United Airlines Flight 521

United Airlines Flight 521
Date May 29, 1947
Summary Pilot error
Site LaGuardia Airport,
New York, United States
40°46′06″N 73°53′05″W / 40.7683°N 73.8847°W / 40.7683; -73.8847Coordinates: 40°46′06″N 73°53′05″W / 40.7683°N 73.8847°W / 40.7683; -73.8847
Aircraft type Douglas DC-4
Aircraft name Mainliner Lake Tahoe
Operator United Airlines
Registration NC30046
Flight origin LaGuardia Airport,
New York
Destination Cleveland Municipal Airport, Cleveland, Ohio
Passengers 44
Crew 4
Fatalities 43
Injuries 6
Survivors 5

United Airlines Flight 521, a Douglas DC-4, was a scheduled flight departing from LaGuardia Airport to Cleveland, Ohio on May 29, 1947. While attempting to take off from runway 18, the aircraft failed to get airborne, overran the end of the runway, ripped through an airport fence onto traffic on the Grand Central Parkway, and slammed into an embankment, ultimately plunging into a pond and exploding. Ten people escaped the flaming wreckage; only five of those survived.[1]

It was the worst commercial aviation disaster in United States history at the time. This record stood for less than 24 hours when an Eastern Airlines DC-4 crashed near Baltimore, Maryland killing all 53 aboard.[1]


The Civil Aeronautics Board concluded the report on the accident by citing pilot error of the source. The report read: "The Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was either the failure of the pilot to release the gust lock before take-off, or his decision to discontinue the take-off because of apprehension resulting from rapid use of a short runway under a possible calm wind condition."

Although the board came to the conclusion that pilot error was likely the cause, the May 31, 1947 edition of "The New York Times" told a different (albeit preliminary) tale:

"The United Air Lines DC-4 that crashed and burned at La Guardia Field Thursday night never got into the air and the pilot, after using up about two-thirds of the 3,500-foot runway, was trying to halt his giant craft by braking and ground looping. All night, on the scene inquiries by both the company and officials of the Civil Aronautics Board established these facts yesterday. They agreed also that the wind shift, described by a company official as "of almost unbelievable suddenness," led Capt. Benton R. Baldwin, the pilot, to decide against proceeding with the take off, but they differed on whether the pilot had been apprised of approaching wind shifts before the take-off."

It seems, at least early on, the cause may have actually been wind shear (although it is referred to as "wind shift" in the article).


  1. 1 2 "RUNWAY 18 Air Safety, May-June 1947 Chapter 197". Daily News. September 21, 2000. Retrieved 2009-05-16.
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