Dedicated to Captain John Murray

Our Anniversary #58 is dedicated to 

Captain John D. Murray, our pilot, a true hero .  .  .

Captain John Murray held 78 lives in the palms of his hands. The weather was horrible. It was dark and the winds were nearly gale force. His Flying Tiger was limping on only one engine. The other three were dead,

It had to be a “white knuckle” flight. He held tight to the controls as he searched the darkness for a suitable stretch of sea to lay the big bird down at its final resting place.

Captain John Murray with head wound upon crash

captmurray324x425

 

The controls were shaking violently. He grasped all the more tightly. No stretch of water seemed safe enough. Even with almost no power left in its single remaining engine, the heavy aircraft was moving too fast to skip to a soft landing. The ocean troughs and valleys were getting shorter but steeper and more violent. He concentrated and prayed for an inspiration. There had to be a place where he could put down without disintegrating into a twist of metal and human bodies.

He was determined to find it. Read his challenge:

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(Ed. Note: This article was previously published on November 11, 2011, soon after the launching of our memorial blog. Since then we have had 104,053 public views from around the world. Early readers may have forgotten details of Captain Murray’s story. New readers may have missed it completely. He is the man who held our lives, and his own life, in his hands. Had it not been for Captain Murray, it is unlikely you would be reading this story today.)

Captain John D. Murray, 44, of Oyster Bay, Long Island, knew 76 lives were at stake as he slowly brought down the Super Constellation in preparation for ditching in the howling winds and raging waves of the cold north Atlantic.

He faced a dilemma as he searched his way through the darkness: he could follow the recommended ditching strategy of putting the plane down between the troughs, or take advantage of the 50-knot winds at sea level, which would cut his landing speed in half. His challenge was to get the plane down, either way, in the dark, in a gale, with 20 foot waves and with no power left for a second attempt if he didn’t get it right the first time.

The photo on the cover of the book to the left depicts the ideal water landing. Reports of the ditching say the aircraft sank somewhere between two minutes and ten minutes after the splash down, probably closer to the ten minute side.

Captain Murray hit his head on the control panel and was bleeding to the extent that he could hardly see. He made his way out after retrieving a flashlight from the cockpit. He was most likely the last man out and was very late getting to the raft that was filled far beyond capacity. He was pulled in and he sat on the lap of a serviceman.

Evidently the crew was aware of a possible rescue ship, but thought it might be 12 hours off. An aircraft had been following the Flying Tiger right up to its contact with the waves. That aircraft, a US Air Force plane on its way from Prescott, Scotland to Nova Scotia, had diverted in response to the SOS. Because it had been following so close, it knew the position of the raft and soon began dropping flares to mark the location.

The lone life raft that was to hold all survivors had accidently inflated upside-down. That caused the emergency lights along the upper rim of the raft to glow deep into the black waters, making them totally useless. The emergency kit that contained first aid materials and a badly needed flashlight was out of reach as well. Those items were zipped in the raft’s emergency pouch which was now facing down into the water.

The raft drifted at a rapid clip for nearly six hours, covering about 22 miles in that time. Waves that seemed to glow in the dark splashed over the passengers, delivering a frigid chill every time.

Finally a rescue ship came into sight, the Celerina, a Swiss freighter. Due to the size of the waves, the recovery had to be handled with care. Rope ladders were thrown out to the raft and people began to cling to them. The crew pulled the ladders up with passengers clinging to them, taking them into safety. Captain Murray was again one of the last to get off the raft. When he had nearly reached the top, the ship pitched and he fell off, sinking into the dark waters alongside of the raft. A trooper grabbed his life vest and pulled him back into the raft. He made it into the ship on his second try.Murray at CAB Hearing

There have been a number of news stories about Captain Murray’s role in the recovery. Some questioned his method of ditching. Ultimately, his choice resulted in the survival of 48.

The Saturday Evening Post ran a photo feature that included a sketching of the jam-packed raft being tossed among the waves. Fortunately for the survivors, Captain Murray was a flying pro! Had he not been, the outcome might have been far more disastrous.

According the Civil Aeronautics Board report adopted September 10, 1963, Captain Murray had a total of 17,500 flying hours, of which 4,300 were in the L-1049 type aircraft. His last FAA first class physical examination was passed on June 16, 1962 (limitation – reading glasses). He had flown 247.4 hours (172.9 in L-1049s) in the last 90 days; 72.6 hours (41.2 in L-1049s) in the past 30 days; and had 33 hours of rest prior to the flight. He knew flying and he knew the L-1049.

Months after the crash, Captain Murray relocated his family from the states to Shannon, Ireland, where he continued to work for the Flying Tiger Line. Tragically, he died some six years later in a scuba diving accident off the coast of Australia.

Captain Murray is our hero.

