As the age of jet travel was ramping up in 1960, a deadly mid-flight plane crash over New York would temporarily dampen the fervor and foment public clamor for better air traffic safety control. It was December 16, 1960, one day before the 57th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ first flight. Eyewitness and radar reports suggest that the planes, a United Airlines DC-8 and a TWA Super Constellation, likely collided over Staten Island. The DC-8 was coming from Chicago O’Hare bound for Idlewild Airport, now JFK Airport carrying 84 passengers. The Super Constellation was going from Dayton and Columbus, Ohio to LaGuardia Airport.

The TWA plane crashed at Miller Field on the southern coast of Staten Island, where New Dorp High School now stands. There were no survivors, and the 44 bodies were brought to Seaview Hospital. The DC-8 made it all the way to Park Slope, Brooklyn, where it came down on Sterling Place near the intersection of 7th Avenue. Devastation to this dense residential area was significant. 10 brownstones went aflame, along with a funeral home at the intersection, a deli and laundromat. The prophetically-named Pillar of Fire Church located mid-block was completely destroyed. A 90-year old caretaker of the church was killed, one of six casualties on the ground.

There was one initial survivor from the crash in Brooklyn, Stephen Lambert Baltz, an 11-year old boy from Illinois, who was thrown out of the plane onto a snowbank. He recounted his view of New York City just before the crash to a doctor at Brooklyn’s Methodist Hospital, where he was taken. “It looked like a picture out of a fairy book. It was a beautiful sight,” he said, according to The New York Times. He succumbed to pneumonia the next day.

It would become the deadliest air accident to date at the time with a total death toll of 134 people. It would also be the first accident to be investigated using the infamous “black box.” It is known that the DC-8 had been requested to fly into a holding pattern and appeared to have missed the mark, possibly due to equipment failure either on the plane or on the ground.

Today, the scars of the 1960 plane crash have been mostly repaired, erased or built over, but there are some remnants you can still find today.

The brickwork atop 126 Sterling Place is of a different color and material from its twin buildings next door, and the black cornice is completely missing atop the building. The New York Times writes that a “25-foot section of the plane’s right wing knifed through” the complex.

Repaired brick work atop 126 Sterling Place

126 Sterling Place is missing the black cornice of its neighbor

Brick columns at 123 Sterling Place, a building built in 1920, show evidence of patching up, but the most unique remnants are in the backyard of sculptor Steve Keltner. On our serendipitous visit to the crash site, Steve passed by showing us the above remnants. He paused to ask his companion, “Should I show them the pièce de résistance?” He brought us into his apartment on Sterling Place, where inside and in the backyard he holds remnants he discovered while the church site was still vacant.

Brick columns at 123 Sterling Place

One metal piece, Steve believes, is part of a chair from the plane. There are two larger pieces in the backyard, one currently frozen into the ground. Looking closer, you’ll see the gasket from the right wing of the airplane. A label reads “No. 5 main tank Auxiliary Fuel. Structural limit 17,605 lbs.”

Probably a piece of chair from the United Plane

The grates on the front window of Steve’s apartment are also notable: they come from the original wrought-iron gate of the Pillar of Fire Church, which Steve removed and installed at his place, making the circular modifications.

One of two front window grates repurposed from the Pillar of Fire Church

Although no plaque exists on Sterling Place, commemorative markers have been placed elsewhere in Brooklyn. United Airlines purchased a lot in Green-Wood Cemetery to bury unidentified remains. In 2010, the cemetery erected a memorial to the victims of the plane crash.

And in the chapel of Memorial Hospital, where Stephen Baltz died, there is a plaque that reads:

“Stephen Baltz Memorial

Remembering 135 Victims of The Aircraft Disaster

Brooklyn, NY December 16, 1960

“Our Tribute to a Brave Little Boy”

Embedded into this plaque are 4 dimes and 5 nickels which Baltz had in his pocket when the plane crashed, which were donated by his father to the poor box.

It is also important to remember that Park Slope in the early 1960s was not the Park Slope you see today. In fact, it was a neighborhood described then as “in transition.” Today, people would comment that it was “gentrifying.” A book about Sportsmen Row in Brooklyn states that after the crash, in the mid-1960s, Park Slope was “rediscovered” by young professionals who moved in for the affordable rents and convenient location. Residents renovated abandoned and neglected brownstones and established a community – so much so that by 1973, the neighborhood was landmarked.

