Idlewild in sight — At flight’s end, safety eludes an Italian airliner

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This web page was published xxx xx, 2017


At the end of a very long flight on Saturday, December 18, 1954, a DC-6B propeller airliner operated by Linee Aeree Italiane (LAI, better known to most people as Alitalia), was on final approach to Idlewild Airport in New York City. The flight had originated hours earlier at Ciampino Airport in Rome. Now, after stops in Milan, Paris, Shannon, Gander, and Boston, the pilots were lining their aircraft up for its fourth attempt to land in New York.

One can assume that the passengers appeared to be much like those in this postcard, which pictures the passenger cabin of a DC-6B:

A Northwest Orient Airlines postcard shows the passenger cabin of one of its DC-6Bs. The legend on the back of the postcard reads, “Northwest Orient Airlines is proud of its fleet of DC-6B’s. They represent the finest in aviation engineering, four giant engines with a total of 12,000 horsepower glide you along at over 300 miles per hour. Cabins are pressurized and soundproofed for your comfort.”

The LAI airliner would have been much like the Northwest Orient Airlines plane, but its passengers, at least those who had flown all the way from Rome, would probably have been exhausted, and certainly anxious to arrive in New York. The distance from Rome to New York, on the route the airliner took, was approximately 7,768 kilometres (4834 miles); at the DC-6B’s cruising speed of 300 mph (483 kilometres per hour), flight time, which of course doesn’t take any of the plane’s five stops into account, would have been about 26 hours.*

A 1965 Italian stamp — a mint copy on the left, and a used copy on the right — pictures an LAI DC-6B on a nighttime landing approach at Ciampino Airport in Rome. The stamp was issued in commemoration of nighttime airmail Italy MNH 1965 Night Air Postal Network

another landing in “sub-optimal” weather — light rain and fog. A and flew to New York via Milan, Paris, Shannon, Gander, and Boston. flown Flight 451 originated at Ciampino airport in Rome and flew to New York via Milan, Paris, Shannon, Gander, and Boston. when it struck the pier which supported the left row of runway 04 slope line approach lights. At 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, December 18, 1954, an LAI Douglas DC-6B airliner carrying a crew of 10 and 22 passengers Only six people, all passengers, survived.**

It’s pointless to say that the accident shouldn’t have happened. Of course it shouldn’t have happened! But it did. The reasons that it happened are instructive, pointing as they do to the deadly combination of pilot fatigue and, as the crash report puts it, “particular and difficult circumstances”. was Italy’s flag carrier airline from 1946 until 2008.

Pilot fatigue was blamed for the crash of a Linee Aeree Italiane Douglas DC-6B airliner when it crashed on landing at New York City's Idlewild Airport on December 18, 1954. The airliner was in its fourth landing attempt when it struck the pier supporting the left row of Runway 04 slope-line approach lights.

All 10 crew perished in the crash, along with 16 of 22 passengers. After striking the pier

The crash made headlines internationally. Two days after the crash, on December 20, the London Daily Mail published these photos:


Philatelic evidence of the crash exists in mail that was recovered from the crash site. This airmail cover, stamped with a purple handstamp reading, DAMAGE DUE TO AIR MAIL INTERRUPTION NEAR N.Y. INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT DEC. 18, 1954, was posted two days earlier at Lavello, Potenza, Italy:

Water damage is visible at the top and bottom of the cover, and there appear to be oil stains along the bottom.

The crash delayed the cover in its journey to an address in Young, Saskatchewan. Backstamps document its arrival there on New Year's Eve, 13 days after the accident.

The report of the crash investigation cited an erratic approach which resulted in a descent to an altitude too low to avoid striking the pier. A contributing factor to this accident was pilot fatigue due to the particular and diffcult circumstances.

Pilot fatigue was blamed for the crash of a Linee Aeree Italiane Douglas DC-6B airliner when it crashed on landing at New York City's Idlewild Airport on December 18, 1954. The airliner was in its fourth landing attempt when it struck the pier supporting the left row of Runway 04 slope-line approach lights.

All 10 crew perished in the crash, along with 16 of 22 passengers. After striking the pier

The crash made headlines internationally. Two days after the crash, on December 20, the London Daily Mail published these photos:

Twenty-six hours is a very long time to be in any airplane: when this writer was in the American specially in a 1950’s propeller airliner

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