MORE ON THE 1957


A = Airport take-off area. B = Tree nursery, initial impact area. C = Poultry farm, halt point area.
D = Protestant Mission House. E = Penitentiary. F = Rikers Island Hospital.

The above 1948 aerial photo of Rikers Island helps in visualizing the 1957 airplane crash there: take-off from LaGuardia Airport (A), initial impact in the tree nursery (B), the halt point near the poultry farm (C), the Protestant Mission House turned into a first aid center (D), the Penitentiary whose officers and inmates participated in rescue efforts (E), and Rikers island Island Hospital where medical care was provided (F). The first three letters indicate approximate areas, not pin-point locations.

The above map, based on one from a newspaper report on the crash, has been modified by adding red letters and point "B" to correspond to the first three red letters added to the aerial photo. They illustrate the approximate (not exact) take-off point (A), the initial impact point (B), and the halt point (C).
The way that section of the island looked nine years earlier when the aerial photo was taken is essentially how it looked the night the plane went down. No major institutional structures had been erected during the intervening years. Perhaps the only difference may have been a bigger tree nursery forest and some more chicken coops.

Time magazine of Feb. 11, 1957, carried a vivid account, partially excerpted here:

. . . LaGuardia Field lay dreary and gray under a pelt of snow. In mid-afternoon 95 chattering, winter-clad passengers deposited themselves impatiently aboard Northeast Airlines' 2:45 p.m. flight to Miami . . . .

The minutes on the ground stretched into hours, for LaGuardia was hemmed in by fog and snow to within three-quarters of a mile's visibility, and the unrelenting snow had piled up on the big wings of Northeast's DC-6A.

Flight 823's Captain Alva Marsh, 48, a 19-year transport veteran, stood by waiting for clearance. Finally Pilot Marsh checked the weather again, decided to go.

It was 6:01 p.m. when the plane lumbered down the runway into the darkness, lifted heavily off the ground and, slowly gaining altitude, went into an inexplicable left turn over the East River.

The above image, based on one from a newspaper report on the crash, has been modified by adding red letters, different wording and pointer "B" to correspond to the first three red letters added to the top-of-page aerial photo. They illustrate the approximate (not exact) take-off point (A), the initial impact point (B), and the halt point (C).
Only twelve seconds after the takeoff, it steepened its turn and began to settle. Seconds later it hit the ground, burst into flames. Flight 823 was down on tiny Rikers Island in the middle of the river.

Screaming passengers many of them with clothes blazing jumped from the wreckage and staggered away. First to the rescue were 50 fast-moving trusties from the island's city-run penitentiary, who rushed outside, fought their way to the planeside and helped survivors to safety. The count: of the six crew members and 95 passengers aboard, 20 killed, 50-odd hospitalized. . . . .

Various accounts of the accident give different numbers. For example, the Wikipedia version, states the passenger count as 95 and the crew count as 6, the dead as 20, and survivors as 81. The also gives other specifics:

. . . The equipment used on this flight was a Douglas Aircraft Company DC-6A four-engined propeller airliner, registration N34954, first placed into service in 1955. . . . .

At takeoff, with a nearly full complement of 95 passengers and 6 crew members (3 flight crew & 3 stewardesses), the plane weighed in at 98,575 pounds, just 265 pounds below maximum takeoff weight. Despite some sliding of the nosewheel on snow-covered pavement, the airplane was cleared to takeoff via runway 04 (040 magnetic heading), departing to the northeast of the field. . . .

The DC-6B looked a lot like its older sibling the DC-6A. The above image is from the Captains Quarters web site of Guy G. Caron: "Northeast opened service from Boston to Miami, via NY, on Jan. 9, 1957, with a Douglas DC-6A, converted for passenger use, and leased from Flying Tigers. This solitary, long-range airliner was joined on Jan. 20th by the first of ten DC-6Bs, order in March of 1955. The elation of getting into the big leagues was dampened by a much-publicized inferno when the DC-6A was taking off in a snowstorm from LaGuardia on Feb. 1st and crashed at Rikers Island."
The aircraft was now gaining altitude, flying on instruments without outside visibility as it headed over Flushing Bay. While the aircraft's clearance instructed that it proceed northeast on a heading of 40 (runway heading), the airplane began a gradual turn to the left.

