Khao Yai, Thailand: United Arab Airlines, Flight 869, registration SU-AMW, was an international passenger jet scheduled to fly from Hong Kong to Cairo with a stopover in Bangkok. The De Havilland DH-106 Comet had a very uneventful flight from takeoff, even though the plane was an older plane, it seemed like a normal flight.
Air traffic control in Thailand recorded no problems with the flight as the plane began its approach to the airport in Bangkok, before the plane vanished from radar. Using the distance from ground-based radar, rescue teams combed the Khao Yai mountain, some 59 miles northeast of the airport. No survivors were found, meaning that all 18 passengers and 8 crew aboard, died in the crash.
It is important to remember that at the time, only primary radar was in use in airports so things like the altitude of the plane at the crash were not known, but by examining the crash site, investigators determined that the plane had hit the mountain while cruising at near the same altitude. Without a FDR, investigators blamed the crash on the pilots calculations which “resulted in grave errors of time and distance in his computations”.
Staten Island, New York: During the holiday season in 1960, flight 826, a United Airlines Douglas DC-8, registration N8013U and flight 266, a Trans World Airlines Super Constellation N6907C collided over Staten Island with the Super Constellation falling there on Staten Island, while the DC-8 continued forward and landed in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn. The nation stood in shock at the tragedy unfolding before them with the highest body count of any crash thus far.
Flight investigators found that at around 10:20 a.m. EST, the United flight lost their VOR, but didn’t report this to air traffic control. Shortly thereafter, control instructed the United pilots to maintain a smaller holding pattern around a beacon in near South Amboy, New Jersey, but pilots from several other planes testified that the beacon was not working that day. Investigators also realized that many of the veteran pilots in the skies at this time, were having a difficult time adjusting from the feel and speed of propeller-driven planes to the much heavier, but faster jet airliners.
For the first time in history, a black box was used in investigating the crash. The black box showed that the United flight was somewhere around 12 miles outside of beacon holding radius and had descended to around 5200 feet and slowed from 500 mph to 350 mph. It was in this airspace, on the eastern edge of Staten Island that the two flights met in the murk of the snow-laden day.
The accident, along with the 1956 Grand Canyon crash, spurred the the Civil Aeronautics Board to enforce the implementation of traffic collision avoidance systems (TCAS) aboard planes from then on, despite complaints about the system from pilots. Sadly, there was a young boy, Stephen Baltz, who survived the collision, only to die from his injuries twenty-six hours later. In all, 134 souls, both on the planes as well as six on the ground, lost their lives that day. A memorial to Stephen is still on display in the chapel at the New York Methodist Hospital.