Crash From The Past

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ELIZABETH — Elizabeth experienced a steady rain of airplane crashes in the winter of 1951-52, when three planes came down, killing passengers, crewmembers and people on the ground.

The first plane fell from the sky on Dec. 16, 1951, killing all 52 passengers and four crewmembers. Contemporary newspaper accounts referred to it as one of the worst aviation disasters in American history.


The twin-engine converted Curtis Commando, operated by Miami Airlines, Inc., lifted off the runway at Newark Airport at 3:03 p.m. on a non-scheduled flight to Florida. Minutes later, one of the plane’s engines had burst into flames.

Capt. C. A. Lyons of Miami managed to keep the plane from crashing into apartment buildings, crowded streets or the city’s railroad depot. It came down in the Elizabeth River, with the nose of the plane ramming the one-story brick plant of the Elizabeth Water Co.

On Jan. 22, 1952, the second plane crashed. A twin-engine Convair airliner operated by American Airlines, bound for Newark from Syracuse, N.Y., tried to land by radar on a stormy and foggy afternoon. It crashed into a three-story frame apartment building on the corner of Williamson and South streets at 3:44 p.m.

All 20 passengers — including former U.S. Secretary of War Robert Patterson – perished in the crash along with three crewmembers and seven people on the ground.

According to a newspaper account, Elizabeth Mayor James T. Kirk issued a demand for the relocation of Newark airport to remove an “umbrella of danger” from the city.

On Feb. 11, 1952, a Douglas DC-6 operated by National Airlines crashed in Elizabeth shortly after midnight. The four-engine plane was bound for Tampa Florida, but had received clearance to return to Newark airport after experiencing engine problems.

The plane couldn’t regain altitude and crashed in Elizabeth near the intersection of Scottland Road and Westminster Avenue. It hit a four-story apartment house where 60 families were sleeping and just missed hitting an orphanage. Three of four crewmembers, 26 of 59 passengers and four people from the apartment died as a result of the crash or the subsequent fire.

As a result of public outcry following the three crashes in less than two months, the Port Authority closed Newark Airport and reassigned all air traffic to New York airfields. The Newark Airport re-opened on Nov. 15, 1952 after an investigation determined that the airport facilities were not at fault.

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