia International Airport, PA (PHL/KPHL) United States of America
- Airport: (Destination) New York-La Guardia Airport, NY (LGA/KLGA), United States of America
[CAB 4983-45, pg. 1]
- When over Coney Island at 1500 feet the flight was cleared to La Guardia Tower and received subsequent instructions from the tower. La Guardia tower advised the flight that it was number 1 to land on runway 13, and that the local weather was ceiling 500 feet; visibility two and one half miles; wind 15 mph southeast.
Given the era I suppose a lack of precision is to be expected, but the winds and runway assignment make sense. If the winds are out of the southeast (about 135°) landing on Runway 13 certainly makes sense.
- A standard radio range instrument approach to the northeast was made with initial crossing over the range station at 1200 feet. The flight began the final descent towards the field, however, the captain stated that visual contact was not established until approximately at 500 feet over the edge of the approach lights to runway 4. Believing that he did not have sufficient time to turn into a landing approach to the southeast, the pilot initiated a missed approach procedure and requested instructions from La Guardia tower.
The accident report assumes we know what type of approach this is, but seventy years later we are left to assume they flew an approach to the airport from the south, with instructions to circle to Runway 13. (They would have spotted Runway 4 from the south.)
- Flight 14 was offered the use of the Automatic Direction Finding Approach Control facilities installed at La Guardia Field and, being familiar with the procedure involves, the pilot executed an ADF approach on his second attempt. During the approach procedure, the Eastern Air Lines' pilot decided to attempt a straight-in landing in order to avoid the necessity of maneuvering under the 500 foot ceiling to align the aircraft with another runway. The second approach was again high and when over the edge of runway 4 at 300 feet, the pilot testified that he decided to go around again. The pilot stated, however, that in attempting to apply takeoff power, the left engine back-fired and would not indicate more than 15 inches of manifold pressure. At that time be observed a bright red flare from the left engine, and, being apprehensive of engine failure under the conditions which existed, he stated further that he throttled back both engines completely and forced the aircraft on to the runway.
Here again the report assumes we know the ADF approach involved was to a given runway. I am guessing it was runway 4.
- Initial contact with the runway occurred well down the runway at an airspeed considerably above the stalling speed of the aircraft. The aircraft bounced approximately 20 feet in the air and remained airborne for several hundred feet before again contacting the runway. After another shorter bounce the aircraft remained on the runway and brakes were applied in an attempt to stop. However, due to the airspeed, which was still relatively high, and the snow and slush which covered the runway, little deceleration was accomplished. The aircraft continued off the end of the runway, demolished a small wooden building which housed the localizer transmitter, and came to rest in Flushing Bay approximately 200 feet beyond the field boundary.
[CAB 4983-45, pp. 3-8]
- Witnesses to the second approach of Flight 14 testified that the aircraft was seen to descend to an altitude of about 300 feet approximately one mile southwest of the airport boundary. While banking slightly in both directions as it maneuvered to align with runway, the aircraft maintained a fairly constant altitude until past the edge of the runway. An abrupt change in flight path was then observed and the aircraft descended rapidly. Testimony of witnesses indicated that initial contact was made at a point approximately 3500 feet from the approach end of the runway and that the aircraft bounced noticeably and remained airborne for [unable to read from copy] mile distance before a second contact was made.
- Ground observers noticed that at least on sign of "torching" was apparent during the second approach, but that it did not resemble or suggest engine fire.
- Within the investigation conducted, no indication of fire or excessive heat was observed. All engine controls and accessories were in satisfactory condition as far as could be determined and none gave any indication of malfunction or of the presence of fire.
- La Guardia ceilings had dropped from 1500 feet at 1630 to 500 feet at 2030 and the visibility from 4 miles to 2 miles in that same period.
- Newark weather was reported as ceilings 500 feet; visibility one and one half miles. While the existing weather at Floyd Bennett was reported as 1200 feet overcast and five miles visibility five minutes after departure of the flight from Philadelphia the ceilings at both alternates were reported at 500 feet.
- The tower personnel and the pilots involved in the accident disagree as to the information furnished. The pilots testified that they were not informed of a wind shift from the southeast to the southwest although the tower operator on duty testified that the flight was advised on two occasions of such a windshift the latter of which was: wind southwest 13 mph.
If the winds were indeed from the southwest (about 225°), the airplane will have had a 13 knot tailwind.
- The selection of alternate airports indicated very poor judgment in company dispatching and pilot flight planning. . . . Moreover, in view of the fact the weather at both alternates was below the minimums for landing at those fields at approximately the time of take-off from Philadelphia, it is apparent either that company forecasting techniques were inaccurate or that insufficient care was exercised in the selection of alternate airports.
- Inasmuch as the weather at La Guardia Field was within the minimums prescribed by the Operating Certificate of the company, it should have been possible for the pilot of Flight 14, therefore, to have maneuvered safely beneath the overcast following a reasonably accurate approach and to have effected a landing on any runway available at La Guardia Field.
[CAB 4983-45, pg. 10] The Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the decision of the pilot in attempting a landing from an approach which was too high and too fast.
Pilot Psychology / Safety > Comfort > Reliability
Procedures & Techniques / Landing
Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) Accident Investigation Report, Eastern Air Lines - New York, New York, December 30, 1945, File No. 4983-45, Released June 14, 1946