Remembering A Plane Crash In Brooklyn

Driving into work this morning, I heard on the news that today marks the 50th anniversary of one of the worst airline disasters in history: the mid-air collision of two planes over Staten Island.

Of the 128 passengers and crew members aboard the two flights, all were killed save for a 10 year old boy named Stephen Baltz, who had been traveling alone to join his family for the holidays in Yonkers.

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Stephen miraculously survived the fall of over 5,000 feet, but was badly injured. Brooklyn residents rushed to his aid, rolling him in nearby snowbanks to extinguish his flaming clothing. He was brought to the nearby NY Methodist hospital, where he died the following day. You can find a memorial in the hospital chapel, which includes 65 cents in coins – the pocket change Stephen Baltz was carrying that day.

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I wrote a detailed post about the incident last summer, which has become one of the most popular on my site. The comments are especially touching, and I’ve posted a sampling below. It’s clear that anyone who was alive in New York that day will never forget the incident.

I got to the scene several hours after the crash had occurred. I’ll never forget the sight of the tail section with the word “United” lying in the street, or the child’s doll in the wreckage, or the temporary morgue with bodybags setup at the City Service garage, the smell of formaldehyde permeating the air inside. It was a surreal mess.

I will never forget the photo of Stephen published that week in Life Magazine, as he looked into the camera. Think it was, at the age of ten myself, my first recognition of our frailty. I felt his breathless shock and pain in an overwhelming emotional way. Upon seeing this post the same emotion wells up once more. Years later friends moved to Sterling Place to raise their family and restore a brownstone, I never realized this scene had occurred right there. Soul survivor. R.I.P.

One of my earliest memories. I was 4 and we lived at 219 7th Ave. I just remember my mother crying, and I’ve always remembered Stephen; having the same name when you’re a little boy adds to the pathos.

I was eleven years old, the same age as Steven and all my classmates were praying for him. It seemed impossible that he died and the picture of this little boy, found in the snow, will forever be in my memory.

i was 8 years old that day, home from school, sick, with my grandmother watching soap operas. a news bulletin broke in and told us about the plane crash and the only person alive. i remember praying for steven and hoping he would make it. the daily news had an article about the crash this past sunday (12/12) and i saw this story.

I vividly remember the plane crash and going to see the wreckage site a few days later. We lived in Clinton Hill about 1/2 mile away. Over then years I’ve read numerous articles, in print, and on the web about the crash and the sad ending for the one crash survivor.

This event stayed with me all my life. I was 7 and heard the plane crash story on WINS 1010 (which played rock and roll at the time so it was a jolt). The estimated deaths were announced as over a hundred. I went to tell my mother what I heard and she said to stop exaggerating and go find something to do. We kids in Queens looked up at every plane after that wondering which one would drop next. I guess the closeness in age to the boy that survived and closeness in distance to all that death had a lifelong impact. He certainly wasn’t forgotten.

I remember this crash very well. I was a freshman at St. Joseph’s HS, and when the crash happened there were classmates who had lived there and lost everything. I grew up on 2l Street between 6th & 7th Ave. That day everybody had a story of seeing the plane. My brother was in his school and saw the low flying plane. It just missed the steeple of our church. The whole surrounding community came out to help. When I went to work at Methodist Hospital as a nurse, I used to frequent that chapel. The plaque dedicated to that little boy was never forgotten by the hospital staff. This blog brings back many memories, especially how a community came out to help one another.

I was 10 years old, and home from school sick, just outside of New York City on that day in 1960. I watched the TV in horror as the story dominated the local airwaves that day. The tragedy was overwhelming. I watched it all day with great hope that the boy would somehow survive. I had nightmares for awhile afterwards. I haven’t thought of this for many years, but your story brought it back, and showed me a little of myself in 1960. Thank you.

My parents remember it well,because my Aunt lived right down the block. They all visited the wreckage for two days. My Aunt moved to Red Hook soon after and i believe she has photos taken of the event that are still in my family.

I lived two blocks away on 5th avenue and was 8 years old when this happened. My father took me to see the wreckage. I’ll never forget it. My school PS 133 was two blocks away and St, Augustine’s school was on Sterling Pl. and 6th avenue, a very close call.

-SCOUT

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8 comments

  1. Hi Scout, thanks for another great post that peels back the history of NYC.

    Was the crash over Staten island or Brooklyn? The headline says one, the first line says the other? Guessing by the detail it was Brooklyn.

