ICAO Circular 88-AN/74

December 4, 1965 Mid-air collision occured between

TWA Boeing 707-131B N748TW
Seen in 1979 @ LAX Los Angeles, CA
Photo by Frank C. Duarte Jr.


Eastern Lockheed Constellation L-1049C N6218C
Seen in 1959 @ MSY New Orleans, LA
Photo by Mel Lawernce

Report released on December 20, 1966

History of the Flight:

Flight 42  (TWA 42)  was a scheduled domestic flight from San Francisco, CA to JFK airport. It took off from SFO @ 0905 hours PST and arrived over Buffalo, NY @ 1548 hours EST @ FL370. Subsequently the flight descended to FL250 under the control of the New York Center. It was then cleared to descend to FL210 and later to 11,000 ft and was given the JFK altimeter setting of 29.63. The flight reported level at 11,000 @ 1617 hours. A short time later the crew observed an aircraft at their 10 o'clock position on what appeared to be a collision course. The Captain immediately disengaged the auto-pilot, banked the aircraft to the right pulling back on the control column at the same time. The co-pilot acted in concert with him. As the aircraft rolled, it became apparent that this evasive maneuver would not allow the two aircraft to pass clear of each other. The pilots then tried to reverse the bank pushing on the control column at the same time. Before the aircraft had time to react, two shocks were felt and the jet entered a steep dive. Control was regained, damages assessed and the crew reported to the New York Center that they had collided with another aircraft and declared an emergency. They were given vectors and clearance to JFK airport and after a large 360 degree left turn they landed on runway 31L at approximately 1640 hours EST.

Flight 853 (EA 853) was a scheduled domestic flight from Logan I'ntl, BOS in Boston, MA to EWR, in Newark, NJ. It took off from BOS @ 1538 hours EST. The flight climbed to and maintained 10,000 ft. The last altimeter setting given to the flight was the BDL, Bradley Field setting of  29.58 provided by Boston Center @ 1556 hours. No acknowledgement was received. Control was subsequently transferred to New York Center in a radar handoff from the Boston Center at Approximately 1610 hours. It subsequently reported maintaining 10,000 ft and radar identity was confirmed by New York Center. At approximately 1618 hours the New York Center recorded on a flight progress strip that EA 853 was passing the Carmel (CMK) VORTAC. Just prior to reaching CMK the flight was flying in and out of cloud tops. As the aircraft emerged from the clouds the co-pilot observed a jet at his 2 o'clock position, he shouted "look out" and pulled quickly on the control column helped by the Captain.  However the collision could not be avoided and after the impact the aircraft continued to climb, then shuttered and began a left turning dive. At 1621 hours the flight initiated a MAYDAY distress call and advised that they had been involved in a mid-air collision. Since there was no response from the controls or trim tabs, efforts to recover were made with power application only. The aircraft descended through solid clouds and recovery was made below the clouds by the use of throttles only. A power setting was found which would maintain a descent and a level flight attitude with some degree of consistency. The aircraft passed over the Danbury, CT Airport, DXR, at about 2,000 to 3,000 ft, too high to make an approach. Airspeed could be maintained between 125 and 140 knots; the nose would rise when power was added and fall when power was removed. The rate of descent could be maintained at approximately 500 ft/min. It was apparent that flight could not be maintained and a decision was made to effect a landing in a open field. Just prior to ground contact, power was added to bring the nose up to parallel the sloping terrain. The left wing of the aircraft struck a tree immediately before contact with the ground was made. The emergency landing was made in an open field near Danbury, CT, 3 miles northeast of the CMK VORTAC at 1628 hours.

Injuries aboard EA 853:

Fatal Injuries;  1 Crew  3 Passengers
Non-Fatal;  4 Crew  45 Passengers
None;  1 Passenger

Damage to Aircraft:

Impact damage to TWA 42 consisted of the complete severance of the outer 25 ft of the left wing at about wing section 700. There was a moderate impact damage area noted on the top of the number 1 engine cowl and heavy score marks angling inboard along the number 1 engine nacelle and pylon. There was considerable secondary structural damage caused by heavy impact forces and flying debris.

