A Little Quiet Recently

My fault.   Mostly just getting caught up with the daily life of an adjunct professor and occasionally doing some teaching.   We’re into the 1960s next week, which means about three weeks of the semester remains and then into the long-ish summer break.  I do have a little prep work for the Fall Semester, in which I assume I’m still teaching.

In the meantime.   I want to pause and remember that we have just passed the 20th Anniversary of the crash of ATL-98 Carvair N83FA in Griffin, Georgia on April 4th. On that day I actually did sit back for a moment and took a moment for prayer and reflection.    I never for a moment imagined that a blog article which was born from reading a John Le Carre novel and thinking “huh?” would generate so much interest.  Looking at the WordPress statistics for the blog, it always seems to get a couple of hits most weeks. I was touched and honored to have received comments from Kris Whittington, son of pilot Larry Whittington who was killed in the crash of N83FA, and recently Vanessa Presley, who as a child in Griffin saw and heard the crash and who suffers from the after effects to this day.  My deepest thanks to everyone who contributed to expand a little piece of aviation history here.

HM Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip board an ANA C-54 (VH-INY) at Western Junction, Tasmania. Feb 20, 1954. This C-54 would seven years later be converted into a Carvair which, with the registration N83FA, would crash on take-off at Griffin, Georgia in April 1997
http://catalogue.statelibrary.tas.gov.au/item/?id=AB713-1-2859

 

My research project,  the history of B-24J-1-FO  42-50535  “Joplin Jalopy” got a boost this month.  For some reason an article appeared in the Joplin Globe a couple of weeks ago (which I have managed not to read) but which, I am told, listed the correct number of operations the Jalopy flew.  This would then indicate that someone read some of the research material I forked over to the globe in 2006.     Shortly afterwards I received an email from Ray Foreman from KODE12  TV in Joplin  (Hi Ray!)  who had seen my January 2016 post commemorating the anniversary of the start of the now defunct “Joplin’s Bomber”  blog.   Apart from being a military aviation history enthusiast Ray has some connection with the Joplin Civil Air Patrol so I hope to have a chat with him, and them in the near future.  This has been a timely prod not to let all that information  go to waste.

B-24 Joplin Jalopy

B24J-1-FO 42-50535 “Joplin Jalopy” – 506BS / 44BG

I was relating all of this to one of my colleagues at Pittsburg State who then said “you ought to write this up for a journal article”  (in one of the local academic journals) ,  so given a long enough period of rest  I may actually do that.

In the meantime I will continue to be fascinated by little snippets that float into my field of vision from the world of aviation.

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Carvair N83FA Crash: Griffin, Georgia, April 1997

Serendipity is a weird thing.  Having read The Honourable Schoolboy, I wanted to see if there was any factual basis for Charlie Marshall flying round South-East Asia in a Carvair. I  looked at Wikipedia and found that an Australian Carvair had been abandoned at Pnomh Penh in 1975.    I also read this:

"Perhaps the best-known Carvair crash was the one at Griffin in April 1997, 
where on its takeoff run the (fifth production) Carvair suffered catastrophic 
engine failure, failed to become properly airborne, and crashed into a vacant 
Piggly Wiggly supermarket past the airport perimeter, killing both pilots.”

I don’t know why this caught my imagination but it did. I know next to nothing about Griffin, Georgia. But something made me want to follow up just a little.

The accident happened on Friday, April 4, 1997 at 00:16. The aircraft was registered as N83FA. It was originally built in 1944 as a C-54A and was the fifth Carvair to be converted by Aviation Traders in 1961. The  crew had filed a flight plan from Griffin-Spalding County Airport to Americus, Georgia apparently to pick up a load of car parts for onward transportation to Rockford, Illinois. 12 miles from Rockford is the  Chrysler Belvidere Assembly Plant, which was producing the Dodge Neon at the time.

What happened that night, according to the NTSB reports, is this:

"During the airplane's takeoff roll, about 3/4 down the 3,700 foot runway, 
a witness reported that the color of the #1 exhaust flame changed from 
blue to yellow, accompanied by an audible change in the engine power level. 
The nose of the airplane yawed left and the left wing dipped. Directional 
control was regained and the takeoff continued. Skid marks were found about 
650 feet before the departure end of the runway that continued about 1360 feet 
to an abandoned grocery store impacted by the plane. About 315 feet before the 
building, the left wing contacted a privacy fence, and a utility pole, resulting 
in a fire at the disrupted left wing main fuel tank. A pilot/mechanic who helped 
dispatch the airplane observed that the elevator was free as it taxied. 
Fire damage to all engines precluded a detailed post crash examination of 
essential fuel and ignition systems"

The reports from the NTSB (incident number ATL97FA057) are available from the NTSB website  (PDF format)

Factual Report http://www.ntsb.gov/aviationquery/GenPDF.aspx?id=ATL97FA057&rpt=fa
Probable Cause  Report http://www.ntsb.gov/aviationquery/GenPDF.aspx?id=ATL97FA057&rpt=fi

Griffin – Spalding County Aiport

The aircraft was using runway 14,  which runs diagonally from top left to bottom right of the map. From the descriptions and statements in the NTSB report, the crew apparently decided to try and abort the take-off  when the number 1 (port outer) engine failed.

The pilot who flew the aircraft two days previously (with the co-pilot who was killed on this night) knew the procedure for an engine failure on take-off and reported that a braking manoeuvre in this event was not part of the aircraft operations manual.  The previous pilot and co-pilot agreed that the most dangerous element of the flight was the take-off from Griffin-Spalding County. For whatever reason the crew on the 4th April flight attempted to abort the take-off. The toxicology report on the co-pilot indicated a level of a substance found in over-the counter antihistamines in the bloodstream very much in excess of the normal dose, which may have lead to his inability to react appropriately.  The fact was noted in the NTSB’s probable cause report.

The Carvair then skidded off the end of the runway, crossed the road which runs past the end of the runway and ended up crashing into the abandoned supermarket.  If you look closely at the map , there is a small shopping centre on the opposite side of Zebulon Road, and on zooming in,  you can see that the retail unit on the north side of the shopping centre has been demolished, leaving an empty pad.  The Google image was taken in 2008, 1o years after the crash.

It’s a very sad story and any loss of life is regrettable.  Looking at the map it is fortunate that the Carvair did not swerve further on the aborted take-off run since there is clearly a residential area to the east of the airfield.  That the supermarket was empty and abandoned also prevented further loss of life that night.