NATIONAL AIRLINES DC-6, FLIGHT
AL DC6 plane crash, Feb 1953
These were two of the theories being raised as civil aeronautics and airline investigators sought an explanation today for the crash that killed possibly all the plane's 46 passengers and crewmen.
A sea-air search for 29 missing was resumed at daybreak after darkness brought a halt last night.
Relatives and friends resumed the grim, slow task of indentifying the mangled bodies of 17 dead brought here by the Coast Guard cutter Blackthorn yesterday.
Seven of the dead passengers
were identified by Coroner Thomas B. Henderson:
U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn on 18-25 February 1953, she searched
for survivors of National Airlines Flight 470. Between May and June 1953
Blackthorn recovered the wreckage of the National Airlines plane
"Mobile weatherman Bill
Tilson suggested the possiblility the plane could have hit a waterspout
generated by changing weather conditions in the upper gulf.
At 16:49, Flight 470 reported passing over NA-2 check point at 16:45 at 14,500 feet, and estimated being over NA-1 at 17:10. It also reported, "Thunderstorms all quadrants". Pensacola radio received and acknowledged this message, and advised that "severe turbulence" had been reported by a DC-6 crew that had landed ahead of Flight 470.
FROM A SPECIAL REPORT BY ABC NEWS: On average, each commercial airplane gets struck by lightning once a year. "We'd like to believe today that lightning cannot take down an airplane," said Andy Plumer, chief engineer at Lightning Technologies in Pittsfield, Mass. "But in the past, it has happened." From the 1940s to the 1960s, Plumer said, "there were plane crashes, there were fuel tank explosions, there were effects on electronic systems … and that happened more frequently than we care to remember." The NASA Storm Hazards project flew into nearly 1,500 thunderstorms and experienced more than 700 lightning strikes. To protect commercial aircraft from lightning strikes -- particularly as the technology changed -- they needed to know where lightning would strike airplanes, how often, and how much electric current it carried. In the process, Fisher discovered something shocking. "Almost all lightning strikes to aircraft are triggered by the aircraft's presence." The next generation of aircraft will be made of carbon reinforced plastics, which, while lighter and stronger, do not conduct electricity as well as metal. To keep planes safe from lightning, engineers have to develop new methods to diffuse that destructive force. In one case, adding a layer of copper mesh to the hull of an aircraft can protect it from lightning. The copper mesh is "very thin, very lightweight," said Plumer, "but it provides an amazing amount of lightning protection." Thanks in large part to these efforts, no commercial airline has crashed in the United States because of a lightning strike since 1963.
AUDIO TRANSCRIPT FROM NEWSREEL* DATED Feb. 19,
Rescue vessels collect belongings of passengers and crewmembers salvaged from the sea.
The airliner, presumably caught in a cyclone, plummeted into the water a short distance from the Alabama coast. It was located in 90 feet of water.
Eleven bodies were recovered as they floated free of the plane. The transport was on a flight from Tampa to New Orleans over the Gulf when disaster struck.
41 passengers and 5 crewmembers perished as the plane disintegrated, struck the water with terrific force and tragic results".
NEWSREEL TRANSCRIPT & PHOTO SOURCE:
In the age before televison, people saw the news
every week in their neighborhood movie theater, in the newsreels which
were shown with every feature film. These short news films were produced
by the Big Five Hollywood studios and typically contained six or seven
stories, each of which were usually one or two minutes in length, and
covered politics, sports, fashions and whatever other major news story
might be of interest to the movie audience and would encourage them
to keep them coming back every week. The newsreel which covered the
crash of National Flight 470 ylelded the photos which follow here. The
scenes were captured from a DVD made by History Professor Steven Schoenherr
of the University of San Diego. An invaluable collection of these visual
historical documents were painstakingly reproduced from reference cassettes
at the National Archives in College Park MD from the Universal Newsreel
gift collection made to the federal government in 1970 of 30 million
feet of film from 1929-67. In living black-and-white, they offer a fascinating
and unique view of an era when motion pictures defined our culture.
U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn arrives and personnel begin offloading the first eleven bodies recovered from the Gulf of Mexico.
Coast Guard personnel load body bags onto wheeled stretchers and into one of six hearse's dispatched to the dock to await the Blackthorn's heartbreaking cargo.
