Robert Eldred: “The hand of God was at the controls of the plane.”

Retired Army Captain Robert C. Eldred was one of the 17 survivors evacuated from the Swiss rescue ship Celerina by RAF Helicopter. He was interviewed on the tarmac of the new Cork Airport as rescue teams transported the injured to Mercy Hospital in downtown Cork. Captain Eldred is mentioned in a number of short news clips and in almost every case he devoted his words to giving praise to others (see story of Pvt. Willy Smith). The following is quoted from the Cork Examiner news of September 27, 1962, and is focused on him. It is probably the most detailed and accurate view of the Captain’s story:
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‘The hand of God was at the controls of the plane.’ With those dramatic words retired US Army Captain Robert Eldred (49) of East Dennis, Mass., gave his reason why the 48 people were saved from the cold waters of the Atlantic when the airliner ditched in the sea after three engines failed, 500 miles off the west coast of Ireland. Continue reading

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Flying Tiger 923 and the Raging North Atlantic – A Video

Taken in the same area of the North Atlantic on the afternoon of the very day of the demise of Flying Tiger 923 (Sept. 22-23, 1962), a 19-year-old crew member of the rescue ship Celerina, Pierre Andre Reymond took a two and a half minute long movie clip of the raging seas in which we ditched.

Click this link:   Flying Tiger 923 and Raging North Atlantic

Pierre Reymond

Pierre Reymond

The original was an 8 mm film was taken from the deck of the rescue ship only hours before the crash.

The storm and the seas grew more violent as the night wore on. The 51 passengers navigated the 10 to 15 foot waves and 35 foot swells for nearly six hours in an upside-down rubber life raft built to hold only 25. The overloaded raft was blown a distance of 22 miles in those six hours until it was intercepted by the Celerina. Forty eight survived the ordeal.

This video is astonishing. If you have not yet seen it, you must view it now.

Click this link:  Flying Tiger 923 and Raging North Atlantic

Thanks to Pierre-Andre, we are able to give readers an idea of conditions the night that cost the lives of 28. This video was first posted in June of 2012. It is being reposted as many new readers may not have seen it.

As of this posting, the video has had more than 1,300 views.

[Note: The reference to "September 22-23" is due to the flight crossing time zones. The crash occurred on September 23.]

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Reader memories stirred by website stories

Reader comments suggest the value of this effort:
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Barbara Murray,
Hi there! I am Barbara Murray, daughter of John Murray. What an amazing story! And you know my dad and mom never really explained what happened. It was just considered that he was merely doing his job. I was only 5 when he died and would love to know more about the whole situation. My kids have read this about their granddad and are flabbergasted! My mail is
 I hope to hear from you.
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Mary A. Gibson,
My family and I were scheduled to leave McGuire AFB in Sept 23, 1962; destination Frankfort, Germany. My husband was a Marine to be attached to the U.S Consulate in Frankfort. Our scheduled flight was on Flying Tiger 923 but my husband cancelled it and we took a later flight on American Airlines 707. Fate must have intervened on our behalf.
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S. Robert Campbell,
I was posted to the Bonaventure three years after the Flying Tiger accident. Men I worked with were onboard at the time of the rescue efforts and told many anecdotal stories concerning the ship’s role in the rescue/recovery efforts. One point about the story on this site – Bonaventure did not have Air Force pilots on board. Canada had a Fleet Air Arm in those days and the pilots on Bonnie were Naval Officers, the air crewmen were RCN ratings
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Ragnar Domstad,
I am the photographer of the N6923C. As Peter Frey mentioned, I don´t claim any copyright, but I ask to be mentioned as photographer. It is a strange feeling to know that “our” Super Connie ditched a year later. After fueling at Shannon, Ireland, we continued but had to land at Gander as the whole Eastern seaboard was closed due to fog. Reader memories stirred by website storiesSomewhat delayed, we arrived at Idlewild. As our study tour was a success, I was asked to arrange some more tours the following years, and in June 1962 we had another Super Connie chartered and a year later also.

When I first heard of the Flying Tiger Line, it was in a small notice in a newspaper. It said that Flying Tiger had passengers from the US to Europe in the beginning of the summer and vice versa at the end of the summer. They offered cheap charter flights from Europe in the beginning of the summer and back at the end of the summer to fill otherwise empty planes.
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Paul Feldman,
I was 5 years old flying from McGuire to Paris in 1962 on this very plane. My father was a sergeant being transferred to Chalmount AFB. I remember several things.