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Air Force Journalist Reaches Out to the World

Many Thousands Read of Ditching

By Teresa Foley (special to this Memorial Website)

At the time of the Flying Tiger ditching in the North Atlantic, my father Peter Foley was in the Air Force and had reached the rank of Senior Master Sergeant. He was assigned to the the Stars and Stripes newspaper.  He was returning home on Flying Tiger 923 to his family in Germany after having completed a special reporting assignment in the United States.

Peter Foley

Peter Foley only days after the ditching and rescue.

He managed to survive the disaster and was able tell the world about it. It was a shocking, violent, and grueling experience that lasted for days for everyone involved. As a news reporter, he bounced back nearly immediately to fulfill his mission.

As Peter Foley’s daughter, I got to know him as a man with a long and colorful career and a loving dedicated family man. I am using this web site as a means of telling his story.

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Pete Foley was a cheerful and vibrant man who loved life and had strong survival instincts. Those instincts were severely tested a number of times.

As a very young man with a love of excitement, he joined the Merchant Marines soon after getting out of school in the late 1930s. After a brief stint of service, Peter returned to his hometown of Butte, Montana and went to work in the copper mines that dominated the city and its surroundings.

He was a “motorman” and it was his responsibility to drive the ore cars in and out of the vast maize of dangerous tunnels being mined.  He tells us that one day, a tunnel caved in, trapping many men inside. It was the “worst and the hottest” of tunnels in the mine. He escaped the disaster. Luckily, the trapped miners found an airway to crawl through until they reached a spot where rescuers could drop metal cages and pull them out.

From Merchant Marines to Air Force

Pete later enlisted in the US Army Air Forces. During World War II, he worked as an airplane mechanic.  He wasn’t in combat but again escaped death in 1945.

At the age of 28, he was on a cargo plane that got lost and ran low on fuel.  According to Pete, “I was on leave, going to visit somewhere.  I happened to pick the wrong plane.”

Everyone on board was able to parachute out of the plane before it crashed.  Pete described his free-fall through clouds and with birds, as a thrill – not a fright, and an experience that ended too soon.  His parachute landing was smooth and something he “thoroughly enjoyed”.

He served in Korea from May 1950 through June 1953. His decorations included the Bronze Star, the Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal and the Air Force Commendation Medal.

After Korea, Pete attended and was a graduate of the Armed Forces Information School and the Strategic Air Command NCO Academy.

In 1951, Pete married Mary Wallace of Helena, Montana, in Yakahoma, Japan. Like many military families, the Foleys had duty stations throughout the United States and the world.

In 1962, after completing an assignment in Nevada for the Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper in Europe, he boarded Flying Tiger Flight 923 to return home to his pregnant wife and five children in Darmstadt, Germany.

Engine Troubles

As problems began to unfold, a fellow passenger asked him if one of the four engines quit running, how would the plane fare.  Pete’s response was to  “stop worrying, this plane could fly forever.”

Then the second engine failed. After the third engine failed he, and everyone else, knew the plane was in trouble, but there was no time to panic. Following is how Pete described his experience:

“Another soldier and I yanked out the escape hatch next to us and dropped into the water.  I tried to get my life vest inflated, but I couldn’t.  I was carried by waves toward the rear of the plane.  It had sunk so deep that my head was level with the top of the fuselage.  I decided not to waste any more time on the life jacket and began to swim.  The waves buried me a couple of times.  People were all around me.  There were cries of ‘Where are the boats?’ But no rafts were in sight.  It was dark and windy, and giant waves were pitching us around.

“I thought I felt a wing under my feet.  It was the tail.  Then a wave slammed me against the antenna.  It’s strung from the top of the forward cabin to the top of the tail.  I threw my left arm over it.  I scraped the arm and it hurt.  I thought it was a good time to rest for a moment.  I kept telling myself not to panic.  Once you panic, you’ve had it.

“After a few moments I realized it was calm.  I kept waiting for a wave to break over me.  Then I realized the plane was sinking and I was under water,  I let go and swam slowly to the surface.

“I was tired, dead tired.  How easy it would be to quit fighting the sea and get it all over with.  It would be so easy to die.  Just stop fighting for half a minute. I shook my head, realizing this was a hell of a way to go.  I also knew how mad Mary would be if I didn’t return home.

“Then I spotted a raft.  It was just a shadow and it seemed a long way off.  I managed to swim over to it and held on to a rope.  I got my head up far enough to see inside, but I couldn’t get in.  I asked for help.  Someone said he didn’t have the strength.  Then he grabbed my arms and somebody else pulled me in by the seat of my pants.”

The Rescue Ship Arrives

The Celerina arrived when “it was early morning, but still dark. . . A sailor pulled me onto the deck.  I said I was all right, then fell on my face.  Somebody caught me and helped me into the crew’s mess, where I was given warm clothes and a jolt of whiskey. I couldn’t pick it up. A sailor poured it down my throat.  It felt wonderful.”

