James Garrett: Flight Engineer pulls the switch

Flight Engineer James Garrett, Jr., of Brentwood, Long Island, NY, had been flying most Engineer Garrettof his adult life, according to his parents, Mr. & Mrs. James Garrett, of South Norfolk, VA. It was Monday, September 24, 1962 when they were interviewed. They knew by that time that their son James was flight engineer on the ill-fated Flying Tiger Flight 923. His condition was unknown and his whereabouts could only be reported as missing, somewhere in the North Atlantic Ocean west of Ireland.

Mr. and Mrs. Garrett first became concerned when they heard a television bulletin Sunday reporting the crash. Their 30-year-old son had been with the Flying Tigers since being idled by the Eastern Air Lines engineers’ strike the previous summer. He had been with Eastern for about five years.

Parents of James Garrett Waiting

Parents of James Garrett wait for news.

“I called Newark, but they couldn’t tell me anything said the elder Garrett. The plane was enroute from McGuire Air Force Base (at Newark) with service personnel and dependents bound for Frankfurt, Germany.

“Then I called Burbank (California). That’s where they do their scheduling. They told me he was on the plane,” Garrett Sr. said. He then told reporters that he was sure his son would let them know immediately his whereabouts and condition once he was rescued. In his early days of flying, the younger Garrett piloted private planes with friends and once worked as an airline mechanic for Piedmont Air Lines.

But the young Garrett never called home. He was finally reported as among the dead late on September 24, 1962.

Tragically, Flight Engineer James Garrett played a key but misfortunate role in the escalation of engine problems for the Flying Tiger.

According to a fascinating report by Michael O’Toole in his book, Cleared for Disaster, Ireland’s Most Horrific Air Crashes, based on reports at the CAB hearing, here is what happened:

Once the fire warning sounded, signaling that there was a fire in No. 3 engine, Captain Murray feathered the propeller and ordered the flight engineer to shut down the engine and discharge on fire extinguisher bank. When the engine was being shut down, the senior stewardess, Elizabeth Sims, came into the cockpit to advise that the fire was visible from inside the passenger cabin. Captain Murray then instructed Garrett to go to the passenger cabin and check the engines visually as he began his decent to Level 90 (9,000 feet).

Garrett had just returned to the cockpit when there was a further serious complication. Without warning, the number 1 engine started to overspeed. Murray pulled all throttles back, raised the nose of the aircraft in order to slow down and ordered the No. 1 propeller feathered.

As Murray looked back, he saw to his horror that Garrett had set the No. 1 engine emergency shut-off lever to the “off” position and was now re-setting it to “on.”  Captain Murray told the Civil Aironotics Board at its hearing several months later that at this stage the flight engineer said: “I’m sorry, John, I goofed.”

Instead of cutting off fuel, oil and air to the crippled No. 3 engine, Garrett had shut down No. 1. Murray called for METRO (maximum except take-off) power on engine numbers 2 and 3 so as to maintain a minimum rate of decent. He was now left with two functional engines, one on each wing. The flight engineer checked the performance charts and estimated that at their current weight, flight above 5,000 feet would not be possible.

Repeated attempts were made to restart No. 1 engine, but all failed. A major emergency with the strong possibility of ditching existed. The crew then requested decent to flight level 50 (5,000 feet) and an escort.

Murray considered a diversion to Keflavic, Iceland, until he learned of the weather report. Winds were gusting to 58 knots with rain and stratocumulus clouds at 1,800 feet. Murray decided then that his only hope was Shannon, Ireland.

Meanwhile, the crew started to consider the prospects of putting down in the Ocean. Garrett read the ditching 0procedures in the operations manual and computed the ditching airspeed. He then reviewed the ditching stations and procedures required for Co-pilot, Robert Parker, and Navigator Sam Nichols. Senior Stewardess Elizabeth Sims was summoned to the flight deck and briefed on the procedures to be followed in the cabin, and from there on, the ditching drill was pursued in earnest to the quiet horror of the passengers.

Engineer James E. Garrett was reported as among the dead the following day.

According to the Civil Aeronautics Board report of September 13, 1963,

“Flight Engineer James E. Garrett, Jr., age 30, had a total of 3,750 flying hours, of which 2,450 hours were in an L-1049 type aircraft. He held a valid airman certificate No. 1341695 with commercial pilot privileges; flight engineer certificate No. 1390040; airman certificate No. 1302721 with airplane and power-plant ratings. His last proficiency check in L-1049H aircraft was July 25, 1962. His last FAA second-class physical was passed on November 28, 1961. He had flown 85.6 hours in the last 90 days; 83.2 hours in the last 30 days, and had 33 hours of rest before departure from Gander.“

About Fred Caruso

Survivor of the crash of Flying Tiger 923. at night, at sea, 500 miles off the west coast of Ireland, with 28 deaths and 48 survivors, September 23, 1962.
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