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[COMMUNITY] Pianist Jon Jang's Father Died in Crash that Prompted FAA Changes

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  • madchinaman
    Crash Set a New Course The collision of two airliners over the Grand Canyon 50 years ago led to an overhaul of the nation s antiquated air traffic control
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 20, 2006
      Crash Set a New Course
      The collision of two airliners over the Grand Canyon 50 years ago
      led to an overhaul of the nation's antiquated air traffic control
      system.
      By Jennifer Oldham, Times Staff Writer
      http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/la-me-
      aircrash3jun03,0,5373258,full.story?coll=la-home-headlines


      -

      The death of Whittier resident James Jang, a chemical engineer for
      Fluor Corp. also traveling on TWA Flight 2, sent his wife into a
      deep depression. She was hospitalized two years later in Belmont,
      Calif., where she received electric shock treatment.

      "My mother and my father got into an argument before he left," said
      Jon Jang, a San Francisco musician who was a little more than 2
      years old when his father died. "She didn't want him to go. She
      never got over that — to leave in an argument."

      When he turned 39, Jon Jang requested letters from his dad's closest
      friends, who referred to him as "Jimmie," and described a
      disciplined, intelligent man whose "power of concentration was
      awesome."

      James Jang, a 5-foot, 2-inch former Boy Scout and amateur magician,
      also had a keen sense of humor: "On a dare, [he] asked a 6-foot
      blond at a nightclub to dance with him — she did," wrote his
      childhood friend Eddy Way.

      -


      On a day that would transform aviation history, fog hung over Los
      Angeles International Airport. But it did nothing to dampen the
      festive mood as passengers lined up eager to start their Fourth of
      July holiday.

      At one ticket counter, 64 checked in for Trans World Airlines Flight
      2 to Kansas City, Mo. Next door, 53 registered for United Airlines'
      Chicago-bound Flight 718.

      The two sets of passengers probably saw each other as they walked
      breezily through the terminal and outside onto the tarmac, where
      they boarded the first-class-only flights on rolling staircases. At
      the top, flight attendants requested their names, took their hats,
      and pointed out smoking lounges and bathrooms with terry towels.

      The propeller-driven planes took off three minutes apart. The TWA
      Super Constellation, dubbed "Star of the Seine," flew northeast over
      the San Bernardino Mountains. United's flight plan took the DC-7,
      known as "Mainliner Vancouver," east over Palm Springs. Then they
      leveled off and flew on almost parallel tracks toward Arizona's
      Painted Desert, dodging scattered thunderstorms.

      No one knows if, as they approached the Grand Canyon, anyone aboard
      was aware that the two aircraft were creeping closer and closer
      together.

      It was 10:30 a.m. on June 30, 1956.

      At 21,000 feet, four miles above the world famous gorge, the DC-7,
      traveling at 469 feet-per-second, scraped over the Constellation,
      its left wing tip slicing through the Connie's fuselage and
      detaching its signature triple-fin tail.

      At 10:31 a.m., controllers received a radio transmission that was so
      garbled it would take weeks to decipher: "Salt Lake, United 718, ah,
      we're going in."

      -----------

      The airliners plummeted into the desolate canyon 10 miles north of
      the Desert View outlook on the South Rim. The force of the impact
      drove parts of the Constellation 20 feet into the Precambrian
      granite, twisted silverware into the shape of pretzels, and fused a
      dime and a penny in a woman's change purse. All aboard both planes —
      128 passengers and crew members — died.

      The spectacular midair collision was the worst commercial aviation
      accident at that point in the country's history. And for the flying
      public, it revealed a dangerously antiquated air traffic system.
      Advances in aircraft instrumentation after World War II allowed more
      pilots to fly in bad weather, even as bureaucrats struggled to
      figure out how to keep track of a burgeoning number of planes moving
      faster and carrying more passengers.

      At the dawn of the jet age, aviation experts had repeatedly warned
      lawmakers that a midair collision between two large, fully-loaded
      commercial aircraft was inevitable due to increasingly crowded skies
      and traffic control procedures that relied largely on radio
      communication rather than radar. After a plane left the airspace
      encircling a large city airport, radar tracking stopped; its crew
      was left to watch for other planes by looking out the windows.

