When a mistake is made in the air, it usually results in a disaster. Air disasters often involve the pilot, a mechanic, or an old part. Of course, some of the worst disasters were caused when an air traffic controller sent two planes to the same place at the same altitude. The resulting mid-air collision killed everyone on board. Mistakes are never good, but in the air they are especially devastating.
War is no different, in fact mistakes in war can be really disastrous. Gunners shooting at the enemy planes are often so focused that when the enemy flies past their own squadron, they can end up shooting down their own squadron members with friendly fire.
The strange thing is that sometimes, a would be disaster ends up becoming one of the greatest miracles. Such was the case during World War II. The Americans planed a bombing run, and it was going to be a big bombing run. The orders had been issued. The problem…one squadron accidentally showed up thousands of feet lower down than the other one. In many cases, this would not have bee such a big problem, but both squadrons ended up a the drop site at the same time. The scheduled bombing began, and no one would really realize what was about to happen until it was too late.
Neither of the squadrons saw each other, until the bombs had been dropped. Miraculously, none of the lower planes were hit by the higher planes. It was a miracle of epic proportions. In addition, the Germans thought that the Allies had come up with an ingenious bombing strategy to bomb an area twice as much. After that bombing event, the Germans were scared that the Allies had this level of skill. It seemed completely impossible that they could plan a bomb run in which the lower planes flew in sync enough to allow the upper planes to drop their bombs in between the lower planes, while the lower planes were also dropping their bombs. It was impossible, and yet it happened. The impossible was achieved without one bit of planning. There is simply no other word for it. It was a miracle. God took a potential disaster and turned it into one of the greatest feats of warfare.
With the thousands of airplanes in the air at any moment, one might think that daily accidents would be common place, but in reality, air travel is actually very safe. Nevertheless, it is not without its tragedies. What tends to amaze me, however, is the fact that relatively few ever seem to crash in a city, even though the airports are usually very near cities. Still, there is not a perfect record of missing the cities, when it comes to plane crashes either, and when a plane crashes in a city, you know that the death toll will be higher, and more than likely will include people on the ground, who were just going about their day, completely unaware of the danger they were in.
Such was the case on this day, December 16, 1960, in New York City, when two commercial airliners, a United DC-8 from Chicago, that was heading to Idlewild Airport…now renamed John F Kennedy International Airport, in southern Queens, and a TWA Super Constellation from Dayton, Ohio that was heading to LaGuardia Airport in northern Queens, collided over the city, killing 134 people in the planes and on the ground. This remains the only such accident to occur over a major US city to this day. It was snowing that morning, and the United flight had been put into a holding pattern. Unfortunately, the pilot miscalculated the location of the pattern, the plane came directly into the path of the TWA flight, who was on approach to LaGuardia Airport. There were 128 people onboard the two planes, and all of them, except eleven year old Stephen Baltz were killed on impact. The boy would die from his injuries the next day, but he was lucid enough to give a brief account of the accident, saying that, “It looked like a picture out of a fairy book. Then all of a sudden there was an explosion. The plane started to fall and people started to scream. I held on to my seat and then the plane crashed.”
The TWA plane crashed onto Miller Field, a military airfield on Staten Island. The United flight, which was missing its right engine and part of a wing, came down in the middle of the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, narrowly missing Saint Augustine’s Academy. It hit an apartment building and the Pillar of Fire Church. Dozens of other buildings caught fire in the resulting explosion. Mrs Robert Nevin, who was sitting in a top floor apartment when the place crashed into her building, later said “The roof caved in and I saw the sky.” Six people on the ground died when the plane crashed, including the 90 year old caretaker of the church, Wallace Lewis, and two men who were selling Christmas trees nearby. Christmas presents carried by the plane’s passengers were strewn all over the streets. Firefighting efforts went on for nearly 72 hours because of the multiple fires.