When it had reached a heading of 285 (nearly due west), it overflew Rikers Island. Its altitude was insufficient to clear the trees on the island, and the aircraft crashed, coming to rest within 1,500 feet of the point of first impact. The duration of the flight from takeoff to crash was approximately 60 seconds. The crash resulted in 20 fatalities & scores of injuries among the passengers, and no fatalities & several injuries among the crew.

The Flying Tigers DC-6A image above comes from the California Classic web site of Tom Gibson: "The DC-6 was developed as a faster, larger, and pressurized version of the DC-4 which first flew in 1946. This popular airliner . . . allowed one-stop transcontinental service in 10 hours. When more powerful P&W R-2800 engines became available, Douglas decided to stretch the DC-6 by over 4.5 feet to produce the DC-6B . . . The DC-6A was a very similar plane designed especially for freighter service . . . Flying Tiger Line came on the scene after WW2 as an all-cargo-airline flying [among other craft the] DC-6A . . . Its sister was leased to Northeast and crashed on Rikers Island in 1957 after takeoff from La Guardia."
Identifying himself or herself only as "IGh," a contributor to AirDisaster.Com's message board/forum focused on airline accidents, discussed Rikers airplane crash in highly technical and apparently knowledgeable detail and jargon, as these interesting excerpts make evident:

. . . Full pax load, scheduled departure time 2:45 pm; late due to snow. ... pax-loaded aircraft towed to hanger for further de-icing. At 5:50 pm aircraft finally ready, T/O run at 6:02 pm on LGA Rwy 4; dark, WX cloudy, snow. Radar observed T/O roll, airborne 52 seconds; climbed , then 75' at .5 to .75 miles aircraft veered left; crashed on Rikers Island.

On or about20 pax died from smoke inhalation, crew survived (but 2 F/As suffered burns). At crash site F/As told of explosion in tail of plane and smell of acrid oily smoke . . .

CAB Panel of Inquiry met on 2Apr57: examined loading ... examined snow weight on aircraft, and deicing attempts (tail deiced?); ... examined if start malfunctions had drained batteries

Feb 1st WX: FT= ZR, F, S-, and S. At T/O Ceiling = 800' vis 3/4 miles wind 12kts, S-; planes had been using LGA all day. . . .

Capt Alva Marsh (49 yrs) testimony . . . had flown same a/c up from Fla that same morning; at T/O LGA wings seemed clean; roll, rotate, LG up, normal climb, Flaps Up at 300' and 140 kts; instruments showed no turn, no stall; Capt saw ground, pulled up, impacted, unbelted, saw fire; Capt could not suggest any cause for the accident. F/E stated NO power failure, engines good during T/O. . . .

Click image for Part III of this presentation.
On board pax-pilot witnessed rwy lights fade into mist, then left wing pointing to snow covered ground, left wing tip hit, ball of flame. IIC study: impact left wing and its engines, and fuel cells driven back, blocking main exit on left side, wing tanks ruptured, fuel sprayed left side of fuselage and into hole in side. . . .

De-icing Heater in tail
Click image for Part I of this presentation.
examined (F/As heard explosion) but concluded it exploded only after impact (pine needles found). . . .


To List of DOC staffers honored for air crash response.
To: List of names of those aboard Northeast Airlines DC-6A Feb. 1, 1957
To The Andersons of Canada remember.
To Remembering Mario DeRosa.
To Remembering Esther Chopelas.
To CAB report on its investigation of the crash.
To: Other views, other voices: Rikers air crash
To: 1989 airplane crash into Rikers Island channel waters
To: NYCHS home page.
To NYC DOC history menu page.