Dominic Tumminello: Stays steady through crash!

From the Reading Eagle News, Reading, PA, Sept. 24, 1962:

Tumminello“A 20-year-old Mohnton, PA soldier was among the 76 passengers aboard the US airliner which ditched last night in high seas 500 miles off of Ireland. His fate is unknown.

“Mrs. Anna Tumminello, Mohnton, received a telegram from the department of defense that her paratrooper son, Pvt. Dominic Tumminello, was aboard the downed craft.

“Latest reports this morning were that at least 49 of 76 persons, most of them military personnel and dependents, have been rescued.

“Tumminello, who enlisted in the Army last April, was enroute to Frankfort, Germany for assignment. He is single.

“He attended Gov. Mifflin Senior High School and received basic Army Training at Ft. Gordon, GA. He was last home in June for 10 days leave. His father, Lawrence, is deceased.”

Pvt. Tumminello was seated on the left side of the aircraft where seats were in rows of two (window and isle, no middle seat). The right side of the cabin had rows of three seats each. He sat behind the wing, against the isle, but could still look into the only operating engine on the left wing when it started spitting fire. When that engine burned out, the plane was left on only one engine on the right wing. Ditching was imminent. No more practice drills.

Dominic remembers the pilot saying the aircraft would make three thumps along the water and the first would be the lightest as it skipped across the waves. Once the aircraft came to rest, passengers were to step out onto the wing and board the life rafts that were stowed in the wing.

But there were no “three thumps.” There was only one huge impact, one big bang that that tore off the left wing, opened the hull and tore off rows of seats mostly on the right hand side of the aircraft. Passengers were to step out onto the wing and board the life rafts, but there was no wing to step out upon.

Tumminello didn’t exit immediately. The cabin was dark and filling with water. He saw Master Sgt. Peter Foley, the reporter with the Stars and Stripes, standing ahead of him. Foley was staring and disoriented. Dominic gave him a push and impetus to jump out of the sinking aircraft.

Instead of going out the same exit as Foley, Tumminello went to the rear of the cabin to help the navigator inflate the life raft that was to go out the back door that exited to the left.  The plane was filling with water and debris fast! Very fast! Seats that had torn off their moorings to the floor and were stacked in a heap. Luggage was floating inside the cabin. There had to be a tear in the hull of the plane.

It turned out that the life raft that was tossed out of the rear exit door, the one he stayed behind to help inflate, was the only life raft that was available for survivors. Getting it inflated was no simple matter, but Navigator Nicholson finally found the proper lever and it inflated.

Tumminello was in the water.  He saw Foley, now out of the sinking plane, hanging on to the antenna wire toward the back of the aircraft. He shouted to him to get off and swim before the plane sank (possibly dragging him down with it).

Tumminello got to the raft in time to help others get in by pushing them from behind, while others already inside the raft pulled them from above.

He remembers how Pvt. Hoffer used the flashlight that had been recovered at the last minute by Capt. Murray to signal the planes that began flying overhead. Hoffer asked him for directions on sending the SOS emergency signal in morris code. Tumminello, a signal corps man by training, told him to do a figure 8 motion – using a continuous light – as it would stand out more against the dark sea.

Once the Celerina got close enough to touch the raft, he remembers the violent up and down motion of the waves that lifted the survivors from one moment 20 feet below the deck, to within reach of the deck railing in the next moment. He held his hands out to keep the raft from bumping the ship too violently. Water came clear over the rail of the ship.

He had chemical burns on his legs from the fuel and salt water rubbing into his skin by the woolen uniforms and motion, but he didn’t go to Ireland for treatment. He stayed with the Celerina to Belgium, then over night in Antwerp at the Knox Hotel. He was then flown to Frankfort and to a hospital for treatment for a period of three days.

He was assigned to a signal company at the headquarters of the 8th Infantry Division in Bad Kreuznach.

Tumminello reports that he didn’t have any serious after-effects from the crash. He stayed in the Army for a total of 12 years, shipping direct from Germany to Vietnam. He spent much of his remaining Army years in Viet Nam.

After his military service, he went back to his hometown of Mohntan went to work for the post office where his years of military service counted toward seniority and married Carol Smith of Hershey, PA. They made their homestead in Mohntan and had had one son, Samuel, who is now 34 and a teacher of automotive mechanics. Dominic and Carol have two grand children.

  • [Editor’s note: We found Dominic Tumminello in Mohnton, PA, by way of Switzerland. Pierre-Andre Raymond, crew member of the Celerina, sent us a link to a newspaper that featured three stories about the Flying Tiger on the front page. One of those stories from the Reading (PA) Eagle news was about a local paratrooper missing at sea. Earlier national news had incorrectly spelled the trooper’s name as “Tominello.” The local newspaper spelled it correctly, “Tumminello.” From that bit of information we were able to find him and learn about his family.]

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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