While on the Celerina, Pete did what he could to help, all-the-while thinking, “How do I get this story back?” to his boss at the Stars and Stripes. He found a way to radio stories each day. “I don’t  think I even thought about dying.  Time passed so quickly, it seemed like the next thing I knew I was waving at Mary.  All I knew was I was back where I belonged.”

Whenever Pete talked about this plane crash, he would sadly mention the children; he never saw the girls after the plane hit the water.  His family had to fly from Germany to New York when he was transferred to Travis AFB in 1963. After his family boarded the plane, Pete went to airmen in the plane and made them promise to help his kids in case anything happened.  He then introduced each airman to the child he was responsible for. Mary said she was sure most of the people thought he was a crazy old sergeant.

Peter Foley waving to onlookers at Antwerp, Belgium.

Peter Foley, 2nd from the left, waving to the gathering crowd as the rescue settles into port at Antwerp, Belgium. To his right is a fellow ditching survivor, air hostess Carol Ann Gould. To both edges of the photo are unidentified Celerina crew members who took part in the rescue of the lone life raft.

Pete retired from the Air Force in 1965 and moved his family to Citrus Heights, California (a suburb of Sacramento). He was a smart person, loyal to family and friends, an enthusiastic supporter of his family activities, an adventurer, a teacher, a hard worker and a wonderful example of how to get a job done. He and his family were very active in community and school activities. They loved to travel, camp, boat, water and snow ski, ocean dive and always enjoyed a good party.

A Breeder of Lady Bugs

In 1981, Pete and Mary bought a struggling business that supplies beneficial insects for pest control and turned it into the largest supplier of ladybugs in the US.  In 2001, Pete and Mary celebrated their 50th anniversary.  Later that year, Pete lost his battle with melanoma and died in November.

People often say they would die for someone they love. Pete’s character, however, was to focus his strength and energy on living for the people he loved and helping them to have a good life.  Pete Foley lived a very good life.

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Editors note:

This story was written by Pete’s daughter, Teresa. She discovered this web site and soon thereafter discovered her father’s military career keepsake box. That gave her the material and incentive to submit this story. Pete’s original story was published in an October 1962 edition of the Saturday Evening Post.

 In 1964 due in part to notoriety I had obtained from a very dramatic story I had written about FT923 and with very good fortune, I was assigned to the Stars and Stripes news desk in Darmstadt. I was one of only four military staffers. The rest of the newspaper staff was civilian.  At that point, Peter Foley rose from “role model” to “hero” in my mind and remained that way though out my working career. I never had any personal contact with him or his family. I only had news clippings of his work. I had no way of ever knowing him as a compete person. His daughter, Teresa, has given me that opportunity. I am honored to be the person to pass that story to you. — Fred Caruso

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National Magazine Shows Agony in Raft

Packed like sardines.

51 people packed in a raft for 25.

Air Force Journalist and Ditching Survivor Peter Foley did a lot of writing about the horrors of the ditching and joys of survival. One of  his stories with perhaps the most impact appeared in the Saturday Evening Post magazine in October of 1962. Included with that story was an artist rendition of the single, flooded and overcrowded life raft. The picture tells the story quite accurately. (Packed like sardines.)

 

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The Actual Flying Tiger #923

Chartered for an education and orientation tour.

Photo above is the actual Flying Tiger Flight 923 aircraft that was ditched in the North Atlantic on September 23, 1962. The photo was taken in June of 1961 by Ragnar Domstadt, who was junior in engineering at the Chalmers Technical University at Gothenberg, Sweden. The Super Constellation with the registration number N6923C was sitting on the tarmac of the old Gothenberg Torslanda airport. Ragnar had arranged for the chartering of the aircraft to fly his engineering class to and from the US for an education and orientation tour. He was surprised to see the aircraft involved in a deadly crash at sea within 15 months of the trip he had arranged.

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Fifty seven years and counting . . . . .

FLASH FACTS on the demise of Flying Tiger 923

September 23, 1962

Nearly fifty eight years after the crash of Flying Tiger 923, it is still astonishing to see how little was known by the survivors of the event that very nearly took their lives or as in too many cases took the lives of loved ones. No one had an opportunity to see all of the local news stories. Actually there were very few stories outside of England and Ireland and virtually none in the United States after the initial incident.

The editor of this site considers the untimely demise of Flying Tiger 923 to be unusual in many ways. The facts surrounding the event give some indication of  the unusual nature of the incident:

* A total of 76 men, woman and children were on board the aircraft – 48 lived, 28 died. Three of those died in the life raft or during the rescue. On this particular flight some 20 freshly trained combat paratroopers had been added to the manifest at the last minute to speed their assignment to strategic locations in Germany during a heating up of the Cold War.

* Of eight crew members (included in the 76 total above) only three survived. They were the captain, navigator and one stewardess.

