Foam Controls Idlewild Plane Crash
—Port of New York Authority photo
A SPECTACULAR flaming ground crash virtually destroyed two aircraft at New York International Airport on November 10. A Seaboard and Western, four-engine Super Constellation cargo plane was taking off at 11:01 a.m. on a training flight. As it rolled down runway 31 R, the plane veered sharply to the left out of control. The left wing dipped and dropped off. The plane burst into flames and continuing out of control, bumped and skidded more than a half-mile and crashed into a parked Trans Canada Viscount which stopped it from smashing into the Temporary Terminal Building. It is estimated that the Constellation had reached a speed of approximately 130 miles per hour, and had just barely become airborne.
As soon as the aircraft went out of control, the CAA tower controller activated the airport emergency phone system alerting facility forces that there had been an aircraft accident. At the same time, the controller notified the New York City Fire Department via direct line to the fire dispatcher. All Port Authority equipment and emergency forces responded. Simultaneously with the emergency equipment leaving quarters, the police desk also notified the New YorkCity fire dispatcher via direct line. All equipment immediately went into operation upon arrival on the scene, estimated at 60 seconds after receipt of the alarm.
—Port of New York Authority photo
Two stewardesses checking their supplies aboard the Viscount were able to scramble to safety. The fire and rescue crew extinguished enough of the fire to form a path which the five crew members used to escape from the Constellation, after it had come to a stop. Although both planes were virtually destroyed, only 16 persons suffered minor injuries. Had the crash occurred 10 minutes later, the Viscount would have been taking on passengers.
3,250 gallons of foam used
A combination of luck and circumstances prevented a disaster. There were no service vehicles on the ramp area at the time. The Viscount was parked in an intercepting position. The crash occurred only a few hundred feet from the garage in which the fire apparatus is housed. The fire and rescue crew covered the flaming gasoline with foam, keeping the blaze away from the crowded terminal building.
The Port Authority fire and rescue crew responded with two fog-foam-carbon dioxide trucks and two nurse trucks. Meanwhile, other auxiliary crew members were converging on the fire scene from their respective posts throughout the sprawling airport. Approximately 190 Port Authority employees, under command of Captain Richard Brady, operated at the fire. They used 3,250 gallons of foam.
A second-alarm assignment of New York Fire Department units, including Rescue 4 and the Foam Supply Unit, operated under the command of Chief of Department George David.
New York units stretched lines from field hydrants to supply the Port Authority trucks with water; they also operated foam hoppers and, in one instance, used a fog line to reach one side of the fire inaccessible to the turret pipes of Port Authority FFCD trucks. Ladder 155 raised its aerial to the roof of the Temporary Terminal Building and hand lines were used there to minimize damage to the building.
About 800 gallons of jet fuel in the Viscount’s right wing, and the 5,000 gallons of gasoline the Constellation carried ignited. One of the main problems which resulted was the danger the flowing, flaming gasoline presented to the Temporary Terminal Building. To prevent extension by this means, the fire fighters improvised a dike with empty foam cans to hold a blanket of foam on the gasoline. The fire was brought under control at approximately 12:10 p.m., with complete extinguishment at about 12:20 p.m. The Civil Aeronautics Board and other interested parties are still investigating the cause of the crash.