Two Airliners Collide Over the Grand Canyon
June 30, 1956; A midair collision over the Grand Canyon involving TWA Super Constellation L-1049 N6902C, Star of the Seine and United Airlines DC-7 N6324C, City of Vancouver.
Both planes departed Los Angeles International Airport within three minutes of each other on the morning of June 30th. The Trans World Airline L-1049 Super Constellation, Flight 2, was en route to Kansas City while the United Airlines DC-7, Flight 718, was headed for Chicago. The TWA's flight plans were to fly at 19,000 feet and fly at 310 mph. From Los Angeles, the Constellation would fly to Daggett, California to Trinidad, Colorado to her final destination of Kansas City, Missouri. The United DC-7 was to fly at 21,000 feet at 330 mph. She would continue to Needles, California then to Durango, Colorado and on to Chicago, Illinois. Both planes were to cross each other paths with a 2,00 foot difference over the Painted Desert on the eastern side of the Grand Canyon.
In the meantime, thunderclouds were forming over the Grand Canyon and northern Arizona. As the TWA approached Daggett, California the pilot, Captain Jack Gandy, requested the TWA ground operator that he be able to increase his altitude from 19,000 feet to 21,000 feet. The TWA operator contacted Los Angeles Air Traffic Control, who denied the request with "You have United 718 crossing his altitude- in his way at two one thousand." The TWA operator then radioed to Captain Gandy, "TWA Flight 2, unable to approve two one thousand."
Captain Gandy then requested to fly "1,000 on top", which meant he would like to fly 1,000 feet on top of the foul weather conditions. This meant that at this altitude it should be adequate to fly with visual flight rules; the "see and be seen" rule. The controller then issued a clearance with a warning; "ATC clears TWA Flight 2, maintain at least 1,000 feet on top. Advise TWA 2 his traffic is United 718, direct to Durango, and estimating Needles, California at 9:57 am."
Back in 1956, the Air Traffic Control was responsible for separating planes by means of altitudes in adverse weather. This is why TWA was denied their initial request. However, if a pilot requested visual flight rules, then the Air Traffic Control had no responsibility since it was presumed that the aircraft would see each other.
WINSLOW - Ariz., June 30
Wreckage of one and possibly both of two big airliners which disapeared[sic] with 128 persons aboard on eastward flights from Los Angeles was sighted tonight in the Grand Canyon of northern Arizona.
Capt. Byrd Hyland, head of search and rescue team from March Air Force Base, Calif., said â€œthere is a possibilityâ€ that the planes collided in flight.
Wreckage was sighted tonight on a butte at the south rim of the canyon.
It was identified by two fliers as the remains of a TWA Constellation carrying 70 persons on a flight from Los Angeles to Kansas City.
Hyland said later the wreckage might also include that of a United Air Lines DC7 which disappeared and presumably crashed with 58 persons aboard.
NO SURVIVORS SEEN
The Air Force captain said there was no way of ascertaining before daylight Sunday whether the wreckage was that of one or two planes.
No sign of survivors was reported by the fliers who spotted the heap of ruin.
Lynn Coffin, chief ranger at Grand Canyon National Park, said Palen and Henry Hudgins, operators of the Grand Canyon Airlines, spotted the wreckage from the air about 25 miles northeast of Grand Canyon Village.
They reported that the wreckage was on the side of a butte about 1,000 feet above the Colorado River.
The wreckage was scattered over the hillside, they said, and two fires were burning in the area.
Coffin said Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., was notified that the wreckage had been found and was making arrangements to fly to the area in the morning.