      Aviation historians would later write that the effect of the Grand
      Canyon disaster was "as galvanic as if it had happened over
      Washington itself." Congress would allocate $810 million to buy
      navigation equipment and long-range radar, and begin a sweeping
      reorganization of the nation's fledgling aviation system.

      "The Federal Aviation Administration was created out of the ashes of
      that Grand Canyon crash," said Sid McGuirk, an associate professor
      of air traffic management at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

      As the aircraft burned in the canyon that morning where the roaring
      Colorado River met the sedate Little Colorado River, controllers
      radioed frantically in search of the two planes, neither of which
      had reported in.

      They wouldn't be found until dusk, when two brothers who operated an
      aviation sightseeing company, Palen and Henry Hudgin, flew over the
      wreckage in their tiny, fixed-wing craft.

      "When we saw the fuselage of the United plane it had not burned up
      yet, and was completely intact, including the pilot compartment,"
      Henry Hudgin said in a recent interview with The Times, noting that
      the fuselage had become lodged in a 500-foot deep fissure on the
      side of a cliff. "We were both really surprised the next morning
      when we flew out there to see it was totally burned up."

      On July 1, federal investigators, TWA and United representatives,
      military units and hordes of reporters descended on the canyon. The
      rugged terrain "created the worst recovery conditions in the history
      of airline accidents," declared an article in the July 5, 1956, TWA
      employee newspaper, "Skyliner."

      Pilots made 76 trips into the gorge over the next 10 days in banana-
      shaped, twin-rotor helicopters. Years later, some recalled that
      dropping 7,000 feet from the rim to the river through turbulent, 120-
      degree air was more frightening than missions they later flew in
      Vietnam, said Dan Driskill, a Flagstaff, Ariz., paramedic who is
      writing a book about the crash.

      Meanwhile, climbers tried in vain to scale a 1,000-foot Redwall
      limestone cliff to reach the DC-7, which had rammed into a
      promontory on Chuar Butte halfway between the 6,394-foot mesa and
      the river. Wreckage was showered across the rocky slope and into the
      adjacent crevasse.

      Climbers didn't reach the United site until July 5, when they
      discovered a shelf above the wreck that was wide enough to support a
      helicopter. Boulder, Colo., climber Dave Lewis, then 20, was among
      the first to arrive.

      "I walked to the edge of the flat ground and I was suddenly staring
      at a steep gully packed with blackened wreckage and all surrounded
      by spectacular scenery," Lewis said in a recent interview. "It's
      indescribable if you've never seen a plane crash that burned. It's
      just chaos. How do you describe particular brands of chaos?"

      The TWA wreckage, about 1 1/2 miles south of the United site and 500
      yards above the river on Temple Butte, was more accessible.

      For several days, investigators were reluctant to speculate about
      what caused the crash, until they found a mangled piece of the DC-
      7's left wing at the TWA site. Embedded in a tear on the wing was
      material from the Constellation's rear cabin ceiling.

      After collecting aircraft parts and hauling them out of the canyon,
      as well as tape recordings from air traffic control centers in Los
      Angeles and Salt Lake City, investigators began piecing together
      what happened.

      -----------

      At congressional hearings in Las Vegas a week after the collision,
      federal aviation officials testified that when the planes hit, the
      pilots were flying outside designated airways and several miles off
      course.

      A few minutes after TWA Flight 2 lifted off the LAX runway at 9:01
      a.m., investigators said, Capt. Jack Gandy had asked for a change in
      altitude from 19,000 feet to 21,000 feet to avoid thunderstorms.
      Seeing on their radar that United Flight 718 was at 21,000 feet, Los
      Angeles controllers denied the request. A Salt Lake City controller
      radioed a colleague in Los Angeles "their courses cross and they are
      right together."

      After he was denied the altitude change, Gandy asked to fly 1,000
      feet above the clouds. His request was granted, and he was told the
      United flight was in the area, but not its altitude. Gandy climbed
      to 21,000 feet.

      At the hearing, the Salt Lake controller testified he didn't warn
      the pilots about each other because they had left controlled
      airspace to fly more directly to their cross-country destinations
      and consequently he had no idea what routes they would follow.