EA 853 was destroyed by impact and subsequent fire.

Other Damage:

Grass on a large area of the hill was burned and several gouge marks caused by impact were evident.

Crew Information TWA Flight 42:

The Captain of TWA 42, aged 45, held a valid FAA ATP certificate with appropriate type rating in the Boeing 707. His last proficiency & line checks in the Boeing 707 aircraft were on    7 Sep 65 and 17 Oct 65 respectively. His last 1st Class medical was dated 22 Sep 65 with no limitations. He had flown a total of 18,848 hours including 1,867 hours in Boeing 707 aircraft.

The 1st Officer of TWA 42, aged 42, held a valid FAA ATP certificate. His last proficiency check in the Boeing 707 aircraft was 25 Jun 65. His last 1st Class medical was dated 10 Sep 65 with no limitations. He had flown a total of 12,248 hours including 2,607 hours in Boeing 707 aircraft.

The Flight Engineer of TWA 42, aged 41, held a valid FAA Flight Engineer's certificate and a Commercial Pilots license. His last proficiency & line checks in the Boeing 707 aircraft were on 24 Nov 65 and 1 Dec 65 respectively. His last 2nd Class medical was dated 17 Feb 65 with a waiver that "holder shall possess correcting glasses for near vision while exercising privileges of his airman certificate" He had flown a total of 11,717 hours including 5:52 hours on the Boeing 707.

The four Flight Attendants aboard TWA 42 had received their most recent emergency procedure refresher training in Nov 65.

Crew Information Eastern Flight 853:

The Captain of EA 853, aged 42, held a valid FAA ATP certificate with appropriate type rating in the Lockheed L-1049 aircraft. His last proficiency check & line checks were on 8 Nov 65 and 5 Nov 65 respectively. His last 1st Class medical was dated 25 Oct 65 with no waivers. He had flown a total of 11,508 hours including 1,947 hours in L-1049 aircraft.

The 1st Officer of EA 853, aged 34, held a valid FAA Commercial Pilot's certificate with appropriate ratings and an FAA Flight Engineer's certificate. His last proficiency check was dated 14 Sep 65. His last 1st Class medical was dated 9 Mar 65 with no waivers. He had flown a total of 8,090 hours including 899 hours in L-1049 aircraft.

The Flight Engineer of EA 853, aged 27, held a valid FAA Commercial Pilot's certificate and Flight Engineer's certificate. His last Flight Engineer's check was dated 17 Jul 65. He had flown a total of 1,011 hours including 726 in L-1049 aircraft.

The two Flight Attendants aboard EA 853 had received appropriate evacuation and ditching training. 

Aircraft Information TWA 42 Boeing 707:

TWA 42, a Boeing 707, was properly maintained in accordance with FAA approved company maintenance procedures and there was no evidence of any malfunctions or irregularities in either the systems or the maintenance thereof that could have contributed to the accident. Testimony and aircraft records indicated that there were no carry-over airworthiness items at the time TWA 42 departed SFO San Francisco, CA nor were any enroute discrepancies entered on the flight log prior to the collision. At departure the adjusted take-off gross weight was 222,174 lbs. including 82,000 lbs. of fuel. Aircraft loading was within allowable weight and center of gravity limits. The type of fuel being used was not stated in the report.

EA 853, a Lockheed Constellation had a total airframe time of  32,883 hours of which 7 hours had been accumulated since the last major inspection. The aircraft had one altimeter installed which did not meet Technical Standard Order (TSO) requirements nor was it of the type on the accepted list for certification. Examination of the instrument subsequent to the accident indicated that it had been modified in compliance with Kollsman Service Bulletin #9. This instrument when modified in accordance with this bulletin should have been capable of meeting the performance requirements of TSO C10A.