The two buildings at the corner of Sterling Place and 7th Avenue have since been replaced, but if you look closely along the street, the above remnants will appear before you.

Next, see JFK Airport’s Demolished Jet Age Terminals and discover the secrets of JFK Airport.

 Park Slope, staten island, Steve Keltner

11 Responses
  1. I was eight years old living in South Brooklyn. My allergy doctor had his office in the Park Slope section. My mom and I were able to re-enter this neighborhood three weeks after the crash to see the doctor. I remember us driving on a main avenue and as I looked down each side street, I could see the next avenue over (still closed to traffic) with literally mountains of debris nearly twenty feet high piled up on the sides of the road, block after block after block. Terrible memory from my life in Brooklyn.

    • Michelle Young Reply

      Thank you for sharing Harold, how sobering that you were there so soon afterwards and saw the scene.

  2. Helen Soltys Reply

    My Mother Ann told me about the airplane flying thru. She said , “she heard loud noises and the sound of the plane as it was crashing coming right thru the neighborhood. She said then I heard all these people screaming aboard the plane. It was shocking and surreal. Then the crashing noises and the sadness that I felt. I heard there was one boy who survived the crash. But sadly he passed away. ” That is what she told me from my memory of what she said. She had been visiting a friend on 7th Avenue at the time. She was pregnant with me and i was born that May of 1960. I was born in Coney Island Brooklyn. Then we moved to Cobble hill Brooklyn and thru the years O visited 5th Ave with my Mother. And as a young adult visited 7th Ave and always liked the brownstone buildings and the changing feel the 70’s had on the area. My Daughter Lotanya R. was born 1980 right in the area in Methodist hospital.

  3. I was born two days before at Brooklyn Jewish (which became Interfaith along with St. John’s Episcopal) in that snowstorm; my mom used to tell me stories about when it happened. They were all waiting at the hospital for survivors and no one came, and that the only survivor was that little boy.

    Looking forward to your book, Ms. Boris. I love my NY history, especially Brooklyn.

  4. Emarie Ray Reply

    I was eight when this happened I will never forget the special report during soap opera. I was home sick with my grandmother. But it prepared me Medgar Evers and JFK and their violent. deaths

    • Linda M Boris Reply

      I am currently researching to write a book about this crash. I am looking for people who remember the crash to provide personal input. If you’d like to share what you recall, please email me at LBoris0217@gmail.com.

      Best wishes,

      Linda Boris

  5. Yes, unfortunately the name appears on the official Greenwood Cemetery Memorial and was also published in several newspapers at the time. The location you listed also matches.

  6. Does the surname TUTTEL appear on the list of United Airlines passengers killed on 12/16/60? Mr. Tuttel was the father of one of my Montvale, New Jersey Little League teammates. Unlike today, death was treated as a family matter not to be shared with the community. Hopefully, you will be able to indicate that Mr. Tuttel was or was not on that UA flight. Thank you.

    • Linda M Boris Reply

      John N. Tuttle of Montvale is listed as one of the passengers on the United Airlines plane. There are a couple of short articles I found on Newspapers.com. One mentions his 10 year old son Timothy.

      • Thank you, Linda for your reply to me on the tragic loss of Mr Tuttle, the circumstances of which had been a nagging mystery to me for the past 58 years. All I knew was that he died in an airplane crash. Timmy was a couple of years younger than I and I looked upon him as a little brother, on the baseball field and in our neighborhood. It was in late April, 1960, when I was a 7th grader, that I went collecting for the annual Catholic missions appeal. Until I got to Timmy’s house, the parents were putting pennies, nickels and dimes. When Mr. Tuttle greeted at his front door, he gave a dollar bill without drawing attention to himself. I was so taken by his generosity that I never forgot it. Throughout my adulthood, when I have made a charitable donation, I always think of Mr. Tuttle and give as generously as I can in memory of him.

        • Linda M. Boris Reply

          That is a wonderful memory and a great tribute to him that you carry on. I am sure he would be pleased that his life influenced others. It’s funny but most of us never really get to know how our actions–even seemingly simple ones, can have an impact on others. I have finished writing the book and am just waiting for the gentleman who is doing the illustrations before I self-publish. I hope to have the book out on Amazon around the crash anniversary date of Dec 16. Fingers crossed!

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