All regular but reluctant flyers will have been horribly fascinated by the recent MH17 tragedy.
Of course, one’s main concern is for the poor people aboard, and then their relatives, but in my case a tiny part of me has filed the hitherto largely unconsidered ‘surface-to-air missile attack’ in the litany of ways in which I might perish in an air disaster.
As though pilot error, equipment failure, metal fatigue, air traffic control mistakes, extreme weather and terrorism were not enough.
Now the second (of, eventually, four) instalments in the world-famous Job series is available as a kindle eBook.
[Update: it was at No1 in Aviation History on Amazon this morning; after this blog went up it slipped down to No3...]
Air Disaster: The Jet Age deals with a series of infamous horrors – beginning with the Comet and ending with the Tenerife incident, in which two Boeing 747s collided on the ground and more than 500 people lost their lives.
Macarthur’s original paperbacks dealt almost entirely with the technical meat of the matter – the why and how of the accidents.
Our updated versions have included as much detail as possible about the people who were aboard; it brings home even more forcefully how important is the work of the air accident investigators (and the aircraft designers, handlers, airlines and allied crafts and trades).
Here’s an excerpt from the chapter dealing with the 1963 crash of a Northwest Boeing 720 in the Florida Everglades:
IN THE PRE-JET, pre-turbine era, aircraft designers dreamed of the day when technology would allow airliners to ‘cruise in the stratosphere’, flying serenely between ports of call high ‘above the weather’ – a realm thought to be free of the discomfort generated by convective cloud and the more pernicious turbulence of frontal storms.
The advent in 1940 of the world’s first pressurised airliner, Boeing’s piston-engined 307 Stratocruiser, seemed to bring that dream a little closer, its fulfilment apparently frustrated only by the intervention of World War II, which resulted in the decision to cease production after only 10 Stratocruisers were built.
It was not until jet airliners began to invade regions of the atmosphere above 30,000 feet in the late 1950s and early 1960s that the long-sought ideal of ‘above the weather’ flight was finally seen for the myth it was – because turbulence could be encountered at these levels in every way as severe as that afflicting flight at less ambitious altitudes.
But as has been the pattern so often in the march of aviation technology over the years since man’s first faltering successes with heavier than air flight in 1903, it took a major disaster to fully reveal the hazards awaiting large jet aircraft plying their high corridors in angry air.
Northwest Airlines Inc, based at Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, had taken delivery of Boeing 720B, N724US, late in 1961. Fitted with the latest Pratt & Whitney JT3 turbofan engines, it had flown more than 4500 hours on the company’s domestic route network in the 18 months it had been in service.
A lighter version of the better known Boeing 707, The 720 was America’s first short- to medium-range passenger jet; with a service ceiling of 41,000 feet, it could cover 3,600 miles at a cruising speed of 530 knots, and this impressive performance had led to its being ordered by a number of US domestic airlines.
On February 12, 1963, N724US was scheduled to operate Flight 705, the company’s ‘Regal Imperial’ transcontinental service from Miami, Florida, to Portland, Oregon, with intermediate landings at Chicago, Spokane, and Seattle, departing Miami at 1.30pm local time.
The aircraft had arrived from Chicago at 12.40pm after an uneventful trip, the crew reporting only a slight problem with the pressurisation controls, which was quickly rectified at Miami.
A change of crew for the return flight took place at Miami.
Captain Roy Almquist, a 47-year-old veteran airline pilot with nearly 18,000 hours’ experience, was in command. Almquist, a single man, and from Minnesota – as were the entire crew – was an interesting character, with a diverse range of business interests outside the cockpit. He was president of a bank in Savage, Minnesota, part-owner of a Ford dealership in nearby Rosemount, president of the Rosemount City school bus company, and a director of an R&D company, Dyna-Mation, Inc., which was involved in the manufacture of precision machine tools. In his spare time, he was president of the Rosemount Lions Club.
His first officer, Robert Feller, 38, was also highly experienced, with a total of nearly 12,000 hours. But because Boeing 720 aircraft were still relatively new to the airline, neither pilot had a great deal of experience on the type, most of their flying having been logged on the company’s DC-4s, DC-6s, DC-7s and, in the case of the captain, Lockheed 188 Electra turboprops.