* The crash was initiated as an intentional, controlled water landing (a ditching) of a crippled air liner. It occurred some 500 miles off the west coast of Ireland at night during a raging storm. Impact was roughly at the latitude west of Galway, Ireland, and approximately in the same area as the final destruction of the Spanish Armada of 1588 .

* The aircraft was NOT a military plane. It was a civilian plane chartered by the Military Air Transport System (MATS). It was intended to serve the needs of military officers and higher ranking non-commissioned officers and their families of all branches of service

* The aircraft broke apart on impact, losing its left wing, tearing a hole in the left side of the plane and sinking within 7 to 12 minutes.

* Only ONE 25-man rubber life raft out of the five total that were supposed to be on board was usable, and had to hold all 51 who reached it.  Three persons died on the raft before reaching the safety of the rescue ship.

* Tragically the ONE usable life raft inflated UPSIDE DOWN, putting the safety lights and the emergency medical supplies underneath, making them unreachable in the pitch-black water.

* Only ONE flashlight, snatched from the cockpit of the aircraft by the captain, was available for emergency signaling during that six-hour drift.

* In the six hours from impact to rescue, gale-force winds drove the overloaded raft 22 miles through the raging waves and swells.

* The wind-whipped, white-capped waves ranged from 10 to 12 feet high and ocean swells were reported as being up to 35 feet high.

* The first aircraft to locate the crash site, within minutes of impact, was a US Air Force C-119. That aircraft circled the area of the survivors for nearly six hours, dropping spotting flares, until it ran dangerously low on fuel.

* The rescue ship was the Swiss freighter, MS Celerina. It was 492 feet long, had a crew of 35, and was loaded with wheat grain from Canada headed toward Belgium. The ship’s crew gave survivors their sleeping rooms and clothing and as much comfort as possible.

* The storm that ravaged the survivors in the lone life raft, raged on for three more days, making a major evacuation of injured by helicopter nearly impossible.

* When the storm cleared, 17 of the most seriously injured were helicoptered off the ship at the rendezvous location near Galley Head lighthouse, and taken to Cork, Ireland hospitals.

* Two days later, the remaining survivors disembarked from the ship at Antwerp, Belgium.

* The aircraft was known as the “Queen of the Atlantic,” for its being one of the first aircraft to be used successfully to transport commercial passengers over the Atlantic. It was a four-engine Lockheed Super Constellation 1049H. It had the registration number of N6923C.

* The last reported position of the aircraft, only minutes before the ditching (according to the Civil Aeronautics Board “Aircraft Accident Report” released on September 13, 1963), was reported as being 54 degrees 10 seconds north latitude, and 25 degrees 30 seconds west longitude.  The time of the message was 21;42 (9:42 p.m.) on September 23, 1962 (9/23/62).

There are of course hundreds of details and situations not listed here. The stories found in this memorial site include many of them. (Find more than 120 stories using the menu above. Mouse over the subjects to see what is recorded in this site.)

Regarding the availability of little or no information, it is worth noting that the 20 or so combat Army paratroopers who survived were sent directly to their assignments with no medical or family leave or briefings on what really transpired. None had written orders or instructions relating to their unexpected change of plans. Other passengers, virtually all related to the military, went on their way, knowing only what they experienced. Even the handful of those who were selected to attend and participate in the Civil Aeronautics Board hearing held in New York City, nearly one year after the crash, learned little beyond the bureaucratic, technical details that focused on the performance of the aircraft and crew. There was more to know.

{Compiled, written and posted by Fred Caruso}

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Bromore Cliffs Memorial

It was a sunny day at Bromore Cliffs at Ballybunion, Ireland. This is the site of one of the two known memorials for the crash of the Flying Tiger 923, which occurred some 500 west of that point, on September 23, 1962. It was at night, during a vicious North Atlantic storm. Seventy six men, women and children were on board. Approximately 20 of the passengers were newly graduated combat paratroopers headed for their first assignments at bases in western Germany. Forty eight persons survived disaster. Twenty eight died in the ravages of the sea.

Bromore Cliffs Memorial Plaque

Bromore Cliffs Memorial Plaque

Local Bromore Cliffs community leader Mike Flahive created the memorial, totally on his own and on his own property where his cattle graze at the steep edges of the cliffs. The memorial garden is open to the public and attracts dozens of visitors daily, many of whom come from around the world to play golf at the famous Ballybunion golf course.

Views from the Cliffs

 

Flahive was inspired to dig into the details of the crash when at the age of 11, he looked out his bedroom window at the edge of the cliffs to see the giant Canadian aircraft carrier, Bonaventure, stopped no more than a football field distance away at the mouth of the Shannon River estuary. The ship was bringing in some of the dead and injured from the crash. The crash was widely publicized in Ireland and England while being virtually unnoticed by the United States news media.

Seen shaking hands are at left, Fred Caruso, one of the survivors who was evacuated by helicopter at Galley Head to Mercy Hospital in Cork City, Ireland, To the right is monument creator and memorial garden benefactor, Mike Flahive. The two were featured in a TV documentary entitled “Wild Atlantic Way” produced by well-known and popular RTE broadcaster, John Creedon.

