Since the tragic yet fascinating story on the news November 21, 2010 about Delvonte Tinsdale a 16 year old who is believed to have stowed away in the wheel well of a plane from Charlotte, North Carolina and falling to his death over the down of Milton, Massachusetts I have been thinking about my experiences at Logan Airport.
As a kid growing up in Revere, the planes were on a landing path over our house. Sometimes we thought the plane was coming for dinner. There was also a small airport in Revere we visited as a family to watch the planes landing and taking off.
Once in a while when my friends had nothing to do we would get on the train and go to Logan to watch the big planes coming and going. In those days you could watch people getting on and off the planes on the tarmac from a roof top balcony. I was there with my good friend Peter Tegan many years ago when Elizabeth Taylor landed. It was just after she left Eddie Fisher for Richard Burton while filming “Cleopatra.” To say the least, most of the people watching were not complimentary to her when she walked the tarmac although I doubt she could hear what was being shouted from where we were.
The first plane crash at Logan I remember had to be in the early 60s. The plane went off the runway into Winthrop Harbor; that stretch of water between Logan and Winthrop. Gene Dixon, one of the great photographers I worked with, told the story of hearing the first call and following a Boston Police Cruiser through the Summer Tunnel (there was only one tunnel in those days and it was two-way coming and going from Boston to East Boston). The cruiser was not sure the best access and went up and down the inlet streets of Winthrop and ended up on Dix Street where former Governor Edward King lived. It was a good access point from that side of the tragedy and Gene took whatever photos he could make from that distance. In high school after the crash one of my teachers, Mr. Millerick, talked about the crash and complained how many rubber-neckers there were trying to get a glimpse of the incident. Truth be known even back then had I been able to get there I would have been there.
When the Boston Fire Department struck fire box 612 you knew it could be something as that was the fire box number for crashes at Logan. There was a crash in the late ‘70s when an airplane coming in for a landing in the fog hit the retaining wall on Runway 33 Left, breaking apart on impact and bursting into flames. The day that happened I was doing an interview in Newton at the home of a widow whose husband had been shot through one of their windows as he watched TV. I was with Ed Corsetti (best crime reporter of his era) and we had no idea about the crash. We left the interview and turned on the AM radio to hear about it. It happened just before noon.
Gene Dixon once again was on the incident and he told the story of being on the Boston Commons with other photographers and hearing the Boston Globe desk calling their photographer on their two-way radio telling him about the crash. Gene left immediately raced to Logan, got through the gate and took a couple of quick photos and left so he could make our evening paper’s noonish deadline. As he told it, he raced to the scene, took a few photos and raced back to the paper. As he was driving through the Dewey Square Tunnel (now the Liberty Tunnel) the transmission on his car gave out. He jumped out of his car and hoofed it the rest of the way, probably about a mile, but he got in on time to grab Page One of the paper. He got a hundred dollar bonus and it cost him about a thousand dollars for the repair. The money really did not matter as it gave him something to joke about on such an awful story.
There was one survivor; a soldier by the name of Leopold Chinard from the Portsmouth, New Hampshire area. He died several months later as he was burned over most of his body. Kevin Cole was also at the scene and had some great images of a terrible crash. I got stuck taking photos of families lining up outside the South End Morgue to view the bodies for identification.
The night the infamous World Airlines Plane skidded off the runaway after an ice storm Gene Dixon was once again the first one there, raced out on the runway and got a great Page One photo. I was home in Roslindale taking a nap about 6:30 PM with the radios blaring in the background and I must have been counting the box as I remember lying there and saying to myself 612 and jumped out of bed and started heading for Logan. It was very slippery going and when I came down the ramp to the Tunnel I skidded over a lane or two before I made my entrance. By the time I got there I only went to the gate the plane was assigned to. I photographed the passengers as they came back to the gate via a bus.
There are two incidents that I was personally involved in and one of them was a Saturday in the late ‘70s. It was about 11am and I had just walked out of the photo department office to go to the newsroom when Tom Sullivan, the City Editor came running down yelling “everyone out, everyone out there is a plane crash at Logan!” I took off running down the stairs and racing to the scene. I was really moving and almost missed the ramp to the Xway North to take me to the Tunnel and Logan. In those days all there was blocking us from the runways at the South Gate was a sign and a guard. My friend from Channel Seven, Richie Suskin, and I arrived at the same time after racing to the scene. We whizzed past him so fast we must have made his head spin.
FYI, if you did that now a days you would hit a barricade and if you made it through that someone would probably shoot you.
We raced out to where a cargo plane was burning, trying to keep up with the fire apparatus racing to the scene. No one was bothering us, as everyone was too busy trying to save lives. When we got there, I watched Richie go to one side of the crash, being pursued by a State Trooper who was at the scene. I took many photos as the access was great, then got back in my car and followed an ambulance out since I knew they were in contact with the tower making it safe to cross the runways. All the other photographers were eventually brought out there by a Mass Port bus.
There is one more runway experience I remember very well. It was a weekday and box 612 was struck. All the media raced to the south gate to wait for the Mass Port bus. The bus would take us out to where there was a plane on the end of the runway. A plane had an engine fire and had aborted take off.
I knew my good friend Billy Noonan, a Boston Firefighter, was working and since he was the photographer with the arson squad he would be going to the scene. I said to a couple of the photographers, “In a few minutes there will be a little red car with its red lights on coming to this gate and I will be getting in it.” They just laughed at me. Next thing they saw was me with my thumb out and the car stopping and taking me to the scene. I got a really good photo showing the Mass Port ladder up, the plane with the escape slides deployed and the city of Boston in the background. It was a great photo of the incident.
A while later the bus with the rest of the photographers showed up. Everyone started taking photos but by then the ladder had been taken down and it was just a plane on the runway. Dick Hurwitz the AP Chief Photographer saw me and thought I had come on the second bus and was gleeful to tell me how happy he was to have gotten there before me. I laughed and said to him “take a look at tomorrow’s paper and remember what you just said.” I kicked butt with my photo.
FYI, recently the family of Delvonte Tinsdale filed suit against Charlotte, Charlotte-Douglas International Airport and US Airways.