American Airlines Flight 723 - The Crash

The Crash

On September 16, 1953, a Convair 240 propliner flying this route arrived at Bradley Field from Boston Airport at 6:57 am. At that time, Weather at Albany was below airline landing minimums, but was forecast to improve within limits by the flight's scheduled arrival time. The flight left Bradley at 7:14 and, once in the Albany terminal area, found poor visibility preventing landings, with several aircraft ahead of theirs in a holding pattern. They joined the holding pattern, circling while awaiting weather conditions legal for landing.

At 7:50, a special weather observation reported thin obscurement, with an overcast cloud ceiling estimated at 4,000 feet (1,200 m) above the airport. Horizontal visibility was 3⁄4 miles (1,200 m), obscured by fog. Two aircraft left the holding pattern, making attempts to land, but both made missed approaches. A third landed at 8:16 following an instrument approach to runway 19. After the latest airplane's successful landing, Flight 723 was cleared to execute the same instrument approach to runway 19. At 8:19, the flight advised the tower that, because the aircraft's flaps could not be lowered, they would be abandoning their approach and returning to the holding pattern.

At 8:30, the Albany control tower reported:"All aircraft holding Albany. It now appears to be pretty good for a contact approach from the west. It looks much better than to the north," the north being the direction from which approaches to runway 19 had been attempted.

Flight 723 was cleared for a contact approach to runway 10. On final approach, while still miles west of the airport, the Convair descended too low, and, at an altitude of 308 feet (94 m), struck a set of three 365-foot (111 m)-tall radio masts arrayed east to west. The right wing struck the center tower of the three, then the left wing struck the east tower. Seven feet of the outer panel of the right wing including the right aileron and control mechanism from the center hinge outboard together with 15 feet of the left outer wing panel and aileron separated from the aircraft.

A contemporary report indicated the craft began to rake counter-clockwise circles over the area to the southwest of the airport and on one of these sweeps, dropped to an altitude of about 300 feet. As it swung back toward the airfield, it clipped two of the three slender 364-feet transmission towers of Radio Station WPTR of Albany. About ten feet of the left wing and part of the tail assembly were sheared off by the towers, and the plane began to fall in a series of lurching swoops. Seconds later, it smashed onto the small open field, bounced sideways for more than fifty feet, exploded and caught fire.

Ground impact occurred 1,590 feet (480 m) beyond the east tower. At this point, the aircraft had rolled to a partially inverted attitude. The nose and left wing struck the ground first. The rest of the airplane fell to earth in short order and caught fire. The aircraft narrowly missed hitting a trailer park on the Albany-Schenectady road. All 28 occupants on board (25 passengers, 2 pilots, and a flight attendant) were killed.

At the time of the accident, a special weather observation reported thin scattered clouds at 500 feet, with a ceiling of broken clouds estimated at 4500 feet. The visibility had improved to 1+1⁄2 miles (2.4 km) in fog.

It missed one of the two dozen trailers, in which a mother was bathing her 11-month-old son, by a scant thirty feet, spraying it with burning gasoline. It stopped fifty feet short of a small wooden frame home and only 200 feet south of the heavily traveled Albany-Schenectady road. It took a crew of 100 state and local police, firemen, sheriffs and coroners nearly five hours to remove the bodies from the pile of blackened metal.

The Civil Aeronautics Board investigated the accident and issued a report wherein they identified the probable cause of the accident: "During the execution of a contact approach, and while maneuvering for alignment with the runway to be used, descent was made to an altitude below obstructions partially obscured by fog in a local area of restricted visibility."

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