Three visitors shown in the photo are Cowboy Hugh Broadus a cattle rancher from Colstrip, Montana; Fred Caruso of Eagle, Colorado and Glengarriff, County Cork, Ireland, and Margaret Ellen Caruso, his wife and sister of the Cowboy. The three were treated to a night in the cozy family cottage on the cliffs, from which Flahive saw the Canadian Aircraft Carrier on September 25, 1962. The Bromore Memorial site commemorates several shipwrecks and air crashes along the “Wild Atlantic Way” and features an original World War II observation sentry post. The site is open to the public daily.

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Flying Tiger Flight 923 Makes it to the World-wide Encyclopedia Wikipedia

It was always something of a mystery and a disappointment to me (the author of this article), NOT to find such an important historical event listed in Wikipedia, the free, universal, world-wide Encyclopedia. The North America version of Wikipedia (in English) contains a number of entries about the Flying Tiger Line and articles on historic events of the air line, such as its crashes.

So I am very happy to report now that details of the tragic Flight 923 have finally made it to the pages of Wikipedia. The good news is that it is there for the world to see more easily, but the bad news is that it is currently only viewable in the German version in the German language!

The article is detailed and accurate as you would expect in an encyclopedia listing. Errors in spelling and grammar are probably due to non-human electronic translations. Two of the major contributors to the article are friends and published contributors to this Flying Tiger 923 Memorial web-blog. Peter W. Frey is a special-interest, investigative reporter and radio announcer with the German region Swiss Public Radio network. Frey flew to Ireland in 2012 to interview me and an important rescuer, Pierre Andre Raymond. Another contributor is Georg Stockli. He was the radio operator on the MS Celerina the night of the crash.

Read about both men on this website by clicking these links: Peter Frey and Georg Stockli.

Our thanks to Karen Eldred-Steffan for bringing this article to our attention. Karen lives in Germany, which is why she was able to connect with the article over the internet. In Germany the search engines automatically default to the German version of Wikipedia.*

Karen is the daughter of then retired Capt. Robert Eldred and Mrs. Edna Eldred, both of whom were passengers on the fateful night of September 23, 1962. Capt. Eldred survived to tell the story, but his wife tragically perished in the crash. Karen was 17 at the time. You can read Captain Eldred’s story on this site by clicking the link on his name.

Karen has been sending items for use in this site during the past year, much of which had been collected and saved by her father who has since passed away. We very much appreciate her commitment to this memorial.

Here is a link to the German Wikipedia entry:

https://de.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Flying-Tiger-lIine-Flug_923&oldid=168502501

Most search engines have a translation function built-in, but if the article pops up in German, it can be translated by any of a number of on-line translation programs. We will attempt during the coming year to get the article listed in the English master edition of Wikipedia.

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* [The German Wikipedia edition] Founded in March 2001, it is the second-oldest, after the English Wikipedia, and with 2,251,582 articles, at present (2017) the fourth-largest edition of Wikipedia by number of articles, behind the English Wikipedia and the heavy bot-generated Swedish Wikipedia[1] and Cebuano Wikipedia.[2][3][4] It has the second-largest number of edits and over 260,000 disambiguation pages.[5] On 7 November 2011, it became the second edition of Wikipedia, after the English edition, to exceed 100 million page edits. [Note: This paragraph was taken directly from the German Wikipedia explanation of itself.]

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Former Aer Lingus Pilot Recalls Flying Tiger Ditching

DITCHING IN THE ATLANTIC

by Charlie Coughlan, Galley Head, Ireland

The successful ditching of US Airlines flight 1549 into the Hudson River reminded me of a much more difficult ditching that happened near Ireland in 1962. Whilst I don’t wish to take anything away from the terrific job done by Sully Sullenberger, the pilot of US 1549, he landed in daylight, close to shore, in calm water. The ditching I’m about to describe took place out in the Atlantic, at night, and with strong winds blowing.

My first job in Aer Lingus was as a temporary traffic clerk. I started in Cork airport on the fourth of June 1962, my salary was the princely sum of £6 10s a week or €8.23. €8.23 was a 67% increase on what I was being paid by John Atkins and Sons where I was on a salary of 16 guineas a month. Cork airport had opened on the 16th of October 1961.

On September 23rd 1962 I was standing on the ramp at Cork airport when the survivors of the ditching of flight 923 were landed by Royal Air Force helicopters. I still remember clearly my outrage at the performance of the press who had been allowed onto the ramp. A priest who was waiting to comfort the injured was rudely swept aside as the members of the press rushed towards the helicopters.

