Air Collision Over New York City Part 1

About the collision of two airplanes in 1960 over Staten Island, New York City, history of the disaster and an account of what happened hour by hour.


The 39th New York-bound passenger boarded the W. W. II-vintage 4-engine prop job, TWA Flight 266, at Port Columbus Airport just before 9 A.M. At Chicago's O'Hare International Airport the 76th New York-bound passenger boarded the DC-8 107-ton jet, United Airlines Flight 826. TWA's Constellation would fly the shorter distance at 300+ mph. UAL's DC-8 would fly the greater distance at 600+ mph. It was winter and both flights maintained radio contact with New York's Air Traffic Control. Minutes before landing the 2 flights collided 5,000' above Staten Island in one of the worst air disasters of the century.

When: At 10:34 A.M. on Friday, December 16, 1960.

Where: 5,000' above Staten Island, N.Y.

The Loss: 127 passengers and crewmen plus 6 people on the ground. Both planes were picked up in bits and pieces.

The Cause: Bad weather, poor visibility, heavy holiday air traffic, variable air speeds, frequent altitude changes, and inefficient radio communications, all contributed to the tragic collision over New York.

The Disaster: Capt. David A. Wollam, a 14,500-flying-hours veteran pointed the nose of his Constellation skyward at 9 A.M. Flight 266 was no more than airborne when the captain activated the public address system and gave his Welcome Aboard speech, telling his passengers their ETA at La Guardia Airport would be one hour and 32 minutes. They would be flying at 7,000' under Air Traffic Control Instrument flight rules.

Eleven minutes later, Flight 826 was airborne. Its captain, a 20,000-flying-hours veteran, Robert H. Sawyer, informed his passengers they would be flying at 27,000' at 600 mph with an ETA at Kennedy Airport of one hour and 29 minutes.

An hour out of Columbus, O., New York's Air Route Traffic Control Center--ARTCC--altered Flight 266's altitude from 7,000' to 19,000' and cleared descent to 11,000' after passing over Allentown, Pa. At 10:19 A.M. Wollam advised New York that according to his instruments he was over Allentown and adjusting altitude to 11,000' as requested. New York informed Wollam that radar contact had been established.

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