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50 Years Ago Today, a Mid-Air Collision Brought a United Jet Crashing into Brooklyn

December 16, 2010 at 1:35 PM | by | ()

Although it's never nice to talk about past air incidents when they have the possibility of freaking you out before flying, but it's important to note that today marks the 50th Anniversary of one of the most tragic airplane accidents in history. At the time, in 1960, it was the deadliest, killing 128 people in the sky and 6 on the ground. Here's what happened:

In the morning of December 16, 1960, a TWA Constellation carrying 44 was heading to land at LaGuardia Airport while a United DC-8 Jet with 84 on board was on its way to land at Idlewild Airport (now JFK). Because of lower-tech air traffic control systems of the time, and because the United jet wasn't in the spot it thought it was, the two planes collided over Staten Island. The TWA prop plane was sliced into three pieces and fell straight down onto a military field in SI, while the United Jet managed to continue as far as Brooklyn, where it eventually fell into a church and intersection in the Park Slope neighborhood, killing 6 on the ground and setting buildings on fire.

Both smoldering sites were horrific scenes, but the Brooklyn jet crash one saw the most press and onlooker action, even though body parts were strewn about. One little boy, 11-year-old Stephen Baltz, actually survived the United jet crash, but died the next day of injuries and burns suffered. Until today, the only memorial to the huge loss of life was a small plaque for the boy, inside the hospital chapel were he died. But now, at Brooklyn's Greenwood Cemetery, a new stone is being dedicated, with all the names of those who died in the crash.

The whole incident is a morbidly riveting one, and the wreckage was well-documented in black and white photographs. For more, the NYT's City Room blog has an excellent series this week, and the blog Scouting New York has posted notes from commenters who remember the event.

Related Stories:
· Park Slope Plane Crash series [City Room/NYT]
· Plane Crash Gets Memorialized After 50 Years [Gothamist]
· Remembering a Plane Crash in Brooklyn [Scouting New York]

[Photos: LIFE/Gothamist]

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