Grand Canyon airline collision, June 30, 1956

June 30, 2008

[2008] Today’s the 52nd anniversary of a horrendous accident in the air over the Grand Canyon. Two airliners collided, and 128 people died.

In 1956 there was no national radar system. When commercial flights left airports, often the only contact they had with any form of air traffic control was when the pilots radioed in for weather information, or for landing instructions. Especially there was no system to avoid collisions. As this 2006 story in the Deseret News (Salt Lake City) relates, the modern air traffic control system was spurred mightily by this tragedy.

About 9 a.m. Saturday, June 30, [1956], the TWA flight bound for Kansas City, Mo., and the United flight bound for Chicago left Los Angeles International Airport within three minutes of each other. The TWA flight, carrying 70 people, filed a flight plan to cruise at 19,000 feet. The United flight, with 58 people on board, planned to cruise at 21,000 feet.

About 20 minutes into the flight, TWA pilot Capt. Jack Gandy requested permission to climb to 21,000 feet. An air traffic controller in Salt Lake City turned down Gandy’s request. Then Gandy asked to fly “1,000 on top,” meaning at least a thousand feet above the clouds, which that morning were billowing as high as 30,000 feet. That request was granted.

By the time both planes were over the Grand Canyon, the pilots were flying in and out of the clouds, on visual flight rules and off their prescribed flight plans, apparently typical in those days as pilots veered off course to play tour guide.

No one knows exactly what happened.

It was the last big accident before instigation of the “black box,” so investigators had to piece together details from debris on the ground.

They decided that the left wing and propeller of the United plane hit the center fin of the TWA’s tail and cut through the fuselage, sending Flight 2 nose-first into the canyon, two miles south of the juncture of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers. The United DC- 7, which had lost most of its left wing, began spiraling down. Capt. Robert Shirley radioed Salt Lake City a garbled message that controllers understood only after they slowed down the recording: “Salt Lake, ah, 718 . . . we are going in.” Flight 718 smashed into a cliff on Chuar Butte.

The accident plays a key role in a Tony Hillerman mystery, Skeleton Man — Hillerman writes about two Navajo Nation policemen.

I’m thinking of the crash today for two reasons. I’m off for a tour of canyons, including both rims of the Grand Canyon, in the next two weeks. The last time I was there was 1986, with the President’s Commission on Americans Outdoors. We flew in on a Twin Otter, coming up from Phoenix, over the Roosevelt Dam, up over the Mogollon Rim, over the Glen Canyon Recreation area and stopping it Page. From Page to Grand Canyon, we took full advantage of the huge windows in the Otter — seeing first hand the sights that the controversial tourist flights were designed to reveal. Safety was a key concern, and we talked about it constantly with the pilots.

A few weeks later, on June 18, 1986, that DeHavilland Twin Otter collided with a Bell Jet Ranger helicopter over the Canyon. 25 people died in that crash.

I have flown over the Canyon a dozen times since then — no longer will airliners dip down to give passengers a better view, not least because airliners cruise tens of thousands of feet higher now than they did then. I think of those airplane accidents every time I see the Canyon.

We’re driving in. We’ll spend a day and a half on the South Rim, and another couple of nights on the North Rim. We’re taking our time on the ground. But if we had time, and we could afford it, I’d love to get up in an airplane or helicopter to see the Canyon from the air again.

Independence Day quiz

June 30, 2008

An ISP called has an interactive Independence Day Quiz — feeling patriotic? Go see how your knowledge of U.S. history and lore stacks up against others. The questions are very good, really.

Remember to fly your flag on the 4th of July!

“Louisiana’s exorcist governor”

June 30, 2008

I love the headline: “Anti-science law signed by Louisiana’s exorcist governor.”

Tony Whitson’s quick analysis is good, too.

One might begin to think Louisiana really is cursed. Katrina, Rita, other political troubles — and then they elect the bright, young reformer as governor, and he turns out to be a voodoo history and voodoo science practitioner — heck, maybe he practices just plain old voodoo.

All this comes at a time when it may have saved John McCain from making a mistake that would make George McGovern’s selection of Tom Eagleton look like wisdom of the ages (when news came out that Eagleton had undergone convulsive shock therapy for depression, he was replaced on the ticket by Sargent Shriver, but not after much damage had been done to the credibility and viability of the McGovern campaign — why Nixon thought it necessary to sponsor burglary to defeat this ticket is one of the mysteries of the ages of Shakespearian tragedy come to life in in American politics).

Mind you, I like and respect McGovern, and I found working with Tom Eagleton on the Senate Labor Committee a great joy.

India, 100 years ago

June 30, 2008

World history and geography teachers take note: This site, Chat and Chai, has an interesting slide show of what appear to be stereoscope and post card photos from India, 100 years ago. The link may be useful for on-line demonstrations — you may be able to use the images in other presentations.

The slides show people in a lot of everyday activities, providing good, visual examples of how people lived then. An instructive comparison: Can your students find photos of Indians carrying out similar activities today? How has India changed, for how much of its population? I suspect you can find cases where Some Indians have leaped into the 21st century, and other examples where the lives of many millions of people have not changed all that much.

Several of the photos remind that they were taken 40 years or more before India won independence from Britain. These may pertain to discussions of empires and imperialism, and other economic issues, too.

One commenter asked the blogger to share the slides, but I don’t see a positive response.

Don’t ask me to explain the music the blogger selected for the slides.

Here is the actual slide show.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “India 100 Years Ago “, posted with vodpod

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