BOSTON — It was a beautiful fall day with scattered clouds on the evening of October 4, 1960 as Eastern Airlines Flight 375 lined up to take off from runway 9 at Boston Logan Airport.
The plane would head into the air toward Winthrop, but it wouldn't get more than 200 feet off the ground before it plunged into Winthrop Bay, killing all but 10 of the flight's passengers and sparking a years-long investigation into its engines.
The Lockheed L-188 Electra arrived in Boston from New York City that day and was scheduled to hop down the east coast, eventually terminating its journey in Atlanta.
The plane had 72 passengers aboard when it began its flight, which would last less than 30 seconds after leaving the ground. A plane heading into Logan was due to cross paths with the doomed flight and the oncoming flight crew had a perfect view of the disaster that was about to unfold.
According to a report by the Civil Aeronautics Board released in 1962, flight 375 had just begun to climb into the air when witnesses saw "an unusual puff of gray smoke" from one of its engines. The plane turned left abruptly and rolled over its left wing before smashing into the water with its nose pointing straight down.
But nailing down exactly what caused the crash would be a years-long process involving manufacturer experiments and protracted legal battles in civil court.
Initial investigations indicated the plane struck a flock of birds just as it left the ground. Wildlife experts found what was left of about 75 starlings strewn across the runway and the surrounding area. It was later estimated that three of the plane's four engines ingested a number of birds.
In the months and years following the crash, General Motors would conduct a series of tests to determine the effect of bird strikes on the motors. Varying amounts of birds were fed into the engines to see how much each could withstand.
According to witness statements and data collected from the recovered parts, crash investigators believed the engines alternately stalled and restarted, leading to an overpowered aircraft that was virtually impossible to control at that low of an altitude. Only one of the engines was fully cutoff, with its propellors being turned 90 degrees into the wind to eliminate drag. Investigators found the lever to 'feather' the propellors -- as that action is called -- having been manually activated in the cockpit.
Two flight attendants survived the crash, including Joan Berry Hale, who is traveling back to the crash site Friday to lay a wreath and commemorate the crash.
Both she and another flight attendant reported to the CAB they recalled "a sudden burst of power" and felt a sharp left turn.
The full report eventually concluded: "The aircraft at Boston, after striking the birds, experience a power loss on the No. 1 engine, which resulted in the feathering of its propellor. The Nos. 2 and 4 engines experienced an abrupt loss and nonsimultaenous recovery of power while the No. 3 engine remained at full power throughout...An Electra, similarly configured could not be controlled with more than 3,800 horsepower on its right side."
It wasn't until several years later that further problems with the plane were made known through civil lawsuits filed by victims' families. According to court filings, the co-pilots' chair had previously malfunctioned, becoming dislodged and sliding forward and back. The lawsuits indicate the chair had been improperly fixed with wire and came loose during the flight. It's possible that movement may have caused the co-pilot to send the plane into its left-hand turn.
The investigation into the seating reveled a widespread failure of seating on the aircraft. Many of the seats and seatbelts failed, having been dislodged and thrown forward upon impact.
Winthrop Yacht Club
Joan Berry Hale was a flight attendant on the plane that day and one of only 10 survivors out of the plane's 72 passengers.
She was rescued thanks to the quick action of members of the Cottage Park Yacht Club. The yacht club sits on Winthrop Bay, yards from where flight 375 plunged to its doom. Martin Rogers and Dick Fulham were there that day and sprang into action, saved the two flight attendants at the back of the plane who were thrown out of their seats.
Joan Berry and Patricia Davis were picked up by boats and taken to safety as the front part of the plane sank in the water. Other volunteers, including several teens, scrambled to recover the injured from the muddy banks of the bay at low tide.
"When I got there part of the plane was still afloat," U.S. Navy Commander Donald Regan told the Associated Press at the time. "A good many of the passengers were strapped to their seats and couldn't get out. The seats were floating. I noticed that their weight was pulling them over so that their heads were in the water...they were all a mess -- blood, broken legs, split skulls and everything else."
Regan, a Winthrop resident at the time, was one of the first to reach to the wreckage in a kayak. He and others pulled about five or six people from the water.
In the decades since, Joan Berry has never revisited the crash site.
A seat at the yacht club was dedicated to one of her rescuers, Dick Fulham, who has since passed away.
On Friday afternoon, Hale went to the yacht club to spend time with the community to remember those who helped that day.
She was also slated to go out in a boat to the site of the crash and lay a wreath in memory of those who died.
The following manifest was printed by the Associated Press shortly after the crash:
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