Eastern Airlines Flight 31 Crashes, Killing 16

Eastern Airlines Flight 21, night of February 26, 1941.

Sometimes called the “Rickenbacker Crash” due to the presence of Eastern Airlines President and former WWI ace Eddie Rickenbacker on board. Eastern DC-3 (NC28394) crashed during inclement weather after controlled flight into terrain while shooting an instrument approach into Candler Field (current ATL). Of 25 total passengers and crew, there were 16 fatalities and 9 injured (including Rickenbacker).

Broadly speaking, the instrument approach for the day called for an overflight of the radio beacon at the airport at a specific altitude on the reciprocal runway heading for 5 minutes, then execute a procedure 180 degree turn to the runway heading, then proceed inbound to the airport while gradually descending to the runway. Shortly after performing the procedure turn the aircraft struck the tops of pine trees, and then crashed heavily into a ravine beyond, totally destroying the aircraft. Due to the (then) remote location, rescue crews did not arrive until daylight.

The aircraft crashed into a hill in pine woods, near Chandler Field, while attempting to make an instrument landing approach in rain and fog. The failure of the captain in charge of the flight to exercise the proper degree of fare by not checking his altimeters to determine whether both were correctly set and properly functioning before commencing his landing approach. A substantial contributing factor was the absence of an established uniform cockpit procedure on Eastern Air Lines by which both the captain and co-pilot are required to make a complete check of the controls and instruments during landing operations. Captain Edward Rickenbacker, President of Eastern Air Lines, survived the crash.

Eastern Air Lines Flight 21, registration NC28394, was a Douglas DC-3 aircraft that crashed while preparing to land at Candler Field (now Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport) in Atlanta, Georgia, on February 26, 1941. Eight of the 16 on board were killed including Maryland Congressman William D. Byron. Among the injured was Eastern Air Lines president and World War I hero Eddie Rickenbacker.