Updated:
Original:
Year
1960
Month Day
December 16

Two airplanes collide over New York City

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.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!

ALSO ON THIS DAY

The Boston Tea Party

In Boston Harbor, a group of Massachusetts colonists disguised as Mohawk Indians board three British tea ships and dump 342 chests of tea into the harbor. The midnight raid, popularly known as the “Boston Tea Party,” was in protest of the British Parliament’s Tea Act of 1773, a ...read more

OJ Simpson rushes record 2,000 yards in a season

On December 16, 1973, the Buffalo Bills running back Orenthal James “OJ” Simpson becomes the first player in the National Football League (NFL) to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a single season. After leading the University of Southern California (USC) Trojans to a Rose Bowl ...read more

Clinton orders air attack on Iraq

On this day in 1998, President Bill Clinton announces he has ordered air strikes against Iraq because it refused to cooperate with United Nations (U.N.) weapons inspectors. Clinton’s decision did not have the support of key members of Congress, who accused Clinton of using the ...read more

A terrorist bomber begins his deadly rampage

Federal Judge Robert Vance is instantly killed by a powerful explosion after opening a package mailed to his housenear Birmingham, Alabama. Two days later, a mail bomb killed Robert Robinson, an attorney in Savannah, Georgia, in his office. Two other bomb packages, sent to the ...read more

Truman declares state of emergency

In the wake of the massive Chinese intervention in the Korean War, President Harry S. Truman declares a state of emergency. Proclaiming that “Communist imperialism” threatened the world’s people, Truman called upon the American people to help construct an “arsenal of freedom.” ...read more

Sons of Liberty dump British tea

On this day in 1773, a group of Massachusetts colonists disguised as Mohawk Indians board three British tea ships moored in Boston Harbor and dump 342 chests of tea into the water. Now known as the “Boston Tea Party,” the midnight raid was a protest of the Tea Act of 1773, a ...read more

Battle of the Bulge

On this day, the Germans launch the last major offensive of the war, Operation Mist, also known as the Ardennes Offensive and the Battle of the Bulge, an attempt to push the Allied front line west from northern France to northwestern Belgium. The Battle of the Bulge, so-called ...read more