At the time of departure the aircraft had an operating weight of 97,019 lbs. which was well below the maximum allowable take-off gross weight of 113,075 lbs. as specified for an intended landing at EWR Newark, NJ. The center of gravity was within allowable limits. The type of fuel being used was not stated in the report.

Meteorological Information:

At the time of the accident, U.S.Weather Bureau surface weather charts indicated the northeastern section of the country was in a post frontal zone with a frontal system extending into the Atlantic Ocean from a low pressure area centered 100 to 150 miles off the Massachusetts coast. A general northwesterly flow of air was shown from the upper Great Lakes and New England region to the Carolinas.

The 1540 hours HPN White Plains, NY surface weather observation was in part: 4,000 scattered clouds, 8,000 broken clouds, 12 miles visibility, temperature 46F, dewpoint 35F, wind from 300 at 7 knots.

U.S.Weather Bureau forecasts for the area which included the Carmel VORTAC, and valid at the time of the accident, called for variable cloud conditions with the cloud tops near 8,000 ft and isolated tops to 13,000 ft.

Radar weather observations were taken approximately 30 minutes before and after the accident. The observation taken before the accident, at 1545 hours showed broad areas of scattered showers with the tops of detectable moisture 10,000 to 15,000 ft. The observation taken after the accident, at 1645 hours showed an area of broken light rain showers with the tops of detectable moisture 8,000 to 12,000 ft south of the New York area, and 12,000 to 16,000 ft north of New York with snow showers in the northwest portion of the observed area.

The pilot of a corporate aircraft enroute from SYR Syracuse, NY to JFK stated that he climbed through multi-layered clouds after his departure from Syracuse, and was on top of an overcast at 15,000 ft, approximately 25 miles southeast of Syracuse. He described the overcast as continuous and relatively smooth with some billowing in the Carmel area. At 1645 hours approximately 30 minutes after the accident, he descended in the area of the Carmel VORTAC and reported that he was just clear of the tops of the clouds at 11,000 ft and in the clouds at 10,000 ft. He also reported the visibility was unrestricted above the overcast.

The nearest official surface weather observations to the scene of the accident were made at HPN White Plains, NY, which is located approximately 14 miles southwest of the Carmel VORTAC.

Statements of other crew members of other aircraft in the general area of the Carmel VORTAC near the time of the collision indicated that there was a solid overcast whose ragged tops were between 10,000 and 11,000 ft. Visibility was unrestricted above this cloud layer.

Thirteen passengers aboard TWA 42 recalled flying on top of a solid cloud layer prior to and at the time of the mid-air collision. A few of the thirteen recalled puffs of clouds that extended up from the cloud layer and they estimated these to be fifty to a few hundred feet above the layer of clouds. Eleven of the passengers aboard TWA 42 stated they were in the clouds at the time of the collision.

A majority of 24 statements from EA 853 passengers indicated the flight was flying over a solid overcast just before the collision. They estimated that their height above this overcast was from 100 to 1,500 ft. A few of the passengers stated they were flying through puffs of clouds just prior to the collision.

Aids to Navigation:

All pertinent NAVAIDS and facility equipment were reported to be operating normally at the time of the accident. A flight check of the Carmel VORTAC and the JFK radar was conducted by the FAA approximately four after the accident. The flight inspection report showed satisfactory performance of these two facilities and the communications frequencies of 126.40 and 125.50. Other aids or equipment in use at the time of the accident were re-certificated by technicians of the FAA. All equipment was certified to be operating satisfactorily.


Communications were normal until the time of the collision at approximately 1619 hours. Following the collision a period of approximately 2 and 1/2 minutes elapsed before radio communications were re-established with EA 853. The crew reported the collision and advised of the difficulties they were encountering in maintaining control of the aircraft. The controller monitored the progress of the flight until radar contact was lost. The last position given to the crew was 6 mile northwest of the Carmel VORTAC.


