Narrative:At 11:37 A Bolivian Air Force Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter (NX26927) took off from runway 03 at Washington-National Airport, DC (DCA). The pilot was carrying out an acceptance test flight. Because of erratic operation of the right hand engine, the pilot decided to land as soon as possible.
When abeam runway 36 the pilot transmitted, "Washington Tower, this is Bolivian P-38. I got engine trouble request landing instructions." Waiting for instructions he circled the field. When he was between Bolling Field and the National Airport and at about 3,500 feet altitude, the tower asked, "Bolivian P-38, you were asking landing instructions?" The Bolivian pilot answered, "Yes, I have engine trouble. I am in a hurry," and that the tower at that time responded, "Bolivian P-38 cleared to land number two on runway 3."
Number one on the approach was Eastern Air Lines flight 537, a Douglas C-54. Because the P-38 was descending above and behind the C-54, it was then told to enter the left traffic pattern and to land behind the C-54. This message was never confirmed, nor complied with. The tower then switched to the Eastern aircraft and told it to turn left. When turning left, half a mile short of the runway at an altitude of 300 feet, both aircraft collided and crashed. The pilot of the P-38 survived with serious injuries.
PROBABLE CAUSE: "The execution of a straight-in final approach by the P-38 pilot without obtaining proper clearance to land and without exercising necessary vigilance."
» CAB File No. 1-0138
» ICAO Aircraft Accident Digest, Circular 18-AN/15 (60-63)
This map shows the airport of departure and the intended destination of the flight. The line between the airports does not
display the exact flight path.
Distance from New York-La Guardia Airport, NY to Washington-National Airport, DC as the crow flies is 342 km (214 miles).