      The public disclosure that so much of the nation's airspace was
      uncontrolled shocked a country confident after victories in two
      world wars and overtaken by Elvis mania, where efforts to build a
      federal highway system had dominated Congress' attention. At the
      time, editorial cartoons displayed newly signed highway bills next
      to airway plans covered with cobwebs.

      In early 1957, the Civil Aeronautics Board — a precursor to the
      National Transportation Safety Board — released a 25-page report
      that found the probable cause for the accident was that the "pilots
      did not see each other in time to avoid the collision."
      Investigators wrote: "It is not possible to determine why the pilots
      did not see each other."

      The evidence did suggest, they said, that "attempting to provide the
      passengers with a more scenic view of the Grand Canyon area" could
      have been a factor.

      The report emphasized that under air traffic rules at the time, the
      pilots had been required to separate themselves from other aircraft
      using a "see or be seen" principle. This was necessary because the
      nation lacked the controllers and equipment to track airplanes
      outside of designated routes.

      Since the 1930s, air traffic at high altitudes had been controlled
      by a rudimentary system based on radio communications. Pilots would
      periodically radio their heading, altitude and speed to their
      company's ground station, and the company would relay the
      information to air traffic controllers. The controllers would
      scribble the details for each flight on strips of paper and place
      them on a metal tray lined with horizontal slots. Each slot
      represented 1,000 feet of airspace — helping controllers visualize
      how to keep aircraft they could not see separated from one another.

      Aghast that the system was largely operated on such a primitive
      concept just two years before jets were set to make their long-
      awaited commercial debut, lawmakers ordered drastic upgrades.

      Many of the changes — including integrating the civil and military
      air traffic control systems, and ordering radar and other equipment
      to help controllers actually see each plane's location — had been
      proposed for years but failed to receive adequate funding.

      It took decades for federal officials to install enough equipment
      and build enough control centers to monitor all high-altitude
      traffic over the United States. By 1971, airspace above 18,000 feet
      was reserved for aircraft carrying transponders that were able to
      communicate a plane's flight number and location to radar
      installations on the ground.

      -----------

      Word of the crash reached families of the victims slowly, as what
      began as a mystery of missing planes hardened into grim reality.

      Neil Davis' sister, Beth, 24, was one of two flight attendants on
      TWA Flight 2. When he learned of the crash, Davis drove all night
      from his home in Ogden, Utah, to TWA headquarters in Kansas City.
      Once there, George Levering, a TWA manager, told him: "There is no
      hope: everyone was killed. Your sister is gone."

      Beth Davis, one of five siblings in the tight-knit family from
      upstate New York, had been only a month away from leaving TWA to
      accept a Ford Foundation scholarship to study teaching at Cornell
      University in New York.

      "I went completely crazy," Davis recalled in a 1994 memoir he wrote
      about Beth. "I jumped up and ran out of the office and out of the
      building into the parking lot, not to my car or anywhere in
      particular, just away."

      In Washington, D.C., another Davis sister, Jayne Szaz, didn't
      realize Beth had been working on the Super Connie and was now
      missing until she received a call from another brother, Wayne.

      "I couldn't sleep I was so stunned," Szaz said. "When the morning
      came, I went home on the train — it took me nine hours to go from
      Washington to central New York state."

      After grieving with her parents and siblings over the death of the
      family's "emotional center" — Szaz took the first airplane ride of
      her life to attend a memorial for her sister in Flagstaff, where the
      remains of TWA Flight 2 passengers are buried. Some United
      passengers were laid to rest in a common grave at the Grand Canyon
      cemetery.

      The death of Whittier resident James Jang, a chemical engineer for
      Fluor Corp. also traveling on TWA Flight 2, sent his wife into a
      deep depression. She was hospitalized two years later in Belmont,
      Calif., where she received electric shock treatment.

      "My mother and my father got into an argument before he left," said
      Jon Jang, a San Francisco musician who was a little more than 2
      years old when his father died. "She didn't want him to go. She
      never got over that — to leave in an argument."

