Alaskan Airline Crash Kills Five; 24 Injured Tuesday, Nov 26 2013 

Transcribed from the St. Petersburg Times, St. Petersburg, FL, December 1, 1947, page 1:

Alaskan Airline Crash Kills Five; 24 Injured

Plane Bursts into Flames at Seattle

SEATTLE — (AP) — Two of 28 passengers and crew members burned to death yesterday afternoon when an Alaska Airlines DC-4 crashed and burst into flames at the edge of the Seattle-Tacoma municipal airport. Two others were unaccounted for, 24 hospitalized with injuries and a woman is believed to have been crushed to death in a car which the transport struck as it careened across a highway.

Fifteen of the survivors were rushed by ambulance to the New Renton hospital midway between the airport and Seattle. Their names and the extent of their injuries has not been determined.

Nine, including the pilot, Capt. James E. Farris, Seattle, and co-pilot, Leslie Howe, Anchorage, Alaska, were brought to the Kings County hospital here.

The bodies of a woman and infant, the only child among the passengers making the flight from Anchorage to Seattle, were pulled out of the smoldering wreckage by rescue crews.

Whether the two still missing escaped from the flaming craft after it crashed at 2:25 p.m. (PST) or were trapped in the fire-filled fuselage has not been determined.

Nearly four hours after the crash, fire fighters had not been able to make a thorough examination of the wreckage. Flames fed by gasoline from wing tanks sprang up intermittently, impeding the search.

One of the survivors, Mrs. Pearl Howe, told reporters that the big four-engined airliner made a routine landing but sped off the end of the southeast runway onto the intersection of the Des Moines, Wash., highway 158th Street.

“The plane wasn’t hurt much but it caught fire,” she said. “It didn’t tip. My husband, with another fellow, kicked the main door open. It opened all at once and several lost their balance. My husband was pushed right into the flames.

“Then the plane filled with smoke. The others kept jumping head first out the escape window. I gathered my fur coat over my head and jumped. I slid down the wing shielding my face. I had to roll through the fire to get clear. I just kept rolling through the wet grass till the flames went out.”

Witnesses said the transport crunched into the automobile as it plunged down a steep bank onto the highway intersection, came to a grinding halt in brush at the side of the road and burst into flames.

A man, who has not been located, was seen escaping from the car before it was struck by the plane and welded by the intense heat into a single mass of twisted metal. Rescue crews said the cremated body of a woman is believed to be in the car’s tangled wreckage.

First at the scene were Mr. and Mrs. M. L. Travis, who live nearby.

They said dazed and injured passengers were groping their way out of the burning plane and the cries of others still inside could be heard.

Farris, who suffered a broken arm, internal injuries and severe burns, was doubled up with pain and fell on his face three times in crossing the highway, the Travises said.

Farris cried: “Don’t help me. Help the others.”

Officer Finds Body of Friend Aboard Plane Monday, Nov 25 2013 

Transcribed from the Ellensburg Daily Record, Ellensburg, WA, December 1, 1947, page 4:

Officer Finds Body of Friend Aboard Plane

SEATTLE, Dec. 1–(AP)– Sheriff’s Capt. Adam Lyskoski, one of the first officers to reach the scene of yesterday’s tragic crash of an Alaska Airlines plane, told grimly today of removing the body of a woman from the plane.

“I recognized her. I have been a friend of her husband for many years and a guest at their home many times.

“She was Mrs. Virginia Stitsworth, wife of Detective Robert Stitsworth of the Tacoma police department.

“Bob and his 15-year-old daughter came up. They had been waiting at the airport to welcome her. I said: ‘I’m sorry Bob, but that is her.’ He looked under the blanket. It was his wife. The little girl began to cry.”

Stitsworth himself told how he and the girl, Marilyn Harden, 15, his wife’s daughter by a prior marriage, had made many fruitless trips to the airport during the last five days in anticipation of his wife’s return from a two months professional engagement in Anchorage. She was widely known throughout the Northwest as a singer under her professional name of Virginia Grafton.

“I knew my wife was aboard,” Stitsworth said. “She’d written me a week ago Thursday: ‘I’ll get out of here just as fast as they can get a load of passengers.’

“The plane landed, then went off the edge of the field, and a column of smoke went up. Marilyn and I drove to the place. ‘Ski’ (Lyskoski) had just taken my wife’s body out of the plane. I looked at her hand extending out from under the blanket. On it was the engagement ring I gave her, and another ring she always wore. Marilyn cried.”

