“She asked us, as a routine precaution to get our life jackets
out of our seat pockets. Miss Sims and her three assistants,
Carol Ann Gould, Jacqueline Brotman and Ruth Mudd,
helped us into the life jackets and led us through
ditching drills . . . She kept telling us that this was just
practice and there was no emergency. I doubted it.”
Chief Stewardess Elizabeth Sims Cannin was named in most publications only as Elizabeth Simms. Before she died in the Atlantic crash landing, she told her family that the flight was to be her last. She told of her plans to leave flying when she visited relatives in Highland Park, Michigan. She said she had given the Flying Tiger Lines 30 days notice. She was married just one month before the crash and had told only but a very few of her closest friends. Her new husband was a commercial pilot.
Master Sergeant Peter Foley, a reporter for the Stars and Stripes newspaper in Darmstadt, Germany, was returning to his base in Germany from an assignment in the states. The following are quotes from Foley’s account of the Ditching as reported in the Saturday Evening Post of late October 1962. In this article, he gives us insight into the role of the brave women who served as Flying Tiger 923’s flight attendants.
By Peter A. Foley
As Published in the Saturday Evening Post
“With the failure of two engines, our lives were totally in the hands of the pilot and his crew.
“Captain Murray called chief stewardess, Betty A Sims to the cockpit to brief her on the situation. She was a slight, pretty girl of 31, with 10 years of flying experience. She had been married just two weeks before and had given notice that this was to be her last trip.
“We all looked up anxiously at Miss Sims as she emerged from the cockpit and walked swiftly down the aisle. There was no sign of concern on her face. We watched her pick up the public-address system microphone. She relayed the captain’s message that there was no immediate danger, that Super Constellations are built so they can fly on two engines. She explained that the reduced power made it impossible to heat our dinners, but that cake and coffee would be served in a few minutes.
“Then she asked us, as a routine precaution to get our life jackets out of our seat pockets. Miss Sims and her three assistants, Carol Ann Gould, Jacqueline Brotman and Ruth Mudd, helped us into the life jackets and led us through ditching drills. Miss Sims was still wearing the dark-blue pinafore she had put on to prepare dinner. She kept telling us that this was just practice and there was no emergency. I doubted it.
“A few of the paratroopers were kidding around, recalls Carol Gould of Lindhurst, NJ, who had been summoned from a day off for this flight. “They were picking, Jackie, Ruth, Betty or me as their choice to be stranded on the raft. We tried to joke back.”
“The stewardesses collected our shoes and all sharp objects and put them in bags. They told the women passengers to remove their stockings and tie them around their waists. This would give rescuers a handhold if the women needed help in the water. Anything loose that might fly around the cabin was stowed away. Even the door to the cockpit was taken down and placed in the coat compartment. Pillows and blankets were distributed for cushioning.
”Miss Sims placed a stewardess or military man in charge of each of the four emergency exits by the wings. The navigator, Samuel Nicholson of Dallas, PA, took a seat by the large cabin door at the rear. Miss Sims said the four life rafts were kept in compartments in the wings. A fifth raft would be available for launching at the cabin door. Nicholson sent two passengers forward to get the folded-up raft, take it out of its container, and place it near the door.
“ . . . time went by. Passengers attempted to remain calm by contemplating, praying or playing cards.
“We’d finished our third or fourth ditching drill when I began to feel the power being pulled on and off an engine. I looked out my window and thought I saw a ball of fire between No. 1 and No. 2 engines. Then I heard bells. It sounded like the fire warnings on an engine. A few minutes later No. 2 stopped with a thud you could both hear and feel.
“Within seconds, Captain Murray’s voice came over the loudspeaker. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said calmly. “This is the captain. We are going to ditch.”
“The lights were off so our eyes could get used to the dark. Betty Sims hurriedly ran through the ditching instructions once more. “Be sure your seat belt is tight and your seat upright. Keep your head down on your knees, your arms crossed over your head, holding your elbows and brace against the seat in front.
“Although we were losing altitude fast, the stewardesses went along the aisles for a final seat-belt check . . . One of the men hollered to the women, “Sit down, sit down before we hit.”
And that is the last seen or heard by anyone from Stewardess Elizabeth “Betty” Sims. She was not yet known to the public by her newlywed name of “Cannin.”
The more I read the more I am in awe of those brave people who tried to save lives, the horror of those who did not survive, and the strength and courage of those who did survive and live with the consequences..
There is a memorial stone in Downing Cemetery near Deckerville, Michigan with the following inscription:
Betty Sims Cannin
1930 – 1962
IN MEMORY OF MY PRECIOUS WIFE BETTY SIMS CANNIN. AIRLINE STEWARDESS, WHO CRASHED AT SEA SEPTEMBER 23, 1962