On this day in 1960, two airplanes collide over New York City, killing 134 people on the planes and on the ground. The improbable mid-air collision is the only such accident to have occurred over a major city in U.S. history.
It was a snowy morning in New York when a United DC-8 from Chicago was heading for Idlewild Airport (now John F. Kennedy International Airport) in southern Queens. At the same time, a TWA Super Constellation from Dayton, Ohio, was heading to LaGuardia Airport in northern Queens. Due to the weather, the United flight was put into a holding pattern. When the pilot miscalculated the location of the pattern, the plane came directly into the path of the TWA flight.
One hundred twenty-eight people in total were on the two planes. Eleven-year-old passenger Stephen Baltz described the scene: “It looked like a picture out of a fairy book. Then all of a sudden there was an explosion. The plane started to fall and people started to scream. I held on to my seat and then the plane crashed.” Baltz initially survived the crash, but died from his injuries the following afternoon. All of the other people on the planes also died.
The TWA plane fell onto Miller Field, a military airfield on Staten Island. The United flight, missing its right engine and part of a wing, came down in the middle of the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn. It narrowly missed St. Augustine’s Academy and hit an apartment building and the Pillar of Fire Church. Dozens of other buildings caught fire in the resulting explosion. Mrs. Robert Nevin, who was sitting in a top floor apartment when the place crashed into her building, later said “The roof caved in and I saw the sky.”
Six people on the ground died when the plane crashed, including Wallace Lewis, the 90-year-old caretaker of the church, and two men who were selling Christmas trees nearby. Christmas presents carried by the plane’s passengers were strewn all over the streets. Firefighting efforts went on for nearly 72 hours because of the multiple fires.