Silence from the Gulf
The big plane made a routine landing at Tampa and took off again at 4:40 with 41 passengersmany of them holiday travelers bound for the Mardi Gras. It was due in New Orleans at 5:45 C.S.T., but Flight 470 was never completed. Captain Springer's last radio report, at 5:12, gave no hint of danger. After that, attempts to get in touch with the plane were answered only by a silencesilence and the howl of sudden heavy winds which battered the shore line hard enough to tear off roofs at Grand Isle, La.
During the night an operator at Mobile's Radio Station WKRG picked up what he thought was an S O S message, possibly from a hand-cranked "Gibson Girl" transmitter of the type used on life rafts. As a great sea-air search got underway the next morning, one of the 20-odd planes which took part sighted what seemed to be a raft, with six people clinging to it. But they were never seen again. A 20-ft. sea was running, and it seemed doubtful that survivors could cling to a raft for long.
Less than 30 miles off the Alabama coast, the searchers found bits & pieces of wreckage. The DC-6 was down in 100 feet of water; during the day seventeen bodies floated to the surface and were recovered. There seemed to be no doubt that all 46 people aboard had perished.
PROBABLE CAUSE: "The loss of control
followed by the in-flight failure and separation of portions of the
airframe structure while the aircraft was traversing an intense frontal-wave
type storm of extremely severe turbulence, the severity and location
of which the pilot had not been fully informed."
Summary: The aircraft crashed into the Gulf of Mexico off Mobile, Alabama. The aircraft broke up in the turbulence of a "frontal wave" storm after failure of the left wing. The loss of control followed by the in-flight failure and separation of portions of the airframe structure while the aircraft was traversing an intense frontal-wave type storm of extremely severe turbulence, the severity and location of which the pilot had not been fully informed.
Misc. Litigation Findings:
On February 14, 1953, National Airlines Flight 470, en route from Tampa to New Orleans, met with winds of hurricane velocity and crashed in the Gulf of Mexico near the Alabama shore. None of the 46 on board survived the crash. It was unclear where the accident occurred; whether within the territorial jurisdiction of Alabama, in which case the Alabama Wrongful Death Act, 7 Alabama Code 123, was applicable and the district court had jurisdiction because of diversity of citizenship, or on the high seas beyond the jurisdiction of Alabama, in which case the Federal Death on the High Seas Act, 46 U.S.C.A. 761-767, applied and jurisdiction lay in admiralty.1 Claims under both statutes were joined and after a hearing in which the evidence was limited to the situs of the accident, Judge Levet, reaching the same result as had the jury which he termed 'advisory,' correctly found that the accident occurred on the high seas more than one marine league from the Alabama shore. The court, therefore, dismissed the Alabama wrongful death action and proceeded in admiralty under the Death on the High Seas Act to try the issue of damages, National having admitted its liability for the accident.
Additional passenger name/details have become available
From the website GenDisasters: Events That Touched Our Ancestors Lives come these passenger names:
Martha Irene Besselieu (Stegall) from Miami Shores, FL
Nancy Nelson Huidekoper Rathborne, from Harvey Louisiana
I have original (yellowed and fragile) newspaper articles packed away, images of which are displayed above, and I continue to add additional details about this incident as they become available.
Additional information or photos which should be added
to his page, may be submitted for inclusion here.
In the subject line of your email please reference Flight 470
The published passenger list noted only that a Mrs. E. Loomis of Miami had been aboard the ill-fated flight.
Of all the newspaper articles which were published, just one contained a glimpse, a mere three sentences which briefly touched upon the human side of the story.
"The foredeck of the cutter Blackthorn was littered
with wreckage from the plane which plunged into the Gulf Saturday afternoon
with 46 passengers and crewmen.
The sodden debris was piled onto the dock for inspection by civil aeronautics authorities.
Among the lot were 33 shoes, one of them a gold mesh evening slipper, apparently never danced in."
One of the things which was never reported was that when the authorities gave up their official search for Flight 470, my father, Earle Prentice Loomis, along with families and friends of some of the other missing passengers, ("Bebe" Reboso was one of those who joined my father), hired shrimp boats to continue to drag grappling hooks in their search for the remainder of the plane.