      When he turned 39, Jon Jang requested letters from his dad's closest
      friends, who referred to him as "Jimmie," and described a
      disciplined, intelligent man whose "power of concentration was
      awesome."

      James Jang, a 5-foot, 2-inch former Boy Scout and amateur magician,
      also had a keen sense of humor: "On a dare, [he] asked a 6-foot
      blond at a nightclub to dance with him — she did," wrote his
      childhood friend Eddy Way.

      The accident hit TWA employees particularly hard. They lost 17
      colleagues flying as both passengers and crew, including Tom Ashton,
      an industrial relations supervisor who had recently posed as one of
      the Andrews Sisters for a company skit. Also on board was Joe Kite,
      an assistant to the construction director, Kite's pregnant wife and
      his two daughters. When employees flipped their company calendars to
      July on the day after the accident, they found a picture of the
      Grand Canyon.

      -----------

      Fifty years later, the crash still scars the Grand Canyon.

      Wreckage remains scattered on the near-vertical walls of Chuar and
      Temple buttes, the treacherous canyon so forbidding in 1956 that
      investigators stayed just long enough to collect the human remains
      and several aircraft parts. To prevent looting, the National Park
      Service closed the sites for 20 years. In 1976, park rangers asked
      the airlines to remove several large pieces, saying tourists "may
      consider the visible aircraft remains as blight on the natural
      scenic beauty of the Grand Canyon." Then they reopened the area.

      Even so, flash floods that follow summer monsoons continually
      unearth pieces of wreckage. By some accounts, 40% of the Super
      Connie remains, along with 85% of the DC-7.

      At the TWA site in 1990, hiker Mike McComb found a tan purse
      containing identification, a TWA schedule, a stamp book, a scarf and
      several sticks of gum. "It was kind of a time capsule," said McComb,
      a pilot who has made the strenuous 50-mile journey to the site
      several times and flies tourists over it daily.

      "As I approached the TWA site, there were little teardrops of melted
      aluminum that had splashed on the canyon," said Driskill, the
      Flagstaff paramedic, of a recent hike to Temple Butte. "Then I saw
      solid puddles of melted aluminum spilled down rocks. There were big
      chunks of aircraft aluminum — bigger than a person — buried under
      boulders."

      Family members remain similarly marked by that day.

      "The world should benefit in some way from the untimely loss of a
      worthy person; there should be a trade-off," Jayne Szaz wrote of her
      sister Beth. "But search as we might, we could find no such meaning
      in Beth's death."

      Szaz has painstakingly collected pictures of Davis and letters she
      wrote various family members and placed them in a three-ring binder.
      Included are slides Davis took during her three years at TWA.

      There are scenic spots in Germany and Italy, and a picture of the
      Grand Canyon, which Davis shot from an airplane window several
      months before her death.

      "Being the studious person that Beth was," her brother Neil
      wrote, "she had annotated almost every picture and slide…. On this
      particular one of the gaping canyon below, she had written: 'What a
      place to die!' "

      *

      (INFOBOX BELOW)

      Ill-fated flight paths

      A midair collision over the Grand Canyon in 1956 killed 128 people
      and sparked air traffic reforms. Controllers knew the planes would
      pass near each other, but the crash occurred when pilots veered off
      course, dodging storms and possibly trying to give passengers a
      better view of the canyon.

      Worst airline crashes over the U.S. Deaths Date Location Airline
      273 May 25, 1979 Chicago American
      265 Nov. 12, 2001 Belle Harbor, Queens, N.Y. American
      230 July 17, 1996 Off East Moriches, N.Y. TWA
      156 Aug. 16. 1987 Romulus, Mich. Northwest
      135 Aug. 2, 1985 Dallas-Ft. Worth Delta
      134 Dec. 16, 1960 Staten Island/Brooklyn, N.Y. United/TWA
      132 Sept. 8, 1994 Aliquippa, Pa. USAir
      128 June 30, 1956 Grand Canyon, Ariz. United/TWA
      Note: Does not include deliberate deaths in terrorist attack at
      World Trade Center.

      Sources: Air Disaster Volume 4, The Propeller Era;
      PlaneCrashInfo.com; Air Transport Assn.; ESRI; TeleAtlas; USGS
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