Eastern Airlines Flight 537 Collides with NX-26927

Eastern Air Lines Flight 537, registration N88727, was a Douglas DC-4 aircraft en route from Boston, Massachusetts to Washington, D.C. via intermediate points on November 1, 1949.

NX-26927 was a Lockheed P-38 Lightning being test-flown for acceptance by the Government of Bolivia by Erick Rios Bridoux of the Bolivian Air Force. The two aircraft collided in mid-air at an altitude of 300 feet about half a mile southwest of the threshold of Runway 3 at Washington National Airport, killing all 55 aboard the DC-4 and seriously injuring the pilot of the P-38. At the time it was the deadliest airliner incident in United States history.

Under the high overcast the air was sharp and clear; from the control tower at Washington National Airport, swarthy, earnest 21-year-old Glen T. Tigner could see for miles out over the Virginia countryside. Traffic was light. A war surplus P-38, owned by the Bolivian government, took off for a practice flight at 11:37. It snarled off out of sight. Then there was a lull before Eastern Air Lines flight 537, a four-engine DC-4 inbound from New York, asked for landing instructions.

At 11:37 A Bolivian Air Force Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter (NX26927) took off from runway 03 at Washington-National Airport, DC (DCA). The pilot was carrying out an acceptance test flight. Because of erratic operation of the right hand engine, the pilot decided to land as soon as possible.

When abeam runway 36 the pilot transmitted, "Washington Tower, this is Bolivian P-38. I got engine trouble request landing instructions." Waiting for instructions he circled the field. When he was between Bolling Field and the National Airport and at about 3,500 feet altitude, the tower asked, "Bolivian P-38, you were asking landing instructions?" The Bolivian pilot answered, "Yes, I have engine trouble. I am in a hurry," and that the tower at that time responded, "Bolivian P-38 cleared to land number two on runway 3."

Crash site of Eastern Airlines Flight 537 after a midair collision with a war surplus P-38L. All 55 passengers and crew aboard the Eastern DC-4 (N88727) are killed. The P-38L (ex-44-26927, civil reg. NX26927) was on a test flight prior to delivery to the Bolivian government. After departing Washington National (DCA) the pilot radioed that he was having engine troubles and was returning to the field. Tower controllers directed the P-38 to follow the Eastern DC-4, then arriving from Boston via New York. For reasons never clearly explained, the P-38 began a long straight in approach to runway 3, as opposed to following the DC-4 in the normal left-hand traffic pattern. The P-38 overtook and collided with the DC-4 from above and behind as the latter turned onto final approach.