It is largely because of their efforts that the wreckage was finally located and the fuselage recovered by the Blackthorn a full four months after the plane went down.
My mother was actually booked on the earlier flight, which arrived safely, but she called and changed her reservation to Flight 470, in order to finish making a suit she planned to wear.
The Butterfly Effect*; One seemingly insignificant change in plans and the world, as we know it, is altered forever.
When Dad arrived, the coroner who was in charge of identifying the bodies noticed that my father was wearing a Masonic ring, He took Dad, a brother Mason, aside and told him that he would prefer that Dad not go in to view the bodies in an attempt to find my mother, because it was something that would haunt him for the rest of his life. He had Dad describe my mother to him instead, and subsequently advised that my mother, formerly a first runner up in the Miss Florida pageant, was not amongst those whose bodies were recovered. I eventually learned that a small, empty manicure kit with her initials EWL embossed in the leather had floated to the surface and been found by searchers. That was the only item of hers that was ever found. To the best of my knowledge no other bodies, beyond the original 17, were ever recovered. At one point I recall seeing photographs taken inside a hangar, of the aircraft reconstruction using the pieces of the plane which were eventually recovered, but I was unable to find those photographs amidst my father's effects after he passed away in 1992. Cynthia Loomis Gurin, Stuart, FL.
Morrison Wheeler Loomis, 39, of Miami Shores, Florida was aboard Flight
470, traveling from Miami to New Orleans to visit her grandmother.
She was survived by her husband and two young children, a daughter, age 6 and a son, age 3.
FLIGHT 470 LETTERS
After relating my connection to Flight 470 to my stepson for a high school writing project he is working on, I searched the web to see If I could find any information on the flight. It was then that I stumbled upon your web site on Flight 470, and read of your connection to the flight. In reading your story, I was chilled to the bone to hear how your mother had changed from an earlier flight to the ill-fated Flight 470. I was chilled because my mother's decision to change flights resulted in her taking the earlier flight, and thus surviving and giving birth to me four years later. Back when I was about 12, I found a letter that my mom had written to the FAA (or some federal agency, I don't quite recall) concerning a flight she was on from Tampa to New Orleans on 14 Feb 1953. In the letter she described how they flew though extreme turbulence and how the passengers on the plane thought they would not make it. In fact, the flight was so rough that it led to her having a miscarriage shortly thereafter. When I asked her about the letter, she told me the following story. My mom and dad had flown from New Orleans to Tampa to visit my father's sister. My dad had to fly back early for work while my mom stayed for a few more days.
On the morning of her scheduled flight, she described feeling very uneasy. She felt that she had to get home right away, and insisted, over family objections. on changing her flight from Flight 470 to the flight preceding it. She did not explain it as a feeling of doom if she took Flight 470, but rather as an overwhelming sense that she needed to take an earlier flight so she could get home as soon as possible. As it was, her flight was so rough that at the time she feared her choice was going to prove fatal.
Instead, it proved to be a decision that saved her life, and let to the births of my sister, me, and my younger brother. My mom had not told me the story until I had found the letter she wrote. When I asked her about it, she was somewhat reluctant to tell the story. I believe it was because she felt some sense of guilt at having escaped the fate of the passengers on Flight 470. I remember feeling stunned at how close I had come to not being born. As you say, it is amazing how such seemingly small decisions can have such far reaching consequences. Fate can be both kind and cruel. I don't know how to feel about two moms who made two simple but different choices that proved to be so fateful. I am so happy and grateful for the choice that my mom made, and so sad for the choice your mom made. But you are right, their choices led us to where we are today. In my case, it led to my very existence. In your case, it sounds like it has led to much for which you are grateful, in spite of your great loss. I wish you all the best, and thank you for honoring the memory of your mother, and all the other passengers on Flight 470. Sincerely, Rick Florez firstname.lastname@example.org
REPLY: Thank you most sincerely for your letter, Rick. My father told me that he had felt a strong sense of unease when he looked at the plane my mother had just boarded. My own mother seemed to know as well that something was going to happen. She instructed my grandmother, before she boarded the flight, that if something were to happen to her she didn't want a funeral held, and she took my father aside to say, with more than casual gravity, "Take care of my childen....I love them so". I'm so glad your mother made the decision she did, Rick, and I thank you for taking the time to share your story family's story with me.