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Douglas DST airliner disappearance

Douglas DST airliner disappearance

The disappearance of a Douglas DST airliner, NC16002, occurred on the night of 28 December 1948 near the end of a scheduled flight from San Juan, Puerto Rico to Miami, Florida. The aircraft carried 29 passengers and three crew members. No probable cause for the loss was determined by the official investigation and it remains unsolved.

At 7:40p.m. on 27th December 1948, the DC-3 landed at San Juan airport in Puerto Rico. It came from Miami and was scheduled to return after a short halt at San Juan. 

Captain Bob Linquist reported to the ground engineers that the light indicator for the landing gear did not come on at the time of landing. The ground crew immediately started the checks and figured out that the battery was weak and running low on water.  

The stewardess Mary Burkes was busy deplaning the passengers and the co-pilot Ernest Hill was going around the aircraft for routine checks. 

The ground crew refilled the battery and informed the captain that it would take several hours for the batteries to recharge fully. 

The captain however decided not to wait that long and rather charge the batteries in the air from the aircraft's own generator.

So at 8:30p.m the DC-3 was all set to depart for Miami. By this time, Mary Burkes had on-boarded 28 passengers for the return trip. 

However, there was lot more annoying wait before the plane could finally take off. The radio transmitter in the aircraft was not working properly due to the low battery. So the aircraft was asked to wait at the end of the tarmac. The head of Puerto Rican Transport drove to the plane to talk to the captain. Linquist informed him that he could clearly receive the messages but could not every time send messages due to the low battery. 

Finally at 10:03p.m. when all seemed to be okay, the flight was allowed to take off. The captain was advised to stay close to San Juan till the two way communication was fully established from the air. 

The flight circled the San Juan city for 11 minutes, and once the both way radio communication was confirmed, it started its journey out towards the sea for Miami. 

Next, at 11:23p.m, the captain Linquist sent his routine radio transmission to indicate the flight position - it was at 8,300 feet altitude and reported ETA 4.03a.m at Miami. But funnily, while the message was received at Miami control tower which was some 700 miles away, there was no transmission received at San Juan which was much closer.  

The captain next reported the flight position when it was 50 miles south of Florida and only 20 minutes to land. Strangely again, the message this time was received at New Orleans which was about 600 miles away and not Miami that was so close by. New Orleans radio tower forwarded the message to Miami station. 

And that was the last time a message was ever received from the DC-3. The weather was normal. Repeated radio signals from the control towers did not get any response. The flight DC-3 had suddenly disappeared with all its passengers and crew. 

Investigation:

In a report released 15 July 1949, the board convening the investigation filed several factors about the aircraft:

  • The aircraft originally built on 12 June 1936, and had a total of 28,257 flying hours prior to the landing in San Juan. It was inspected several times in the past two years and certified to be airworthy.
  • The aircraft was given a partial overhaul, including the replacement of both engines in November 1948. An in-flight test was conducted to judge the results of the overhaul, including flying to New Jersey and back. Again, the aircraft was certified to be airworthy.
  • The company's maintenance records were incomplete. In one case a subcontractor working on an engine in October 1948 completed the task but did not save any records proving it.

As far as human error, the report cited several occurrences:

  • Captain Linquist told San Juan that his landing gear down indicator lamps did not work. This led to the discovery that his batteries were low on water and electrical charge. While he ordered the refilling of the batteries with water, he ordered the reinstallation of the batteries on board the aircraft without recharging them.
  • The aircraft left with the batteries charged only enough to satisfy two-way radio communication with the tower, with the understanding an in-flight flight plan would be filed before they left the vicinity of San Juan. This was not done, and the plane continued on a course for Miami. It was noted in the report that the plane's radio transmitter did not function properly due to the low battery charge.
  • The aircraft left San Juan with a cargo/passenger weight 118 lb (54 kg) over the allowable limit.
  • A message was sent to the plane concerning a change in wind direction which could have been strong enough to push the plane off course. It was not known if the plane received the message.
  • The plane's electrical system was not functioning normally prior to departing San Juan.

Because of the lack of the plane's wreckage and other sufficient information, probable cause for the loss of the aircraft could not be determined.

Meril Jeffery John.J

Meril Jeffery John.J

If This is God's Will then no man can Fight it

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