Plane Survivors Agreed on Luck Monday, Nov 25 2013 

Transcribed from the Ellensburg Daily Record, Ellensburg, WA, December 1, 1947, page 4:

Plane Survivors Agreed on Luck

Passengers Had To Dash Through Flames To Escape

SEATTLE, Dec. 1–(AP)– Although all were burned in varying degrees, those survivors able to recount the experiences of yesterday’s crash of an Alaska Airlines transport agreed today that each was lucky to be alive.

Said Mrs. Selma Olson, 51, Olympia, who suffered burned legs and facial burns:

“We had to dash right through the flames to get away from the plane. I don’t know how we made it.”

Mrs. Olson, who had been working in Anchorage, was on her way “outside” to meet the body of her son, Frederick C. Olson, a tank trooper killed in Germany March 25, 1945, whose remains are being returned from overseas to Springfield, Mo. Her husband, Cris Olson of Olympia, a truck driver for the Civil Aeronautics Authority at Anchorage, was to follow by another plane Saturday night.

“It was foggy, and we were trying to land,” she continued. “There was some talk of our trying to fly on to Portland. The passengers were calm. Then the pilot landed us at Bow Lake airport.

“We were all so happy when we hit the runway. We said: ‘Boy, we made it!’ Then we saw the end of the runway coming at us. The next thing we knew, the plane was on fire.

“There were no flames inside the plane, at first. The men in the back broke the door open. I jumped out right into the flames, and ran through them. I sprained my ankle, besides getting burned. But I guess I’m lucky to be alive.”

Walter Koch, 34, of Snohomish, burned on the hand and face, recalled that the stewardess tried to open the door of the plane after the crash.

“The door was sprung shut. Some of the men passengers broke it open,” Koch said. “The ground outside was afire (from gasoline leaking out of the broken left wing tanks.) We dove through it in getting out. A man was lying under the horizontal stabilizer. They dragged him over to the pavement, and later on I saw his hand moving, so he wasn’t dead.”

Brakes Didn’t Take Hold At All, Pilot Says Sunday, Nov 24 2013 

Transcribed from the Ellensburg Daily Record, Ellensburg, WA, December 1, 1947, pages 1,4:

Brakes Didn’t Take Hold At All, Pilot Says

SEATTLE, Dec. 1–(AP)– Failure of hydraulic brakes to “take the slightest hold” after a normal landing caused the eight-death crash of a four-engined Alaska Airlines plane at the Seattle-Tacoma airport, Pilot James E. Farris, 37, of Seattle declared today.

Over and over again, as he sat on a hotel room bed, Farris, a veteran of 12 years of airline flying repeated:

“I can’t understand why those brakes didn’t take hold; not even the air-bottle emergency.”

Farris could think of only one possible reason for the failure; the 48-hours the big DC-4 stood in the rain at Yakutat, Alaska, while 42 spark plugs were changed.

“Maybe water got into the hydraulic lines and froze. But there was enough pressure to let the flaps down when we came in for a landing.”

Farris said the plane, landing at a speed of approximately 100 miles an hour, “rolled like it was on a bed of ball-bearings” until it leaped a 60-foot embankment at the end of the runway and crashed into an automobile on the highway below, killing a woman passenger in the car.

Farris said he had about 1,800 feet of the 5,610-foot runway left when “he knew for certain” that his brakes were gone.

“Dick (Co-pilot Richard F. Whiting, 29, of Anchorage) and I both had the foot brakes down tot he deck without a reaction. Then I yanked the emergency with both hands. Nothing happened. Just before we hit the car, I reached up with both hands and yanked all the ignition loose.

“When we hit and the right wing cracked, I saw the flash of fire reflected in my window. A tree was jammed up against the right window and Dick and I both got out the left window.

“Someone yelled, ‘there’s a woman in that car.’ The car was jammed right in front of the butt o the wing where it joins the fuselage. I saw the blind woman (Mrs. Stella Pearl Jones, Seattle) trying to open the right front door. I dived into the auto through a rear door and reached for her.

“I yelled at her but she kept crawling under the wing and straight into the flames. Then the whole car blossomed in a blaze and I had to get out.

“The weather had absolutely nothing to do with the crackup. There was no overshooting or undershooting of the field. I Just had no brakes.”

Farris said he had checked the hydraulic system at the last stop, Annette Island, near Ketchikan.

“The hydraulic system and brakes are always the last items on the check list. They were O.K. at Annette.”

