The date was Wednesday, December 22, 1954. The flight was 4844-C, a civilian-air-movement-of-military-personnel (CAM). The airplane, a Johnson Flying Service DC-3C, N24320, c/n 20197 was under charter to the Army to fly from Newark, New Jersey, to Tacoma, Washington. All preflight inspections and checklists had been accomplished satisfactorily, along with the proper filing of a flight plan and weight and balance manifest.
Flight 4844C left Newark at 8:38 p.m., with 225 gallons of 100 octane fuel aboard, under visual flight rules, and 23 holiday-bound soldiers. The first indication of trouble came at 10:20 p.m. when the Pittsburgh tower heard the aircraft calling Altoona, Pennsylvania. When several calls to Altoona went unanswered, the Pittsburgh tower attempted to contact the aircraft. Their efforts were unsuccessful. At 10:22, Flight 4844-C was heard attempting to make voice contact with Westover, a radio beacon station. Pittsburgh again attempted unsuccessfully to contact the aircraft
At 10:38 the Pittsburgh tower received a call from Flight 4844-C asking if fuel was available at Johnstown, Pennsylvania. They replied that only 91/96 and lower octane was available and indicated that they would contact Allegheny County Airport, the flight's original destination.
The aircraft commander, Captain Harold Poe did not think he had enough fuel and requested the runway lights be lit at Johnstown Airport. Pittsburgh advised Poe that they would attempt to contact Johnstown by landline. There was no one at the Johnstown Airport and at 10:44, when Poe was over the airport, he attempted to contact the tower.
At 10:47 Poe advised Pittsburgh that he had passed Johnstown and would attempt to reach Allegheny Airport. Pittsburgh gave Poe weather and winds aloft information for Allegheny; clear, temperature 20 degrees, dewpoint 10, winds south-southwest at 9.
At 10:54 p.m. Pittsburgh contacted Flight 4844-C and gave Poe the Allegheny Tower frequency. Poe then made voice contact with Allegheny tower, advising them he was low on fuel. The tower gave him a straight-in approach.
At 10:57 Poe called to advise the tower he was out of fuel. At the time, the tower observed that Flight 4844-C was two miles from the airport on final approach. Poe advised the tower that he did not think he could make the field.
At 10:58 the tower saw the plane bank to the left, head southward and disappear below the hills.
Poe had ditched the airplane in the Monongahela River. The survivors later said it was a smooth landing. The plane came to rest about 35 feet from the west bank of the river, one and one-half miles south of the McKeesport, Pennsylvania bridge, and approximately two miles southeast of the Allegheny County Airport. All passengers and crew managed to get out of the plane before it sunk to the bottom of the river, about 15 minutes after it bellied into the icy waters. Nine passengers and the captain drowned attempting to reach shore.
The CAA concluded that, “The probable cause of this accident was fuel exhaustion brought on by inadequate flight planning...”
Johnson Flying Services was temporarily prohibited from providing service to the military (the order was eventually rescinded) but they continued to pursue their Forest Service operations. They provided smoke jumpers and aerial spraying using their three DC-3s, one of which was N24320 which they eventually pulled from the river dried out and put back in the air.
Our missionis to provide an accurate history of the C-47 Dakota and its civilian version, the Douglas DC-3. TheDC-3/Dakota Historical Society will serve the aviation community by using credentialed aviation historians to act as a resource center for all things related to aeronautics of the DC-3/C-47/Dakota.We are the oldest (Established in 1994) and most trusted DC-3 website on the Internet.