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Richmond observes 50-year anniversary of fatal crash

November 11, 2011, 06:30 pm

Fifty years ago a four-engine airline crashed into Byrd Field in Richmond, Virginia, killing 74 soldiers and three crew members, just a mile southeast of a runway. The deadliest aviation disaster in Richmond left only two survivors, but the Civil Aeronautics Board believes many more passengers attempted to escape the burning airplane.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported carbon-monoxide poisoning likely killed the trapped passengers, thus many probably died quickly experiencing little pain. Others may have tried to escape before being poisoned, but got lost in dense smoke and were trapped by blocked exits.

The flight started in Columbia, South Carolina, and made stops at Newark, New Jersey, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and Baltimore, where 74 soldiers on their way to basic training in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, boarded the plane. As the plane approached Byrd Field, the pilot alerted the landing field that the plane was losing engines and may require emergency equipment, the source reported.

In an interview with WTVR Richmond, Vernon Melton, the supervising air traffic controller at the time, said a crash crew was waiting for the plane on the runway, but the pilot turned into his dead engines, which pushed the third engine to stop working. But the pilot was able to avoid wiping out the town of Sandston, and instead landed in a marshy field nearby. Today, pilots purchase life insurance to prepare for unexpected tragedies. 

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