Fifty years after the crash of Flying Tiger 923, it is astonishing to see how little was known by the survivors of the event that very nearly took their lives. No one had an opportunity to see all of the local news stories. The army paratroopers who survived were sent directly to their assignments with no medical or family leave or briefings on what really transpired. Other passengers went on their way, knowing only what they saw. Even the handful of those who attended and participated in the Civil Aeronautics Board hearing held in New York City soon after the crash learned little beyond the bureaucratic technical details that focused on the performance of the aircraft and crew.
Following is a brief summary of what happened.
FLASH BACKS on the demise of Flying Tiger 923
*The crash occurred 500 miles off the west coast of Ireland at night during a raging storm. Impact was roughly at the latitude west of Galway, Ireland.
* 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.
*Of eight crewmembers (included in the 76 total above) only three survived. They were the captain, navigator and one stewardess.
*The aircraft was a four-engine Lockheed Super Constellation 1049H, known in earlier days as the “Queen of the Atlantic,” and distinguished by a tail with three vertical fins.
*The aircraft was NOT a military plane. It was a civilian plane chartered by the Military Air Transport System (MATS).
Upon and subsequent to the ditching:
*The wind-whipped ocean waves ranged from 10 to 12 feet high and white-capped. Ocean swells averaged 35 feet.
*The aircraft broke apart on impact, losing its left wing, and sinking within seven to 12 minutes
*Only one 25-man rubber life raft out of the five total on board was usable, and had to hold all 51 who reached it. Three died on the raft before reaching the safety of the rescue ship.
*Of the four remaining life rafts, which were stored in compartments in the wings, only one was found inflated but had no bodies
*In the six hours from impact to rescue, the gale-force winds drove the overloaded raft 22 miles through the raging waves and swells.
*Tragically the ONE usable life raft inflated UPSIDE DOWN, making safety lights and the emergency medical supplies unreachable under 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.
*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 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. The ship’s crew gave survivors their sleeping rooms and clothing.
*The storm that ravaged the survivors raged on for three days making a major evacuation of injured by helicopter impossible.
*When the storm cleared, 17 of the most seriously injured were helicoptered off the ship at Galley Head lighthouse and taken to Cork, Ireland hospitals.
*Two days later, the remaining survivors disembarked at Antwerp, Belgium.
[Note on the location of ditching: The last reported position only minutes before the ditching (according to the Civil Aeronautics Board “Aircraft Accident Report” released on September 13, 1963), was at 2142 (9:42 p.m.). The location was reported as 54 degrees 10 seconds north latitude, and 25 degrees 30 seconds west longitude.]
There are of course hundreds of details not listed here. The stories found in this site hopefully will include all of them.
Compiled, written and posted by Fred Caruso