Today marks 55 years since the crash of Mohawk Airlines flight 40 on June 23rd, 1967. The disaster involved a US domestic service bound for Washington DC. However, the flight never made it to the US capital, as an inflight mechanical failure ultimately caused it to crash in Pennsylvania. Let’s see how the crash unfolded.
The flight and aircraft in question
Mohawk Airlines was a US-based regional carrier with its headquarters in New York State. Flight 40 was a scheduled domestic service operated by the airline that originated at Syracuse Hancock International Airport (SYR), a facility that sees both civil and military movements. The flight was set to serve two destinations, of which the first of these was the service’s intermediate stopover.
Thus was scheduled to take place at Elmira Corning Regional Airport (ELM). Much like Syracuse, this facility is also located in the US federal state of New York. Following this, flight 40’s final destination was Washington National Airport (DCA). Syracuse retains a connection with Washington DC today, with American and United both plying the route, albeit without the stop in Elmira.
According to the Aviation Safety Network, Mohawk Airlines flight 40 was operated by a rear-engined BAC 1-11 twinjet registered as N1116J on June 23rd, 1967. Data from ATDB.aero shows that this aircraft was less than a year old at the time , having been delivered in August 1966. It had 30 passengers and four crew onboard.
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The first leg of the flight passed without incident, and it made its scheduled stopover in Elmira as planned. It eventually departed this airport, which is situated almost 300 meters (1,000 feet) above sea level, at 14:39 local time. Five minutes later, at 2:44 PM, air traffic control cleared the flight to climb to 16,000 feet.
However, within 10 minutes of this permission being issued, disaster struck. Multiple eyewitnesses are said to have observed parts of the aircraft’s tail falling away, with the aircraft also catching fire at around this time. These factors prompted a loss of control, which ultimately caused the aircraft to fall to the ground.
The flight came down in a wooded area near Blossburg, Pennsylvania. The remote nature of the crash site meant that there were no injuries to anyone on the ground, but, sadly, all 34 people onboard were killed in the accident. It was only 50 years after the tragedy, in June 2017, that a memorial to the victims was erected.
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What did the investigation find?
According to the New York Times, Mohawk Airlines’ demanded an FBI investigation into the crash, due to the possibility of it having been caused by sabotage. However, research by the Civil Aeronautics Board (the forerunner to today’s NTSB) determined that this was not the case, with their findings pointing elsewhere.
Specifically, the CAB noted that an APU valve failure had caused a fire at the rear of the aircraft, due to engine bleed air flowing (and subsequently exiting the system) in the wrong direction. This damaged both the aircraft’s tail and hydraulic lines, with this deadly combination causing the loss of control that resulted in the crash.
What do you make of this accident? Do you remember it happening at the time? Let us know your thoughts and recollections in the comments.
Sources: Aviation Safety Network, New York Times