30 June 1956: At approximately 10:32 a.m., two airliners, United Airlines’ Douglas DC-7 serial number 44288, Mainliner Vancouver, Civil Aeronautics Administration registration N6324C, and Trans World Airlines’ Lockheed L-1049-54-80 Super Constellation serial number 4016, Star of the Seine, N6902C, were over the Grand Canyon at 21,000 feet (6,400 meters).
Both airliners had departed Los Angeles International Airport shortly after 9:00 a.m. TWA Flight 2 was headed for Kansas City Downtown Airport with 64 passengers and 6 crew members. United Flight 718 was enroute to Chicago Midway Airport with 53 passengers and 5 crew members.
The airplanes were over the United States desert southwest, which, at that time, was outside of radar-controlled airspace. They were flying around towering cumulus clouds to comply with regulations that they “remain clear of clouds.”
The airplanes collided at about a 25° angle. The accident report describes the impact:
“First contact involved the center fin leading edge of the Constellation and the left aileron tip of the DC-7. The lower surface of the DC-7 left wing struck the upper aft fuselage of the L-1049 with disintegrating force. The collision ripped open the fuselage of the Constellation from just forward of its tail to near the main cabin door. The empennage of the L-1049 separated almost immediately. The plane pitched down and fell to the ground. Most of the left outer wing of the DC-7 had separated and aileron control was restricted. . . .”
The Constellation struck the ground near Temple Butte at an estimated 475 miles per hour (765 kilometers per hour). The DC-7’s left wing was so badly damaged that it went into an uncontrolled left spin and crashed at Chuar Butte. All 128 persons on the two airliners were killed.
This, as well as other accidents, resulted in significant changes in the United States air traffic control system.
© 2018, Bryan R. Swopesby