Eight Dead in Seattle Crash; Blame Brakes Saturday, Nov 23 2013 

Transcribed from the Ellensburg Daily Record, Ellensburg, WA, December 1, 1947, pages 1, 4:

Eight Dead in Seattle Crash; Blame Brakes

Twenty-One Escape from Flaming Wreckage of Alaska Plane; Blind Woman Dies In Car Hit By Ship

SEATTLE, Dec. 1–(AP)– The pilot of a four-engined Alaska Airlines transport plane which crashed and burned at the Seattle-Tacoma airport blamed the crash today on failure of the hydraulic brakes to “take the slightest hold.” Eight persons died and two others were in critical condition as a result of the accident late yesterday.

The pilot, Capt. James E. Farris, 37, of Seattle, told the Seattle Times that the DC-4 plane landed at a speed of approximately 100 miles an hour, “rolled like it was on a bed of ball-bearings” until it leaped a 60-foot embankment at the end of the airport runway. It crashed into an automobile on the highway below, killing a blind woman in the car. The plane was flying from Anchorage, Alaska, to Seattle.

It had 28 persons aboard, 25 passengers and a crew of three.

The list of dead rose to eight with the death in the New Renton hospital of 44-year-old Jonas E. Johnson of Palmer, Alaska. His 21-month-old son, Gordon, died yesterday in the plane’s wreckage. Mrs. Johnson had been treated for burns and released from the hospital.

Two Still Critical

Two passengers were reported in critical condition at the New Renton hospital and two were listed as unsatisfactory at Harborview County hospital.

The others had been released after treatment or were recovering from minor burns and bruises in the hospital.

Twenty-six of the 28 aboard the big plane scrambled from door and emergency exits or were pulled from the flames by rescuers. All, however, were seared by the gasoline-fed flames that flashed through the fuselage. Four of the rescued died later.

The latest casualties were Johnson and the plane’s stewardess, Miss Reba Monk of Santa Monica, Calif., who was credited by survivors with having led many of the passengers to safety.

The other dead are:

Fred Smith, Tacoma, Wash., who died eight hours after the crash.

Leslie Howe, 33, Seattle and Spokane, Wash., a carpenter, died in the hospital.

Ole Ring, Anchorage, Alaska, died of burns and injuries.

Mrs. Virginia Stitsworth, 33, Tacoma, entertainer known professionally as Virginia Grafton.

Gordon Johnson, 21-month-old son of Mr. and Mrs. J. E. Johnson, Palmer, Alaska.

Mrs. Pearl Stella Jones, 43, Seattle, blind woman trapped in the car which the big transport smashed as it careened off the field into the intersection of the Des Moines, Wash., highway and 188th St.

Bodies of two of the dead were not recovered until nearly four hours after the crash because of the intense heat emitting from the wreckage.

The plane, a DC-4, crashed only a few minutes after it had been turned back from an attempted landing at Seattle’s Boeing Field by fog. Two airport employees in the control tower at the Seattle-Tacoma field said the ceiling radioed to Pilot James Evan Farris, Seattle, as the plane settled through the overcast was “600 feet with one and one-quarter miles visibility.” Three minutes after the crash, a special reading showed the ceiling at “400 feet with three-quarters of a mile visibility.”

Harold K. Philips, chief of the non-scheduled maintenance division for the Civil Aeronautics Administration, sped to the scene for official inquiry and said:

“Apparently the pilot ground-looped when he saw he was going off the runway.”

Appeared Down Safely

Mrs. Jones, a widow and mother of a 9-year-old boy, was riding with a neighbor, Ira Van Volkenburg when the plane came plunging down a steep bank and swept the car across the road. Van Volkenburg said he escaped by kicking out a window and then groped in the smashed car without finding Mrs. Jones. He was driven away seconds later as the plane burst into flames and then was wracked by an explosion.

Eye-witnesses said the plane had made an apparent safe landing when it suddenly turned and went broadside over the bank at the end of the runway.

An outboard engine struck the bank as the plane sagged and watchers at the control tower said it “popped into flames.” Then it flared again as it flattened Von Volkenburg’s automobile and finally was sheathed in flame as the fuel tanks exploded.

The liner had been dogged by bad weather since it took off from Anchorage, Alaska, last Thursday. During its flight from Alaska it was delayed at Yakutat and Annette Island, near Ketchikan. It had taken off from Annette at 9:30 a. m. yesterday.

Alaska Airlines spokesman said it was the company’s first fatal crash in 10 years operation.

Leon D. Cuddeback, safety investigator for the Civil Aeronautics Board, said the airline is a regularly scheduled operator in Alaska but is non-scheduled on flights to the states.

He said an intensive check into the tragedy would be opened today.