This Day In History: July 31

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On July 31, 1973, Delta Flight 723 strikes a concrete seawall as it descends into Boston’s Logan International Airport amid heavy ground fog. The collision tears off some of the fuselage and the plane slams into the ground, breaking apart and bursting into flames. Almost all on board die instantly in what becomes the worst air disaster at Logan and in all of New England.

The DC-9 plane had taken off with 57 people on board from Burlington, Vermont on that Tuesday morning for a stop at Manchester, N.H. on its way to Boston. This usually would have been a nonstop flight, but the plane made a detour to Manchester to pick up 32 passengers whose earlier flight to Logan had been canceled due to foggy weather in Boston. Now, the aircraft departed for Boston with 89 people aboard: 83 passengers, five crew members, and one non-working Delta employee.

Visibility was very low in Boston on that summer day in the late morning, with thick fog and a cloud ceiling of only 400 feet, so the crew had to rely on sensory instruments to land. As Delta Flight 723 made its final descent, the plane’s belly struck the seawall at the end of Runway 4R. The ensuing crash and fire left a scene of horror.

“I’ve never seen an accident where a plane has been so thoroughly disintegrated,” Isabel A. Burgess, an investigator from the National Transportation Safety Board, told The New York Times.

The last radio communication from Delta Flight 723 came at 11:08 a.m. Not even air traffic controllers in the tower witnessed the accident because the fog was so thick, so the airport’s fire department didn’t know about the crash for several minutes.

When rescuers reached the wreckage, they found only six people still alive and took them to Massachusetts General Hospital. Four were pronounced dead upon arrival, according to some reports, and another died about two hours later. The only passenger who survived July 31 was Air Force Sgt. Leopold Chouinard, 20, crawled through a window to escape the burning tail. Chouinard was severely burned over most of his body, and he died on December 11 after an intense fight to survive in the hospital. Many Bostonians had prayed for his recovery for months.

In an eerie incident that turned out to be lifesaving, a man who boarded Delta Flight 723 in Manchester realized he was going to miss his business meeting in New York City in the afternoon. While the plane waited on the taxiway, the man reportedly convinced the pilot to return to the terminal and let him deplane. The captain gave anyone else who wanted to deplane permission to leave, but nobody else did.

Five decades later, the Delta Flight 723 tragedy continues to haunt loved ones of the victims. One woman, Michelle Brennen of Vermont, was 10 years old when her father, Michael Longchamp, died in the accident. In 2022, using social media, Brennen connected with the majority of the families of victims. A Delta Flight 723 memorial plaque, made by the Barre Granite Association and funded by Delta, was placed in Logan’s chapel ahead of the 50th anniversary of the tragedy.

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