A Week of New York Disasters

This past week marks the anniversaries of quite a series of transportation disasters in New York History. Three of them have reached the media: the 1893 sinking of the Rachel in Lake George- the 1945 crash of a B-25 Mitchell bomber into the Empire State Building- and the crash of American Airlines Flight 1 into New York City’s Jamaica Bay in 1962.

The Schenectady Gazette has the story of the Rachel, which sank on Lake George killing ten (coincidently, the week also marks the anniversary of another Lake George sinking, that of the John Jay on July 30, 1856). On the night of August 3, 1893 the steamer Rachel was chartered by twenty nine guests of the Fourteen Mile Island Hotel to take them to a dance at the Hundred Island House.

The usual captain fell ill and went home early leaving the boat in the hands of a less experienced pilot. Under little or no moon light as the pilot steered unknowingly out of the channel and struck an old dock south of the hotel tearing a large hole in the side of the boat below the water line. Some of the passengers were caught on the shade deck and died quickly as the boat listed and almost immediately sank in 18 feet of water. “The shrieking, struggling passengers battled for life in the darkness,” one newspaper reported. With only her smokestack left above water, a number of men from shore had rowed boats from the two nearby hotels to the scene to rescue the survivors. A young man named Benedict, an excellent swimmer, dove for his sister Bertha but couldn’t find her. Nineteen-year-old Frank C. Mitchell, of Burlington, drowned while trying to save his mother who also drowned. Eight other women also drowned.

The 1962 American Airlines Flight 1 into Jamaica Bay was featured on last night episode of &#8220Mad Men.&#8221 The series follows the lives of early 1960s Madison Avenue ad executives. If you haven’t seen it, you should, it’s an interesting portrayal of 1950s / 1960s consumerism &#8211 a time when people still smoked on TV. The storyline involves the ad guys dropping the small New York based regional airline Mohawk Airlines in an attempt to lure American Airlines in the aftermath of the crash. Mohawk had it’s own aviation disaster in 1969 when its Flight 411, a twin prop-jet commuter plane (a Fairchild-Hiller 227, a.k.a. Fokker F-27) flying from La Guardia Airport to Glens Falls in Warren County crashes at Lake George killing all 14 onboard.

The New York Times &#8220City Room&#8221 has blogged the Flight 1 story extensively:

The real-life crash, which took place only five years after Pan Am became the first carrier to fly the 707, claimed the largest number of lives of any commercial aviation accident in the United States at that time [95]. (In the worst-ever plane crash on American soil, an American Airlines DC-10 crashed shortly after takeoff at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago on May 25, 1979, killing 273.)

The third New York disaster in the media this week comes from National Public Radio (NPR) which reported last week on the crash of a B-25 Mitchell bomber into the 79th floor of the Empire State Building (it swerved to just miss the Chrysler Building). The plane had been trying to make LaGuardia Airport in a very heavy fog. According to the blog History’s Mysteries:

Upon impact, the plane’s jet fuel exploded, filling the interior of the building with flames all the way down to the 75th floor and sending flames out of the hole the plane had ripped open in the building’s side. One engine from the plane went straight through the building and landed in a penthouse apartment across the street. Other plane parts ended up embedded in and on top of nearby buildings. The other engine snapped an elevator cable while at least one woman was riding in the elevator car. The emergency auto brake saved the woman from crashing to the bottom, but the engine fell down the shaft and landed on top of it. Quick-thinking rescuers pulled the woman from the elevator, saving her life.

NPR’s report (they also featured the Empire State building in their &#8220Present at The Creation&#8221 series) includes audio of the actual crash and interviews with some of the survivors.

What a week &#8211 I’ve blogged before about disasters in the Adirondacks here.

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