Looking Back at the New Bedford Airport Crash [PHIL-OSOPHY]
The recent aircraft tragedy killing Paul Vidal of Westport, as his Cessna 150 plunged into Rural Cemetery, calls to mind those who've perished in airplane mishaps.
Do you remember another New Bedford air disaster that killed 12 people aboard a Northeast Airlines DC-3 that crashed short of the runway? It happened September 15, 1957, flying from Boston to New York with stops in Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard and New Bedford.
Twenty-four passengers, flying through fog, departed Martha's Vineyard for a short flight to New Bedford at 8:19 p.m. After 19 minutes, the crew contacted New Bedford's tower at the start of the fatal descent. The controller reminded the pilots of the weather conditions and then cleared them for a straight-in approach and landing on Runway No. 5. That was the last radio contact with the crew.
The plane was only 4,000 feet from the New Bedford Municipal Airport and was preparing to make a routine instrument landing when it struck two 45-50 foot high trees, causing the aircraft to roll to the right, plummeting through a dense growth of trees, until the aircraft cartwheeled, causing the fuselage to fracture in two. The wreckage came to a rest 600 feet past the point of initial contact with the trees. The pilot, co-pilot and 10 passengers were killed. Fourteen passengers and the hostess were critically injured.
What followed was equally horrifying. It would take rescuers nearly three hours before they could reach the crash site. Three hours in a state of shock. The only access was by foot, through swamp growth, deep mud, thick vegetation and trees. Firefighters had to use their ladders to serve as bridges across the swamp and the adjoining Pashkamansett River. The swamp was so soggy that the water oozed up to the rescuers' knees. When they finally got to the crash site, victims were outside of the plane, bleeding, broken and moaning in desperate pain.
An airport employee said upon his return that both wings of the plane were ripped off and the fuselage was torn open like an eggshell. Passengers were still strapped in their seats outside the plane in a sea of mud. Many of the rescuers, firefighters, doctors and volunteers had to be pulled free from the mud, which was acting more like quicksand. Ropes were strung from the wreckage to dry land for use as a guideline. The eyewitness accounts of the cataclysm are agonizing. You can search this local air disaster for more tormenting accounts.
May the angels fly with them all.
As we remember those who've died in airplane accidents, getting from here to there has taken huge steps since Icarus. Three hundred years ago, people never went more than 15 miles from their homes in their entire life. Today, we can go across the world in a day. And yes, even though tragedies happen, take advantage of the fact that we can do what people once spent their entire lives just dreaming about.
Phil Paleologos is the host of The Phil Paleologos Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @PhilPaleologos. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.