Flight 923 was a Lockheed 1049H Super Constellation, registration N6923C, belonging to Flying Tiger Airlines. The aircraft was en route from Gander to Frankfurt on an American military air transport service charter. The flight had originated at McGuire air force base in New Jersey and was carrying 70 passengers, mostly United States service personnel and 20 women and children from their families. In the cockpit were Captain John Murray, First Officer Robert Parker, Flight Engineer James Garrett and the navigator Sam Nicholson. There were four cabin crew looking after the passengers. The flight left Gander at 17:10 and was cleared to Frankfurt at 11,000 feet with an estimated flight time of 9 hours 20 minutes. At 19:35 the flight requested to climb to 13,000 feet due to light icing. At 19:50 the flight requested further climb to 21,000 feet as they were still experiencing icing.

Fire in Engine Number Three

Within minutes of levelling off at 21,000 feet the number three engine fire warning activated. The crew carried out the engine fire drill and shut down number three engine. The senior stewardess, Elizabeth Sims, reported that the fire was visible from the cabin. The flight then requested descent to 9,000 feet, the cruising altitude on three engines for their weight. After carrying out the emergency drill for an engine fire, which were memory items, the captain instructed the flight engineer to carry out the clean up items which are read from the emergency checklist. While doing this, the flight engineer inadvertently shut down number one engine, the propeller of which immediately started to overspeed. It should have been feathered before the fuel was shut off. The crew then applied max continuous power on engines two and four and started to descend slowly to 5,000 feet which was the maximum height on two engines. Number one engine would not restart despite numerous attempts to do so. Captain Murray considered diverting to Keflavic in Iceland but the weather there was bad with winds gusting up to 70mph. The flight continued on towards Shannon for another twenty minutes when the fire warning on number two engine activated but when the throttle was pulled back the fire warning stopped. It was now 21:15.

Captain Murray realised that he couldn’t maintain his altitude so he altered course towards weather ship Juliet which was about 200 miles off the Irish coast at 52 North 20 West. Within minutes the aircraft had descended to 3000 feet and was limping along at 150 knots when number two engine stopped. “Ladies and gentlemen it looks like we’re going to have to ditch,” Captain Murray announced over the public address system. By this time two other aircraft had been diverted to escort the crippled aircraft and had it in sight. The crew had already reviewed the ditching procedure in the flight manual and Elizabeth Sims had got the passengers to put on their lifejackets and had gone through the ditching procedure step-by-step.

Violent Impact

Fred Caruso, one of the passengers, takes up the story: “WHAM!! More like WHOP!! We hit a mountain of water, belly first. My seat held fast but some broke off. The hull split open and a wing snapped off. Someone flew clear over my head. The sudden sensation of icy water on my stocking feet terrified me! Horror! Frigid, frightening horror!”

Fred escaped through the over-wing window exit. Fifty one people made it into the 25 man life raft and 48 survived, a miracle if ever there was one. Even though all five life rafts were recovered from the sea, the survivors only found one and this due to the heroism of the navigator Sam Nicholson. After Sam threw the only life raft that was inside the aircraft into the sea (the others were in the wings), the lanyard attaching it broke. Sam dived into the sea and managed to retrieve it

The night was a long, dramatic deliverance for those who lived. There were six frigid and dizzying hours in a tiny, over-crowded life raft that by fate had inflated upside down so the rescue lights were invisible from above. The wind blew the life raft some 22 miles from the point of impact to the point where the survivors were picked up by the Swiss freighter Celerina. Luckily a Canadian aircraft carrier, HMCS Bonaventure, was also in the area and used its helicopters to airlift the seriously injured from the Celerina to the carrier for treatment and later to a military hospital in England.

Caruso recalls: “The landscape! The seascape! The sunshine! The people! Even the roar and the rattle of the helicopter! They were all glorious that day, not just pretty or beautiful. It was breath-taking! Overwhelming! Glorious! My first view of Ireland! The weather broke when we got closer to land. The waters calmed and the sun came out. We had manoeuvred to the south of Ireland, some 16 miles southwest of Cork City, near the Galley Head. RAF helicopters evacuated 17 of us to the Mercy Hospital.

“How beautiful it was that day! The helicopter flew at about five hundred feet above the ground. That’s almost low enough to see the look on peoples’ faces. It seemed that the glorious green of the countryside extended out into the ocean, for at least half a mile, as if it were reaching out to greet us. That finger of water was emerald green. An Irish green welcoming carpet appeared. Beautiful!”

Probable Cause of Crash

The Civil Aeronautics Board found that “the probable cause of the accident was the failure of two of the aircraft’s four engines and the improper action of the flight engineer which disabled a third engine, thereby necessitating a ditching at sea. Under the circumstances of darkness, weather and high seas which prevailed in the North Atlantic at the time of the ditching the survival of 48 occupants of the aircraft was miraculous.” The report went on to say: “Apart from the major error by the flight engineer, there was a lack of proper crew training which led to confusion in regard to the position passengers should adopt before ditching and the fact that no final ‘brace yourselves’ instruction was given by the captain.”  They found “that the captain was not aware that there was a lever in the cockpit which would release some of the rafts installed in the wings. Another serious flaw in the preparations for ditching was the failure of the over-wing exit panels. Performance and testimony by surviving crew members indicated a lack or a low degree of proficiency having been gained from the training programme designed to meet emergencies such as were encountered by the flight.”

