Landing On Jones Beach In A Snow Storm
Barbara Bowen, 2012
As flight weather forecaster for American Airlines at LaGuardia Field, I was working the midnight-to-8 shift of a January night in 1946. I had to reckon with a storm center in North Carolina which had been moving steadily eastwards and showed no sign of changing course, with its associated precipitation spreading only as far north as Richmond. The chap who took over at 8 a.m. found everything behaving as I had forecast. At 4 in the afternoon, Johnny Booth took off, piloting a DC-3, for Washington. When he arrived there, everything was as foreseen, with a cloud cover at 8000 feet and unlimited visibility. As he was making his final approach, the control tower told him to “hold” at 7000 feet because a Navy plane had just declared an emergency and had priority. As Johnny was “holding” the airport suddenly went to zero-zero in heavy snow. He decided to head for Baltimore, his established alternate landing. When he reached Baltimore, it too suddenly went to zero-zero, so he headed for Philadelphia, (which was already zero-zero). We could hear him but he couldn’t hear us because snow sliding off his antennae made so much static. He said he would head generally northeast, adding that his fuel was getting low but he figured he could make it to Hartford. Then came the dread word that one of the two tanks registered empty and that he was letting down and dropping flares. At 300 feet, he cried out “Oh, my God, we are over the ocean!” And that was the last we heard from him – for 45 minutes. He told us afterwards that he had spotted a line of white, figured it must be surf on a beach, headed for it, made a belly landing, tipping one wing on a dune, cutting a lip as he leaned out the side window to get a better view as he neared the sand. Leaving his co-pilot, he set off on foot, coming upon a Coast Guard station on Jones Beach. From it, he telephoned us. No one was injured, but for his lip. I had been sleeping, arose about 10 p.m. to go to work at midnight, was flabbergasted to see an inch of snow on the ground, but an absolutely clear sky. Weather signals for upper winds came in only every six hours in those days, so it was not possible to find out what weird change there had been to send that sudden spike up the coast and then cause it to retreat. When I got to work, the storm center was just where we had forecast it to be. I listened to the tape of Johnny speaking. He flew the next afternoon. His passengers were so impressed that once back at LaGuardia, by a bus we sent to Jones Beach to “assure” them, that they all took the plane to Washington next morning.