4-Engine Plane Crash in Miami Street
An off-duty Miami fireman, Operatons Officer D. G. (Dixie) Gibson, set the wheels in motion for the Miami Fire Department to respond to its first major aircraft emergency since two military aircraft collided in midair over downtown Miami near the end of World War II. It was at 3:44 p.m. Monday, June 23, that Dixie breathlessly gave the following report by telephone to the dispatcher in the Miami Communications Department.
“Hey Luke! This is Dixie! A big airplane just went over here and he just might not make it! I’m all out of breath, I just ran into the house.”
The dispatcher asked Dixie, “Where’s it at?”
“He’s going east about 27th Avenue between 7th and 14th streets. You’d better set up something in that area; he’s afire!”
Crashes on busy street
Dixie had watched a four-engine prop-driven plane fly over his home with a motor on fire. The aircraft subsequently lost a second motor and crash-landed on busy N.W. 36th Street in an attempt to return to Miami International Airport.
Every urban fire department near an airport has plans to be followed in an aircraft emergency, and Miami is no exception. Procedures have been established for both on-field and offfield emergencies, and such procedures were now put into effect.
At 3:46 p.m., the dispatcher sent a “three-bell” alert over the alarm circuit to all City of Miami fire stations with the radio announcement: “Stand by for aircraft crash.” This signal put the entire department on a ready status for instant dispatch.
An off-field aircraft crash calls for a double building fire assignment, and such a dispatch was made at 3:47 p.m., sending four pumpers, two aerials, two rescue units, one foam truck and two district chiefs to N.W. 36th Street and 30th Avenue, the reported site of the crash.
It was not known what type of aircraft was involved—military, cargo or passenger—but knowing the tremendous volume of passenger traffic at International Airport, probably every man responding envisioned scores of casualties. Fortunately, it was a cargo plane with only four persons aboard.
Fuselage burns in building
What the companies saw on arrival must have been frightening! Buildings were ripped open. A huge portion of the fuselage was buried in a building and burning furiously. Dozens of autos and trucks were smashed or burning—or both. Aircraft parts and power lines were strewn for blocks. A wing and an engine assembly landed several hundred feet away from the point of impact, spewing flaming gasoline into adjacent buildings. Two badly burned bodies were in the street.
Because of varying reports of the crash locations, this incident became a community effort by four fire departments. Crash trucks at International Airport had been alerted that a plane was in trouble on takeoff, and they were on the field. When it became evident that the craft would not make the airport, the units were en route as the plane dropped from sight. Reports to the Dade County and Hialeah Fire Departments indicated that the plane crashed in their jurisdictions and dispatches were made immediately.
The Miami Fire Department responded initially, even though the exact crash site was not immediately known other than it was on N.W. 36th Street at about 30th Avenue, a busy artery leading to International Airport. The four agencies responded with 29 pieces of fire fighting equipment, and this obviously contained the potential problem, for the fire was declared under control at 4:24 p.m.
Other agencies at scene
Police agencies from both Miami and Dade County converged on the scene and quickly established crowd and traffic control, so essential in such situations. A Coast Guard helicopter was on the scene to give whatever assistance it could provide. By prearranged plans, the Miami medical disaster team from a nearby hospital was escorted to the crash site by police vehicles. The local power company bad many units on the scene to cut or restore power as needed. The American Red Cross provided food and drink for personnel operating at the scene. The net result was a wellcoordinated effort of all agencies involved, and this minimized the loss of life and property.
Fire and police units were on the scene for several days as National Transportation Safety Board investigators began their recovery of aircraft parts. The Miami Fire Department provided equipment and manpower to monitor the crash site for radioactive materials and to sift through the debris to be sure there were no additional victims.
The disaster took the lives of 10 persons. Also, 11 buildings were damaged, and 89 vehicles received damage ranging from slight to total.