Despite the fact that the Flying Tiger manual and the US Coast Guard recommend ditching parallel to the swell, Captain Murray decided to ditch into the swell. This could easily have caused the immediate destruction of the aircraft. But Captain Murray decided that the interval between swells based on the latest forecasts would give him a better chance of carrying out the ditching successfully

The procedure he used was warned against in the Flying Tiger manual. The enquiry noted that the considerable impact caused by landing into the swell caused the wing to break off depriving the passengers of one life raft and also caused several rows of seats to fail. Despite this the board made no criticism of Captain Murray or any other members of the crew.

Captain Murray continued his flying career with Flying Tiger and was one of the first captains to be checked out on the new DC8 63 jets, an aircraft type I flew myself for several years. Seven years after he ditched in the Atlantic he was on a night stop on Wake Island, west of Honolulu, and was drowned while swimming in a calm sea. He was 51.

Fred Caruso was so delighted to survive that he changed his name to O’Caruso, became an Irish citizen, and bought a house in Glengarriff.

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Editors notes: Charlie Coughlan’s career with Aer Lingus helped keep his interest in the Flying Tiger ditching. In fact, he has been a good friend of the Irish survivor effort since day one. He was on the ramp at the new Cork Airport at the time the 17 most seriously injured were being ferried from the ship Celerina by helicopter for medical treatment at Cork hospitals. He says he was personally distressed with the dozens of news reporters on the tarmac who gave little room to the emergency caregivers as they attempted to tend to the injured.

Charlie became a pilot by beginning his pilot training as soon as possible. To the left he stands with one of his early instructors with their training aircraft.

He says that Captain Murray became one of the early pilots to be checked out on the new DC8-63 jet that replaced the four engine piston driven trans-Atlantic passenger planes. Charlie checked out himself on the DC8-63 and spent the rest of his career flying jets for Aer Lingus. Shown here he stands with his parents, all holding a ceremonial bottle of wine at the inaugural flight of a new route.

As a career pilot, he carried his love of aircraft and his curiosity everywhere, including to the beach. His home is near the Galley Head light house on the Atlantic coast. He and a friend, Jane Melia, discovered on May 5, 2006, one of two vertical tail fins from an F-14 Tomcat, known then as the “Grim Reaper,” never seen in Europe. It had crashed off the coast of Florida some 4,900 miles east across the sea. The heavy tail fin had drifted along the Atlantic gyre to Long Strand near Galley Head. Shown here are that artifact where it had drifted up on the shore and the full length of the Grim Reaper.

Charlie says “The piece that we found had the number 36 on it and it turns out that an

engine on this aircraft blew up during a training mission off Florida on October 3rd 2002. The two crew ejected safely and were recovered. The tail fin must have separated

when the engine blew up and ended up floating over 4,900 miles to the Long Strand, taking 3½ years to do so. Unbelievable but true.”

 

 

 

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Friendship Postcard Reaches its Target After 55 years in Safekeeping

Paul Stewart was a young Army private from Ardmore, Oklahoma and a very recent graduate of parachute training program on the night of September 23, 1962, the date of the fatal mid-sea ditching of the Flying Tiger 923. He was one of the lucky 48 survivors of the 78 passengers and crew who went down with the aircraft that night.

Paul tells his own story best, so I will do  my best to quote him:

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Recently I found several items related to FT923.

“My Dad kept a small picture box, which went to my sister when he died and then to my niece when my sister passed. It was shared with me only a couple of months ago.

“The find that was a real shocker was a post card from the Celerina’s electrician, Marcus Janka, dated March 18, 1963. You know that I was in your unit at that time and had never seen the message.

“While on the ship (the Celerina), I stayed in his cabin and we would visit 1 to 2 hours a day until we docked in Antwerp, Belgium. When I left, I wrote my name and home address, and I never saw this card for more than 55 years. Marcus told me that on the night of the rescue, he operated the huge ”Search Light,” or “Spot Light,” that stayed on the raft for hours and hours. We could never thank that crew enough.”

[Editor’s Note: The postcard, which was mailed from New Orleans, is shown front and back. It reads, “Hallo Paul, We was in Calcutta and nowe in New Orleans. I hope you are well. In three months I am at home. /s/ Markus Janka, RoutgenStr. 30, Zurich 5, Schueiz”]Another item from hidden picture box is a copy of a telegram to Henry Stewart, his father, dated September 25, 1962, from a Major General J.C. Lambert, stating that his son had been rescued. That was the sum total of contacts from the Army. Paul says that the only other phone calls or contacts about FT923 came from the press.

