“The engine was vibrating so severely
I was afraid something might loosen in the connections
of the fuel lines.”
The following story was taken from an Associated Press newspaper report on the Civil Aeronautics Board inquiry in New York City in October 1962:
New York AP – A retired Air Force major has told federal investigators that he noticed a severe vibration in one engine of the Flying Tiger plane before it started on a flight that ended with a ditching in the Atlantic that cost 28 lives.
The retired major, Harry O. Benson of Brockton, Mass., testified at a Civil Aeronautics Board inquiry into the accident on September 23. It was more than a month after the incident. He was the 13th witness in a 15-hour session.
Benson said he watched the engines as the Military Air Transport charter flight was getting ready for takeoff at Gander, Newfoundland, for Frankfort, Germany, with 76 persons aboard.
Benson said: “I noticed the No. 2 engine shaking – running too rough for my satisfaction.”
He said the left inboard engine of the Constellation – a piston-type plane – “was vibrating so severely I was afraid something might loosen in the connections of the fuel lines.”
Benson, a former pilot, said later that he has not flown piston-type planes a great deal since 1956. The ill-fated plane started from McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey. Stopping for refueling in Gander, Newfoundland.
Forty-eight of the 76 aboard survived when the plane ditched in the ocean about 500 miles from Ireland, with three of its four engines useless. The left inboard engine failed after two other engines had been taken out of use for different reasons.
“It got to the point where I was about to go forward and tell someone in the crew they had an engine that was really vibrating when she settled down.”
He said he forgot about it presently, as the pilot accelerated and the engine’s action became smoother.
Hours later, he said, he realized that two engines were feathered and he knew they were in real trouble. He said he watched carbon sparks coming from the left inboard engine.
Questioned about the rough engine by a representative of the Flight Engineers International Association (AFLCIO), Benson said he had logged 5,000 hours as a pilot, and was aware that a lot of engines will run rough at idling speed.
Benson said he was briefed very well by a stewardess in the ditching procedure. When the plane struck the water, he related, “I pitched forward – I assume I momentarily blacked out.”
He said the next thing he knew, the cabin was quiet. He helped open a window emergency exit, and tried to release a wing raft by pulling the proper handles, aided by a stewardess. No raft appeared, however.
He told how he eventually swam to the raft when he heard voices calling.
“And people started hauling me in,” he recalled.
That has got to wrench on you, knowing you suspected a potential issue.
I was 5 years old flying from McGuire to Paris in 1962 on this very plane. My father was a sgt 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.
Cary North Carolina
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