TWA 42 showed primary impact damage in three areas: 1) The outer left hand wing panel from #1 nacelle outboard was severed. 2) The #1 engine cowling and pylon showed impact abrasions from sliding contact but did not separate from the aircraft. 3) The wing leading edge just inboard of the #1 engine had sustained a deep gash. In addition, secondary structural damage was noted from impact loading and flying debris.

EA 853 crashed on a hillside 4.2 miles north of an area where numerous separated parts from both aircraft were found. First impact was in a tree which was broken 46 feet above the ground. Nearly 250 ft farther the left wing contacted a large tree and separated from the aircraft. Contact with the ground was made 250 ft beyond the first tree and the aircraft came to rest 700 ft up a 15% slope on a magnetic heading of 243 degrees. Portions of the fuselage slued around to a nearly reciprocal heading. The fuselage was separated into three main pieces which remained in their respective positions but were at varying angles to each other. All engines separated from their nacelles. The flaps and landing gears were in the retracted position at impact.

Upon completion of the structures examination of both aircraft, a three dimensional mock-up of TWA 42's outer wing panel and EA 853's tail assembly was accomplished, and the collision evidence of both aircraft was studied and documented. This study revealed that initial contact of the two aircraft was between TWA 42's left outer wing and the right hand outboard vertical fin and stabilizer tip assembly of EA 853. The relative motion was such that the wing passed, leading edge first, through the horizontal stabilizer from the outboard leading edge to the inboard trailing edge. The average angle of this relative motion was measured at 40 degrees downward relative to EA 853's longitudinal axis, and at a 78 degree angle to the right of EA 853's longitudinal axis.

Nearly all parts of EA 853 were exposed to some degree of ground fire. The right wing was not extensively fire damaged and the right outboard wing fuel tank still contained fuel.

Survival Aspects:

During the time prior to collision, the seat belt sign aboard EA 853 had been on. At collision, passengers reported a jolt and change of attitude followed by an altitude loss and varying degrees of recovery. The pilot-in-command advised passengers that there had been a collision, that he was unable to control the aircraft and that they should prepare for a crash landing. Passengers were advised by a flight attendant to remain seated, fasten their seat belts and read the emergency instruction cards in the seat back pockets. The pilot-in-command was again heard over the cabin address system and stated the aircraft was definitely out of control and that a crash landing would be made. He advised everyone to remove sharp objects from their pockets and to fasten their seat belts tightly. Just prior to impact, the pilot-in command announced: "Brace yourselves!"

At impact, there was a continuous up-slope yaw to the left. The fuselage aft of the trailing edge of the wing broke open on the right side, "hinging" on the left side. All passengers with the exception of one who believed he had been thrown clear of the fuselage during the slide, and another who jumped out of an emergency exit window after it popped open before the aircraft came to a stop, remained in the fuselage in the vicinity of their seated locations throughout the crash sequence. Seats 14 C D E located at the fuselage break, was the only seat not found in the fuselage wreckage and was located ten yards back along the crash path. All other seats remained in their relative original locations. Some passengers found themselves out of their seats following impact and several had difficulty unfastening their seat belts.

Passengers exited through the torn-open fuselage, the right side forward cockpit crew door, the left main cabin door and the opening in the aft end of the cabin in the pressure dome area.

Two bodies were removed from the fuselage. Death was due to inhalation of products of combustion. The body of the pilot-in-command was found just inside the fuselage in the left forward service doorway. A passenger's body was found in the forward passenger cabin in the left isle area between seat rows 7 and 8. Two passengers succumbed later at a local hospital of injuries received in the crash.

Optical Illusions

Aircraft pilots are susceptible to many types of flight conditions which may result in spatial disorientation and optical illusion. These illusions or disorientations result from reliance on the physiological sensing elements of the body which can give false or conflicting information to the senses.

The primary devise used to provide orientation with respect to the horizontal and vertical planes, depth and distance is the eye. Experiments have been conducted to determine the effect of pilot warning indicators on the ability of the pilots to discriminate between aircraft observed on collision and non-collision courses. These experiments revealed that as the miss vector decreased, the decision that a collision course existed increased.