1. We stopped in New Foundland and then made another stop in the Azores.

2. I remember seeing the exhaust flaming all night, I had a window seat.

3. When we were approaching Paris, the left #2 engine was shut down. I distinctly remember me and my brothers saying something to my father, to assure us, which was not true he said the pilot always shuts down engines when landing.

4. I remember my father telling us the plane crashed on its next trip.

Luckily, when we returned to McGuire in 1966 we were on a Pan Am 707.

Just thought I would share this.
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Raymond Lewis,
Please verify (if I’m right) that the Canadian war ship H.M.C.S. Bonaventure and it’s 4 (four) Destroyer Escorts attended this tragedy. Some of the persons involved in this mishap were taken to the H.M.C.S. Bonaventure’s sickbay. The ships milk cooler was emptied and used as a morgue.

The Canadian ships then proceeded to Shannon Ireland. I was serving on the H.M.C.S. Bonaventure when this mishap occurred. Please if you can, verify this happening I would be so grateful to show my grandchildren the perils of the Atlantic.
Thank you
Raymond Lewis
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Pierre Reymond, crew-member of the Swiss freighter Celerina
Thanks for this excellent text. In my report on the Celerina,  I wrote some comments about Captain John Murray:

…. I attend to the aircraft’s Pilot who has a head wound. Soon he asks me if he can see our captain. I give him some rudimentary care and after he has rested a little, I go up with him on the bridge. No words are needed. The handshake of the two Captains is an emotional instant that reveals a lot about the thoughts of both men.

…. Personally, I made friends with John Murray, the pilot of the Super-Constellation, who was 44 years old then. Together we discussed the difficult decisions he had to make when the accident happened. Particularly, he had to choose whether to ditch “with” the waves or “against” them. Landing “with” a wave is generally preferable on one hand, but in that case the wind carries the plane with less airspeed and the aircraft may “fall” too roughly. The pilot finally chose the last solution intuitively and he worked with the wind as far as possible until the impact. “And if you had to do this over again?”, I asked. He said he would try to land as close as possible to a ship, provided one could ascertain its position.
 This conversation has remained in my memory, even though communication between air and sea and rescue methods have made a lot of progress nowadays.

Remember the state of the sea at the time of the ditching!
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Kenneth D Stellon
Just went to lunch with Frank Ruffalo who was a army paratrooper who survived this crash. He was relating his experience and mentioned Fred Caruso. What a fascinating and horrifying story! Frank is from Chicago. Our wives were best friends in grade school. They reconnected at a recent reunion. Although from the same neighborhood, Frank and I did not really know each other, but I remember others talking about his ordeal. He does not use the internet, but I plan to tell him about this web site. He did have a copy of the Saturday Evening Post story about the crash. It does make you realize the incredible sacrifices young people make as members of our armed forces. Thank you for this site.*     *     *     *     *

James L. Clark,
After more than 50 years since flying as a navigator with FTL my memories of flying on two of the four A/C that were lost in 1962 came flooding back, all spurred by hearing Carol recount her experiences at last year’s FTLPA convention.
 During 1962 I had over 160 hours in FT-923 and FT-913 over Mid and North Pacific routes. The loss of 913 was also the night of the loss of a good friend, Karl Rader, with whom I had spent time with hunting and fishing in Cold Bay during our stay overs.
 In 1964 I changed careers, obtained my pilot’s license and have since flown over 8,000 hours in the left seat.
 The six years flying for the Marine Corps and FTL provided me a great background within which to continue to use flying to further my business career. More importantly I had the pleasure of meeting and flying with my childhood hero’s of the original Flying Tigers, like Dick Rossi, Gil Bright, Ed Rector and Bob Neale.
 Safe journeys to you.

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Richard M. Miskimen: Airman’s wife tells of tragic loss

At the time of the ditching of Flying Tiger 923, September 23, 1962, Dorothy Neisen was married to Air Force Staff Sgt. Richard McMunn Miskimen. She and Richard were living in Zemmer, Germany near Spangdahlem AFB with their only child, three-year-old Karen. He had joined the Air Force in 1954 and was an F-105 mechanic. He was on his way home from a temporary duty assignment in the States.

Karen and Richard met five years before the tragedy through a happy coincidence as many first meetings occur. She had been out with a girlfriend to see a Pat Boone movie “ April Love.” They stopped at a local restaurant for a soft drink.

AF Staff Sgt Miskimen

AF Staff Sgt Richard Miskimen

There were two airmen in the restaurant from Moody AFB, near their town of Valdosta, Georgia. The airmen tried

to talk to them, but she says, “Of course, we ignored them. We soon left and the airmen got in their car and drove along side of us as we walked. They kept talking and tried to get

us in the car, but we made excuses. This went on for about eight blocks. When we got in sight of my aunt’s house, we decided it was safe to get in the car! They introduced themselves and took us the rest of the way home.”

