Stewardess Heroine in Crash
Five women and two babies were killed and 21 persons were injured in the crash of a National Airlines C-4 at the Philadelphia Airport on January 14. The toll would have been much greater except for the heroism of the plane’s stewardess, Mary Frances Housley, 24, who perished when she returned to rescue passengers after getting at least ten persons out of the burning plane.
Arriving at the airport en route to Norfolk, Va., the 4-engined skyliner apparently was unable to stop on the icy strip at 2:13 p.m. and ran off the east end of the runway, across 200 feet of turf and into a seven foot cyclone fence in a drainage ditch at the south east corner of the airport, where it came to a crashing stop and burst into flames.
The burning plane rested partly across Island road straddling the ditch.
When the plane crashed, the tower sounded the alarm siren and crash equipment raced for the scene but was unable to get near the plane and had to return to a gate to get to Island road. Meantime city fire fighters, responding to the alarm, quickly reached the spot and strung hose lines from the nearest hydrant, about a mile distance from an Island road and Passyunk avenue.
Crash fire crews and city firemen, however, were unable to reach the trapped persons in the plane. Those who escaped, in addition to the crew which reached safety from the pilot’s compartment, did so by way of the exit located directly over the ditch. It meant a drop of some feet for the passengers and it is believed some of those who were lost hesitated too long before making the jump.
Stewardess Housley, after the crash remained at her post, calming the passengers. She could have saved herself by jumping but took the time to lead out her charges. Then, as flames reached to the exit, she heard a mother call and returned in an effort to save the woman and her child. All three became victims.
The crash and municipal crews used water fog, high pressure streams and foam in the struggle to extinguish the raging fire, but although it was controlled in 25 minutes, it was impossible to save any more of the passengers.
Firemen were seriously hampered in their work by the arriving thousands of persons in vehicles who rushed to see the wreck. City and state police had difficulty in clearing the way for emergency vehicles.
The plane, reportedly valued at $1,000,000, left Newark Airport at only a few minutes before the scheduled landing at Philadelphia. Investigations, conducted following the crash by seven different authorities, disclosed that the plane had made a perfect landing on the mile-long runway, but too near the center, with the result that it overshot the concrete.
Witnesses, who were nearly struck by the craft, said fire broke out within seconds of its coming to a stop, and the cabin was enveloped in less than three minutes.