On Dec 16 1960, United flight 826 collided with TWA flight 266 over Staten Island, NY. Everyone on board the two planes (128 people) were killed, in addition to 6 people on the ground when flight 826 crashed into the neighborhood of Park Slope, Brooklyn. Like most disasters, it was not caused by a single catastrophic event, but by a series of events that compounded the situation:
- Radar service was terminated at 10:21am over New York, forcing the planes to switch to instrument positioning.
- One of the VOR receivers on 826 malfunctioned, forcing pilots to rapidly use mental calculations for positioning and navigation.
- Traffic control provided an emergency diversion, revising its flight pattern, shortening its course and shortening its clearance.
- The crew miscalculated its clearance, bringing 826 into 266's path.
What can be learned? I won't address aviation-related issues, and will instead leave that to the experts. However, as with most catastrophic events, from Chernobyl to Three Mile Island, it was the result of a series of events that compounded to create and exponentially greater problem. A good lesson for those of us with less life-and-death occupations.