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Last updated: 20 March 2019
Status:Final
Date:Tuesday 3 February 1959
Time:23:56
Type:Silhouette image of generic L188 model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different
Lockheed L-188A Electra
Operator:American Airlines
Registration: N6101A
C/n / msn: 1015
First flight: 1958
Total airframe hrs:302
Engines: 4 Allison 501-D13
Crew:Fatalities: 2 / Occupants: 5
Passengers:Fatalities: 63 / Occupants: 68
Total:Fatalities: 65 / Occupants: 73
Aircraft damage: Damaged beyond repair
Location:1,5 km (0.9 mls) NE off New York-La Guardia Airport, NY (LGA) (   United States of America)
Phase: Approach (APR)
Nature:Domestic Scheduled Passenger
Departure airport:Chicago-Midway Airport, IL (MDW/KMDW), United States of America
Destination airport:New York-La Guardia Airport, NY (LGA/KLGA), United States of America
Flightnumber:AA320
Narrative:
American Airlines Flight 320 was a scheduled service from Chicago-Midway Airport, Illinois, USA to New York-La Guardia Airport, New York. The aircraft, a Lockheed L-188A Electra, was off the ground at 21:43 hours and estimated one hour and forty-two minutes en route to New York.
At 23:27, Flight 320 made its first radio contact with La Guardia approach control. Nearing La Guardia Airport, the flight was given vectors for an ILS backcourse approach to runway 22.
Weather was reported to the crew as follows: "four hundred overcast; two miles visibility, light rain and fog".
At 23:53, the flight conacted La Guardia tower, stating they had passed New Rochelle. The flight was subsequently cleared to continue its approach to runway 22. Last radio contact was at 23:55:27 when the flight confirmed clearance to land. The Lockheed Electra aircraft descended until it struck the water seven seconds later, some 5000 feet short of the runway and 600 feet to the right of the extended centreline. Ground speed on impact was 150 mph and undercarriage and flaps were extended. The wreckage sank 10 m deep in the water of the East River.

The investigation board noted that American Airlines requested certification of their L-188A Electra aircraft for flight below 25,000 feet under which limitation it was unnecessary to install flight recorders. This was done in view of the cost of procurement, installation, and maintenance of flight recorders at the time.
The board stated: "a flight recorder in this aircraft would have enabled us to identify the causal factors involved in this accident with far greater precision".

Probable Cause:

PROBABLE CAUSE: "The Board determines the probable cause of this accident was premature descent below landing minimums which was the result of preoccupation of the crew on particular aspects of the aircraft and its environment to the neglect of essential flight instrument references for attitude and height above the approach surface.
Contributing factors were:
1. Limited experience of the crew with the aircraft type;
2. Faulty approach technique in which the autopilot was used in the heading mode to or almost to the surface;
3. Erroneous setting of the captain's altimeter;
4. Marginal weather in the approach area;
5. Possible misinterpretation of altimeter and rate of descent indicator; and
6. Sensory illusion with respect to height and attitude resulting from visual reference to the few lights existing in the approach area."

Accident investigation:
Investigating agency: CAB
Status: Investigation completed
Duration: 11 months
Accident number: 1-0038
Download report: Final report

Classification:
Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT) - Water

Sources:
» ICAO Accident Digest Circular 62-AN/57 (87-98)


Follow-up / safety actions

CAB issued 2 Safety Recommendations

Show all...

Photos

photo of Lockheed L-188A Electra N6101A
photo of Lockheed L-188A Electra N6101A
This photo was taken nine hours before it crashed in New York.
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Map
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 Chicago-Midway Airport, IL to New York-La Guardia Airport, NY as the crow flies is 1156 km (722 miles).
Accident location: Exact; deduced from official accident report.

This information is not presented as the Flight Safety Foundation or the Aviation Safety Network’s opinion as to the cause of the accident. It is preliminary and is based on the facts as they are known at this time.
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Lockheed L-188

  • 222 built
  • The first loss
  • The first fatal accident
  • The worst accident (at the time)
  • 7th worst accident (currently)
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 United States of America
  • 5th worst accident (at the time)
  • 45th worst accident (currently)
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