  2. Nick, being an eleven year old, at the time, and living very close
    to the accident, our class prayed for this boy and truly felt he
    would live. I remember the Nun coming into our classroom to tell
    us that Steven had died. There were 60 kids in our class (major
    baby boom group) and the toughest kids cried. There’s a picture
    of Steven on the internet that shows this little boy alive. It
    is embedded on my mind. It is truly a testament to our species
    in that so many prayed and truly loved this little boy. Many of
    us still do. Prayers still for his family and so many who witnessed
    this. Peace

  3. The impact occurred over Staten Island, not far from where the TWA Constellation crashed on Miller Field. Eyewitnesses said that the aircraft plunged almost straight down tail-first. The United jet continued another eight miles before crashing in Park Slope. Whether or not the pilot was attempting an emergency landing is unknown, as there were no radio communications from the aircraft after the impact.

  4. The NY Times’ City Room blog ran a great series during the week on the crash: http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/tag/park-slope-plane-crash/ Be sure to read Stephen Baltz’s younger brother’s memories of him. Very touching.

  5. I WAS JUST A LITTLE GIRL BUT I REMEMBER THAT DAY I LIVED AT 124 ST. MARKS PL MY OLDEST SISTER TOOK ME TO SEE THE PLAIN CRASH THERE WAS ALOT OF CRYING ALL OVER THE STREET AND ALOT OF FIREMEN ALOT OF WATER

  6. A day I’ll absolutely never forget. I was 9 years old and was home sick from school that overcast snowy December day. We lived on the corner of Argyle Road and Cortelyou Road – about an 8 min drive from the accident scene (had I been standing outside on the corner that day looking towards Coney Island Avenue – I would have been able to see the DC-8 jet descending towards Park Slope). I was listening to an AM radio and heard a news flash about a plane crash in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn. I told my Dad about the crash (he was a Dentist and had his office on the first floor of our home). He immediately called a dentist friend of his who lived in Park Slope and asked him if he had heard about the plane crash. He initially said he’d not heard anything about it – but put the phone down to go take a look out the window – then came back to the phone and told my dad that he could see a lot of smoke in the air several blocks away and was hearing the sirens of fire trucks converging in the area. I stayed riveted to the radio listening to the reports from the crash site and remember hearing about the young boy who was the only survivor of the crash but who was badly burned. I felt so bad for him and for all the others who perished in that horrible accident. Many years later I earned my Private Pilot license and flew over my home in Brooklyn to take aerial photos of where I grew up. During that flight I remembered all of the victims of that fateful day in 1960 in a special prayer I said to myself as I flew over Holy Innocents Church and School, where I attended grammar school.

  7. I was six years old…I lived on sixth avenue and sterling place.. My aunt was changing my cousins diaper, my uncle attended st.augtines grammar school and my grandfather had just left for work. H e had just spoken with the Christmas tree man and then got on the bus (all taking place on Sterling Place) …then the plane crashed. It is said that the pilot knew the area and he that he tried to land in Prospect Park.The plane was headed towards ST. Augustine School, the nuns saw the plane and had the children go under their desks and pray. The two buildings that one of the wings of the plane sliced had all young mothers with babies had decided to have a come as you are party in the morning at a different location on the block,so miraculously they were not in the building. We thought my grandfather was killed because the Christmas tree man was hit by the plane and my grandfather was last seen talking with him. The brother of the Christmas tree man witness the plane actually hitting his brother and was later found in Prospect Park completely gray from the shock….my grandfather was fine (thank GOd) ….but I can remember the plane and its wings on the street looking from my window on Sixth Avenue it was surreal to this day. May all rest in peace….

  8. MY UNCLE WAS DRIVING A SMALL DELIVERY TRUCK AT THE INTERSECTION WHERE THE TAIL FROM I BELIEVE THE UNITED FLIGHT FELL IN PARK SLOPE. HE WAS WAITING AT A LIGHT AND HE SAID AN ELDERLY COUPLES CAR HAD JUST ENTERED THE INTERSECTION WHEN THE TAIL SECTION LANDED ON THEIR CAR AND KILLED THEM. HE DUCKED UNDER THE DASHBOARD AS BEST HE COULD AS THE TAIL LANDED ACROSS HIS HOOD AND TOP OF TRUCK. HE RAN FROM SHOCK AND THE POLICE LATER FOUND HIM IN A LOCAL SHOP. I DID NOT LIVE IN THE AREA BUT OVER IN EAST NEW YORK AT THE TIME. I DONT THINK ANYONE AT THAT TIME WILL FORGET THAT HORRIFIC CRASH.

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