March 1, 1962
Jamaica Bay, Queens, New York: Shortly after takeoff, American Airlines Flight 1 banked sharply to the left before flipping completely over and diving almost vertically into Pumpkin Patch Channel in Jamaica Bay taking with it all 95 souls. Flight 1 from New York to Los Angeles (American Airlines still uses this flight number) took off without a hitch and had just began to approach cruising altitude when the plane seemingly flipped over and fell from the sky of its own accord. Air traffic controllers said that pilots reported that the automatic pilot had caused the flip and they were desperately trying to regain control off the craft.
The Boeing 707, registration N7506A, was three years old and had just over 8000 flight hours on it. The last inspection of the craft had been at 7900 hours. When the plane landed in the marshy channel in Queens, residents of Long Island recalled the enormous sound created as well as the shaking of coastal houses. The fully-fueled plane burst into flame upon impact creating a three-alarm fire which took firefighters just over half an hour to control. Investigators at the scene recalled that very few bodies remained intact, so it was decided that family could not come to identify bodies, but rather dental records would be used by coroners.
After combing over the wreckage site for many days, the investigation team noticed that a bolt and cotter pin were missing from the rudder mechanism aboard the 707. Investigators pointed to this until the FDR (flight data recorder) reported that the plane had suffered electrical troubles in the automatic piloting system. Frayed wiring and arcing evidence were present in the control box of the automatic pilot, causing investigators to inspect the Bendix facility in New Jersey which produced the component. There investigators found employees using tweezers to bundle wires together, causing minor fraying and stripping of the wires. Company officials denied that this damage was the culprit as they did sixty-one separate quality control tests during the manufacture of the component. Still investigators were sure that the fraying and arcing caused the automatic pilot malfunction, contributing to the crash.
Several notable people died on the flight including Linda Eastman’s mother, Louise, Arnold Kirkeby, hotel magnate, Alton Jones, multi-millionaire, and Irving Rubine, producer.