It was ideal flying weather. The morning was dazzlingly clear, the ceiling and visibility unlimited, and a brisk, 20-mile-an-hour wind blew from the northwest. As New York waited to welcome Astronaut John Glenn, American Airlines' Flight One—nonstop to Los Angeles—screamed down the runway of International Airport at Idlewild, consuming a normal 5,000 feet of concrete before it left the ground in a perfect takeoff. Two minutes later, the flight of American One was over—and so were the lives of its 95 passengers and crew members. It was the worst tragedy involving a single plane in the history of U.S. commercial aviation.
At 10:05 American Flight 1 was cleared for take-off from runway 31L on a scheduled domestic non-stop IFR flight to Los Angeles. The aircraft carried out what appeared to be a normal take-off, and lift-off was at 10:07 hours about 5000 ft down runway 31L. At 10:07:37 the aircraft started a gentle turn to the left approximately 8000 ft down the runway, at an altitude of 100 ft, and was established on a heading of 290° at 10:07:42. Straightening out from the turn, the aircraft continued to climb for several seconds on a heading of 290° and started a second turn to the left as instructed by Departure Control. These manoeuvres were in accordance with the noise abatement procedures then in effect for taking-off from runway 31L. Having started the second turn, the angle of bank increased until the aircraft rolled through 90° of bank at a peak altitude of about 1600 ft msl . It then entered an inverted, nose-low attitude and plunged earthward in a nearly vertical dive. It struck the earth in the shallow waters of Pumpkin Patch Channel of Jamaica Bay during low tide. Impact was at an angle of approximately 78° nose down on a magnetic heading of 300°. Fire broke out a few minutes later.
An American Airlines jet liner bound for Los Angeles crashed and burned in a marsh off Long Island's south shore today with apparent loss of all 95 persons aboard.
The airline listed one of the passengers as W. Alton Jones, board chairman of the Cities Service Co., and a golfing and quail shooting companion of former President Eisenhower.
Ironically, the $5.5 million plane crashed in sparkling clear weather, the first fair day after almost a week of rain and fog that had delayed or canceled hundreds of flights.
American Airlines Flight 1 was a domestic, scheduled passenger flight from Idlewild Airport, New York to Los Angeles, California that crashed shortly after take-off on 1 March 1962. All 87 passengers and eight crew died in the crash. At the time, it was the deadliest accident in the United States. A Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) investigation determined that a manufacturing defect in the automatic pilot system led to an uncommanded rudder control system input, causing the accident.
A number of notable people lost their lives in the crash, including oilman W. Alton Jones; Admiral Richard Lansing Conolly, president of Long Island University, Emelyn Whiton 1952 Olympic Gold medalist; and Arnold Kirkeby, realtor. At the time, Flight 1 was the deadliest aviation accident to occur on US soil. It was the sixth fatal Boeing 707 crash, and, at the time, the deadliest.