Karen tells more about their courtship and marriage which, for them, ended in the teeming North Atlantic.

Continue reading

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Ernest Wilson: Recounts injuries and cold ocean drama.

At age 37 and a World War II veteran, Master Sgt. Ernest L. Wilson of New Orleans, was on his way to a new two-year assignment to an M.P. Station near Frankfort, Germany. That trip ended abruptly when the aircraft in which he was flying ended its trip in a mid-sea ditching, taking with it 28 other passengers andM-Sgt Wilson saving him along with 47 others. That was Flying Tiger Flight 923 on September 1962.

M-Sgt. Wilson went home on medical leave soon after the incident and was interviewed by the Times-Picayune newspaper of New Orleans.

Sgt. Wilson was alone that fateful day. His wife, Margaret, and their children stayed at home in the states because this new tour of duty was to be only two years instead of the three years of a tradition assignment in the past. He didn’t want to leave his daughter, who was soon to give birth, and take another daughter, Barbara Jean out of school, as she had just began her senior year in New Orleans.

The Picayune newspaper interviewed him in a question and answer format, with the first question being “What happened?”

Continue reading

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Ditching of Flight 923 is an Atlantic ‘First’

Philadelphia Enquirer, Tuesday morning, Sept. 25, 1962 – “Sunday night’s ditching of a Flying Tiger Constellation off the coast of Ireland was the first successful “controlled” water landing in the Atlantic by a U.S. scheduled airline since the carriers began to fly land-based transports over the route 16 years ago.

“There have been several ditchings in the Pacific, including an apparent one that cost the lives of all 36 passengers and a seven-man crew. Involved was a Pan American Word Airways Stratocruiser which disappeared Nov. 8, 1957, on a flight fro from San Francisco to Honolulu.

“Only a few bodies and very little wreckage were found. But the victims were wearing life jackets, indicting that there had been advance warning of trouble and a likely ditching attempt.

“The two most successful airliner ditchings also occured in the Pacific. The first was on Oct. 16, 1956, when Capt. Richard Ogg of Pan Am added a crippled stratocruiser in smooth water with not one of the 24 passengers and seven crewmembers even getting their feet wet.

“A Northwest Orient Airlines DC-7C with 58 passengers and a crew of seven ditched off Luzon in the Philippines July 14, 1960, There was only one fatality—an elderly woman passenger who died of shock and exposure.

“Ditching a large aircraft is regarded as one of the most difficult maneuvers in aviation. A plane hitting the water is exposed to greater shock forces than if it crashed on a cement runway.

“Most successful ditchings have taken place in relatively smooth water. Landing in choppy seas calls for  the utmost skill.    

 [Note to readers: A crewman on the Celerina, 19 year old Pierre-Andre Raymon, on the very same day of the ditching, Sep. 23, 1962, took film of the raging seas to show his family and friends. He did it with old Brownie 8 mm motion picture camera. To see what those seas looked like (and they got worse that day), click this link: . For information   on the photograper and his filming that day, click this link: ]

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[We greatly appreciate the Philadelphia Enquirer for providing us with this interesting and unusual story by way of Mrs. Karen Eldred-Stephan who lives with her husband in central Germany.  Karen sent us a number of newspaper articles collected by her father, Captain Robert C. Eldred (US Army Retired) who was a survivor. Her mother, Edna, died in the crash.]

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Skip Davidson: I knew it was swim or die.

Pvt. Larry E. “Skip” Davidson, 19, of Manchester, Maryland, joined the skip1-x2Army in early April of 1962. He undertook the rigorous training in combat arms and then the techniques and methods of paratroopers who get into battle from the air. His entire paratrooper class got orders at graduation to ship out to a station in Germany. Reinforcements were urgently needed in the event that troubles with the Soviets got out of hand over the Cuban missile crisis and the Berlin wall.

The soldier’s mother, Mrs. Elmer Davidson, told a reporter “We didn’t even know Skip had left the country when we received the telegram from the adjutant general telling us he was among the missing,”. She and her family were shocked with the news.

Just two days before the Atlantic ditching of Flying Tiger Line Flight 923, Skip Davidson called home to tell his family that he thought he would be leaving by ship within a week.  He didn’t know any details.

The family was shocked to learn several days later that he was already gone. He didn’t leave on a ship. He left on a chartered four engine Lockheed Super Constellation. That aircraft never made it to Germany. It crashed in the raging North Atlantic Ocean some 500 miles off the coast of Ireland. Continue reading

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