Posted in new combat troopers, Other Gems, rescue teams | 2 Comments

The Numbers: 923 — 923

Two numbers that everyone familiar with the Flying Tiger crash should remember are “923” and “923.” The first number 923 refers to the airplane, a Lockheed four engine Super Constellation, “Flying Tiger 923.” The second number refers to the date of the crash, September 23. The year was 1962. It was a Sunday and the cold war was heating up over the Cuban Missle Crisis. For those who died that night, it was a tragic and final end.  For the 48 who lived, Captain Murray performed a miracle.

This year on 9/23 it will be our 56th anniversary, which places the disaster some 20,454 days in the past. For the survivors who still live today, those 20,454 days are all extra days alive on this planet, thanks to Captain John Murray.

Former US Senator and Secretary of State John Kerry recently published a book, “Every Day Extra.” His book is a memoir reviewing his entire life with every day being a gift from the beginning. I have taken a bit of literary license in using a part of his book’s title to claim that “every day of my life since 923/62 has been an extra day” and I am sure all others feel the same way. Even those who have already passed on were gifted with extra days.

For sure, not every one of those extra days were rollicking happy or dramatically successful, but there always seemed to be another extra day to start over again. I have decided to simply forget the not-so-good days, to toss them away, so-to-speak. I am keeping my mind on the majority of good ones with all of the good cheer and many triumphs big and small. After all, every day is in fact extra.

As you read through the pages in this web-site (more than 110 separate articles, which are probably 250 pages of book text), you can’t leave without feeling that a lot of others besides Captain Murray deserve thanks for those extra days also. In fact, far more than a thousand persons were involved with the rescue effort. To start with just a few:

The Air Force C-118 Globe Master captained by Joseph K. Lewis, 25, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, was taking American military personnel from Prestwick, Scotland, to the US, by way of Harmon, Newfoundland. It was Captain Lewis’ first flight as captain when he heard the distress message.

For nearly five hours, the crew of the Air Force Globe Master were the only “eyes and ears” for the rescue effort following the ditching. After so many hours of circling, the aircraft was running low on fuel and was forced to return back to Scotland. Luckily, other aircraft had flown to the crash site and were able to take over the job of marking the location of the lone life raft.

Without the Swiss Rescue Ship, the Celerina, and its dedicated Captain and crew of 45 plus, we may never have been rescued. There were very few ships in that region of the cold Atlantic. If the 51 of us crammed into the tiny rubber raft had eventually been recovered, everyone would have most likely been found dead, expired of hypothermia. Three died on the life raft as it was. Only 48 of us made it to safety after six hours of bobbing and spinning in the frigid seas.

One especially important person to the Flying Tiger story was a 19-year-old Swiss lad who was on board the Celerina as a student observer. His name is Pierre-Andre Reymond. His father wanted him to record his travels and gave him a Brownie 8mm film camera for that purpose. Pierre-Andre just happened to take his camera on deck the day of the crash and filmed the raging seas. The three minute film is posted in several places on this site and as of this date more than 2,800 persons have viewed the video. Click here to see the raging seas some 12 hours before the ditching, Flying Tiger 923 and Raging North Atlantic   (Note: the video says September 22 due to the fact that 12 hours were enough to cause a date change.)

Pierre-Andre somehow found me very early in my research. He wrote several valuable stories for this web-site and was instrumental from the beginning in arranging and promoting the memorial at Galley Head in 2012, including arranging for the Swiss Ambassador to Ireland on short notice to speak at our ceremony as a special guest.

Rescue team members at Cork Airport numbered in the hundreds. Of special note is our friend Gary Ahern of Dublin who was involved in planning the memorial.

Gary Ahern was on the very first four-person emergency rescue team at the new Cork airport. That team played an important role in the logistics of moving the injured from the rescue helicopters to the ambulances that delivered them to the hospitals. All four original members of that team participated in our memorial program 50 years later at Galley Head.

The virtually unknown crews of the US “weather ships” placed across the Atlantic to keep aircraft posted on weather conditions were among the first to hear the calls for help. Several were within communications distance of our aircraft to relay distress signals.

And more than 1,500 personnel of the Canadian aircraft carrier, Bonaventure, and her four escort destroyers, that diverted from their course to follow us to safety. The Bonaventure transported recovered bodies to Shannon Airport and provided emergency medical supplies to the Celerina,

And the list goes on and on.

I urge everyone to browse through our “drop-down” directory above, if you have not already done so, to get a feel for the magnitude of “923”. Our web-site counter tells us that we have had more than 92,100 visits, which translates into thousands if individual visitors, from nearly every country in the world.

I am proud that so many have had the opportunity to learn so much about a nearly invisible incident of cold-war September 1962. This web-site is a dedicated memorial to honor everyone.

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Posted in flight crew, MEMORIALS, passengers, rescue teams | 8 Comments