Remembering the Park Slope Plane Crash of 1960 by Arthur Mallett

When I stopped in to Cousin John’s bakery for a banana cream pie the other day, a black and white picture on the wall caught my attention. The photo showed a street scene that was easily identifiable as the stretch of 7th Avenue just outside the door. Scattered across the street were what appeared to be the pieces of an airplane.

I did some Googling and found out that the incident in question occurred on December 16, 1960, when two planes collided over New York City. United Airlines Flight 826, which originated in Chicago and TWA Flight 266 from Ohio were both making their descent into New York when a combination of poor conditions, faulty equipment and missed flight paths  caused the disastrous convergence. The TWA plane crashed in Staten Island’s Miller Field, with some pieces of the plane landing in the harbor.  All passengers died on impact, but no one on the ground was hurt.  The United Airlines plane continued on after the collision out of the pilot’s control before crashing at the intersection of 7th Avenue and Sterling Place, landing on the McCaddin Funeral Home and a church with the unfortunately prophetic name of  Pillar of Fire. Both buildings were destroyed and six people on the ground were killed, including a few Christmas tree salesmen.  As this article in Atlas Obscura points out, there is nothing at the intersection to commemorate the accident.  There is however a monument at Methodist Hospital to Steven Baltz, the 11-year old who was the lone survivor of the crash, but died shortly after. The crash was an unprecedented disaster in the realm of air travel and huge news at the time.

To many New Yorkers this is a well known tale, but it was news to me. Walking past the intersection again today I noticed the buildings that are clearly more recent construction than the turn-of-the-century brownstones that typify the neighborhood, where wreckage of the accident left lots to be rebuilt.  I’ll never look at that intersection again without thinking of the incredible tragedy that occurred there.

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