The evaluation of the threat a target offers may depend on the observed angular velocity (sight-line rate) and the observed rate of change in (range-rate) of the target. If the sight-line rate of the target is well above the motion threshold, the pilot can be fairly certain the target is on a non-collision course. If the sight-line rate is below the motion threshold (no perceptible motion) and there is perceptible increase target size, the threat may be evaluated as a collision course. For vertical misses, a sight-line rate of about six minutes of arc per second was judged to be a collision course regardless of the background structure or miss vector. With a sight-line rate of about nine minutes of arc per second the courses were judged as misses. The fact that the sight-line rate for miss decisions was about three minutes of arc per second higher than for collision judgment may indicate that perceived movement may sometimes have been used as a cue to help decide that the target was on a non-collision course. However, in those instances a horizon line was observable and the pilots reported using it in addition to a perceived motion. The presence of a horizon may have provided a structured reference for misses in the vertical plane when other structure was lacking. One criterion frequently used by the pilots was the amount of separation between the target and the horizon. Targets that appeared stationary but were clearly above the horizon were immediately judged to be misses.

Analysis and Conclusions


There were no structural, powerplant, system or navigation component failures that contributed to this accident. The investigation, including the testimony of all surviving crew members, substantiates that both aircraft were capable of operation within their design criteria.

The volume of traffic operating in the area of the collision was described by New York Center as light to moderate. The JFK radar was operating satisfactorily with good target presentation on a radar display free of clutter. No traffic information was given to either crew and none was required since a standard vertical separation minimum of 1000 feet was being provided. Pilot reports indicated that this separation existed. Radar monitoring service was being provided as the flights progressed toward the CMK VOR.

Although one altimeter installed aboard the EA Lockheed was not of an acceptable type, it could be expected to perform with accuracy equal to a like model that had met the TSO requirements.

Testimony and flight data recorder indicated that TWA 42 was being flown in accordance with the clearance issued by ATC. Just prior to arriving over the CMK VOR from the northwest, the aircraft descended to an altitude of 11,000 feet and was flying above a cloud deck with no restrictions to visibility.

Testimony indicated that EA 853 was being operated in accordance with the clearance issued by ATC and was in level flight at 10,000 feet, in and out of the tops of clouds as it approached the CMK VOR from the northeast.

Both aircraft were being operated on IFR flight plans and were under the control of New York Center. Altitude separation between these aircraft was being provided in accordance with existing procedures. Neither aircraft was given (nor is there a requirement to give) an advisory as to the presence of the other aircraft even though the controllers testified they observed the converging tracks. Both aircraft had reported to ATC at their assigned altitudes and all evidence indicated they were flying at these altitudes shortly before the collision occurred.

There was a solid overcast in the vicinity of the CMK VOR. New York Weather radar showed tops 12,000 to 16,000 feet to the north and 8,000 to 12,000 feet to the south. Pilot reports, passengers reports and crew testimony establish that in the near vicinity of CMK, the tops were generally at 10,000 feet with small build-ups and puffs in evidence.


The pilots' abilities to effect visual separation in the short time of visual contact provided insufficient response time for collision avoidance. The analysis of the cloud conditions, the positioning of the two aircraft, and the reactionary evasive maneuvers attempted, left no opportunity for a frame of reference to the horizon.

The Accident Investigation Board determined that the probable cause of this collision accident was misjudgement of altitude separation by both crews due to an optical illusion created by the up-slope effect of cloud tops resulting in evasive and reactionary maneuvers of both flight crews.

In the time it takes the reader to read and understand this report, the entire events of this collision accident were over and both aircraft on the ground. The events in the report you have just read unfolded in mere seconds. As an Airline Transport Pilot of 41 years, I can say first hand that both flight crews went above and beyond the call of duty and did a remarkable job in landing their crippled aircraft. Captain White is the real hero in this unfortunate event. He went back into a burning aircraft to help rescue a handicapped passenger and unfortunately was fatally injured when the aircraft exploded.

Captain White, you are my hero!