I was in Columbus, Ohio, 12 years old, and in school when the crash occurred. Before long, there was some talk among my classmates that a terrible accident had taken place over NYC involving the TWA Super G Constellation, which had originated in Columbus that morning. I thought immediately, “My father is on that plane.” Then I thought, “But if he had been in that crash, I’d be told.” At that moment, a teacher entered the classroom, put his arm around me, and walked me to a waiting car being driven by a friend of my family, who took me home. On the way home, I asked him if my father had been in the NYC plane crash. He began to weep. That told me all I needed to know.
My father Joseph was one of the “two men selling Christmas trees on a corner.” I was three and a half. I am, on some level, still that child, and so I have never been able to have grown-up thoughts about that day or my father. Much later I went on to study statistics at NYU, and whenever I hear phrases about rare or improbable events, I can’t help thinking of how odd it is to be killed by a plane falling out of the sky as you sell Christmas trees.
— Michael Colacino
I was a student at St. Francis Xavier Academy. Our math teacher was facing the window; students had their backs to it. She saw the plane heading towards the school. She stopped mid-sentence in lecture and said: “We will now say the Act of Contrition.” The plane flew over our school and crashed. The entire student body then crammed into the chapel.
— Elizabeth Whitmore
My brother, Vincent de Paul Flood, 19, was aboard the TWA from Ohio, returning home from the Dominican House of Studies in Columbus, Ohio. My mother, listening to a morning talk show, called La Guardia Airport to say that the show had been interrupted by news of the crash. At the airport, a person called out: “A woman here says there was a plane crash!” She was alone, and lit a candle, waiting for final news about her youngest child. We all struggled through the snowstorm that day, gathering to be with our parents at this devastating time. All the feelings return, despite the passage of all those years.
— Margaret M. Nolan
Fifty years later and it’s still hard for me to talk about that day. I was a “stewardess” (as we were called back then) for United and was scheduled to take that trip the following day. Meanwhile, my roommate was waiting for that flight to arrive as she was scheduled to work the next flight with that equipment. As I remember it, all of the stewardess on board that fateful day had “trip traded” with other stewardesses so they could be home for Christmas with their families. That morning I received a phone call from a dear friend telling me, actually ordering me, to “call your Mother and tell her you’re OK.”
My father, Edward Tierney, was on TWA 266. He survived a Charles Dickens type youth in depression London (one of the few jobs available for him was rat catcher!), the German Blitz (the Tierney family flat was directly in the bombing zone), World War II (as an Airborne soldier who dropped behind German lines during D-Day). Yet one simple airplane trip finished the cat’s 9th life.
— Percy Tierney
I was a young firefighter assigned to a firehouse in the Bronx. I was selected as a “detail” to report to the wreckage in Brooklyn. Having worked the whole night there, digging for bodies, this was an event I could never forget.
— Irwin Levine
I was a student at the Berkeley Institute on Lincoln Place, right above 7th Avenue — we lived on Garfield Place, just below Prospect Park. Our school was only a few blocks from the crash site, and one of the teachers in our school saw the plane go down and fainted. All the students in the small school were shunted into the gymnasium and we waited there for hours until our parents came for us. Without cell phones, emails, texts or twitters, it was hard for the school to get to all the parents quickly to assure them that their children were OK.
In addition, my family owned a building next to the lot where the plane came down. It was virtually untouched, except for a small hole, whereas the building next to it where the plane hit was demolished. I saw it a few days later and it looked like a landfill crossed with a vacant lot.
— William Fordes
I am one of the daughters of the captain for United Air Lines, R.H. Sawyer. I was 8 years old. Our father had already bought Christmas presents, which we were left to open on the 25th. I was told by my mother — who just passed two weeks ago — that the reason for this horrific accident was to improve the so-needed modern technology to guide these new fast planes. This day became much easier for our family when my youngest child (daughter) was born on this day 29 years ago.
–P K Sawyer
I was 14 years old. I felt compelled to see for myself what had happened. And so, without my mother’s knowledge or permission, I decided to ride my bicycle from Boro Park. By the time I got there, the flames had long been extinguished, but the aftermath of death and destruction remained: the huge tail section of the United DC-8 was still intact and lying right in the street. It was a sight I will not forget. As a young boy, I stood there in the cold wondering who was flying this airplane, how it got there and what unimaginable events could possibly have occurred to bring this plane down. I had no way of knowing that one day I would become a pilot for United Airlines, thus furthering my interest in this and other aviation accidents. As in most preventable accidents, there was a long chain of events, some of which have never been accounted for such as training, cockpit resource management and fatigue, which could have been major players in the cause of this tragedy.
– Jack W. Linet, Captain, United Airlines (Retired)
I am the wife of the TWA co-pilot, Dean T. Bowan. I had two infant children at the time and was advised not to go to the scene by the TWA pilots who came to my home because they said I would just be sitting in traffic and, if he was taken to the hospital, I wouldn’t be able to get the call. I’ve always regretted that decision because I had visions of him lying in the snow needing help and I could have been there.
— Mary Ellen Barry
I was in a seventh-grade classroom at Holy Family School on 14th Street between Fourth and Fifth Avenues, about a mile away, as a crippled DC-8 flies, from Sterling and Seventh. My seat was in the second row from the tall windows on the left side of the room, and near the rear, so I had a broad view of street and sky. Sister Kevin Therese was writing on the blackboard.
Then as now, planes constantly fly across Park Slope, descending toward La Guardia, but the jet that burst into view directly over those windows was like none other that has ever passed this way — low, very low in the sky, and massive. Frightened, I froze in my seat, and the room buzzed. Our teacher turned around.
“What’s going on!”
“Sister, a plane flew over! Real low!”
“Alright, settle down!” Then she turned back to the board.
A few minutes later, I heard sirens.
“Maybe that plane crashed,” I said to a guy in the next row. He laughed at me.
Then a knock at the door. Another nun walked in and whispered to Sister Therese, who then announced what had happened to the plane that had disturbed her lesson.
That night my brother drove my sisters and me to the scene. There had been a great snowstorm earlier that week, and I climbed a snowbank to get a better view of the jet’s tail sitting in the intersection of Seventh and Sterling. I lost my footing, and a black boy my age or younger grabbed my arm, and said — I can hear him still in my head — “Watch out, you’ll fall!”
I have long remembered him fondly, as I have always kept in my heart a sad, evocative place for Stephen Baltz, the Illinois boy, 11 years old, as I was, who survived the crash for one day. The sight of his buffalo nickels on his memorial plaque in the Methodist Hospital chapel brings me close to tears.
— Robert Murphy