First Officer Feller, a married man with two children, had gained just over 1000 hours on the Boeing 720, but the captain, who had completed his type rating only three months before, had only 150 hours. As usual in American airline operations, the flight engineer, officially designated the second officer, was also pilot rated with 5000 hours’ experience. His flight engineer experience on Boeing 720 aircraft amounted to 523 hours.
Second officer Allen Friesen 29, married and the adoptive father of a two-year-old Korean daughter, and an ex-Boeing man who knew the company’s jets well, completed the flight deck complement.
In the passenger cabin, Myrna Ewert was, at 28, the oldest of the five flight attendants. Virginia Lee Younkin, 25, willowy and tall, and a native of Texas, was a former beauty queen who had majored in Spanish at the University of Minnesota and was noted for her cobalt-blue eyes. Wendy Engebretson was 22 and the daughter of a prominent local lawyer. Her uncle had died in the loss of a Northwest Airlines Electra over Tell City, Indiana, three years earlier, but Wendy had not allowed this tragedy to divert her from her career. Connie Rae Blank was 21, and had been with Northwest for just a few months. At 20, Mary Sandell was the baby of the crew; she had briefly attended college in Nevada, Missouri, before quitting her course to follow her dream of becoming an airline stewardess.
The six million dollar aircraft was configured with 165 seats, but fortunately only 35 of them were occupied. A 36th passenger, a pretty young blonde woman in a beige suit, who was nervous of flying, had cancelled her ticket after seeing the threatening storm clouds which were building outside the terminal.
Of those 35 souls who did board, most were family members going to or returning from vacations, or businessmen.
Wealthy builder Walter Orzula, from Cicero, Illinois, was returning from his annual family holiday with his wife, their daughter Jerylin, 20, and son, Walter, Jr, 18. The couple’s third child, Joyce, usually travelled with her family, but this year she had elected to stay with her soldier husband at his base in Kansas.
University of Minnesota student Fred Olson III, 20, had been visiting his parents, who owned a large funeral directors’ business back home in Rockford, Illinois, at their holiday home in Florida. Next to him on the aircraft was his 15-year-old sister, Joan, who was flying north with her friends Susan Schwendener and Christine Rever, also both 15. Tragically, Christine’s aunt Marilyn, 21, had died ten years earlier with her fiancé in the crash of a National Airlines DC-6 en route from Tampa, Fla, to New Orleans.
Grandmother Fanny Lebedow, 63, of Chicago, was a nervous passenger, but her family had reassured her that she would be fine. Waiting to meet her at Chicago was her daughter Shirley, with her own children, including her daughter Ivy, 4. In another horrible irony, Ivy would herself die with her father just before Christmas 1974, when their private plane came down on the way to a Florida holiday.
Bankers Anton Smigiel and Joe Srodulski were returning from vacations with their wives. Both couples had a policy of not flying together in case disaster struck – each had children, and dreaded the idea of leaving them orphaned. The two men said goodbye to their wives at Miami and boarded a slightly earlier Delta flight north, leaving Sally Smigiel and Rose Srodulski to follow them on the Northwest Boeing.
In those pre-Roe v Wade days, Dr Herman Wells, 69, was flying to Chicago for a court hearing, having been indicted on charges of having performed an abortion.
Ramon Diaz, 24, had recently escaped the misery of Communist Cuba; an accountant by training, he had just secured a position with a firm in Seattle, and was heading north-west to start his new job. He was very excited, and hoped one day to be able to bring his parents over from Havana.
George Enloe, 47, a father of four and husband to Arvilla, now worked for Alaska Airlines as a customer services representative and had been in Miami on business. A former World War II naval navigator who had been at Pearl Harbour, Midway and Guadalcanal, and had then seen active service in Europe, he had enjoyed a highly impressive military career; he had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and two bars, three Air Medals and the Purple Heart.
First Lieutenant Henry Baldwin, married to Carol with a two-year-old daughter, was returning to his Fort Lewis Army base after a compassionate visit to the bedside of his ailing father. With only two weeks until his military service was complete, he was looking forward to making a new life for himself and his young family…