Grand Canyon airline collision, June 30, 1956

June 30, 2008

[2008] Today’s the 52nd anniversary of a horrendous accident in the air over the Grand Canyon. Two airliners collided, and 128 people died.

In 1956 there was no national radar system. When commercial flights left airports, often the only contact they had with any form of air traffic control was when the pilots radioed in for weather information, or for landing instructions. Especially there was no system to avoid collisions. As this 2006 story in the Deseret News (Salt Lake City) relates, the modern air traffic control system was spurred mightily by this tragedy.

About 9 a.m. Saturday, June 30, [1956], the TWA flight bound for Kansas City, Mo., and the United flight bound for Chicago left Los Angeles International Airport within three minutes of each other. The TWA flight, carrying 70 people, filed a flight plan to cruise at 19,000 feet. The United flight, with 58 people on board, planned to cruise at 21,000 feet.

About 20 minutes into the flight, TWA pilot Capt. Jack Gandy requested permission to climb to 21,000 feet. An air traffic controller in Salt Lake City turned down Gandy’s request. Then Gandy asked to fly “1,000 on top,” meaning at least a thousand feet above the clouds, which that morning were billowing as high as 30,000 feet. That request was granted.

By the time both planes were over the Grand Canyon, the pilots were flying in and out of the clouds, on visual flight rules and off their prescribed flight plans, apparently typical in those days as pilots veered off course to play tour guide.

No one knows exactly what happened.

It was the last big accident before instigation of the “black box,” so investigators had to piece together details from debris on the ground.

They decided that the left wing and propeller of the United plane hit the center fin of the TWA’s tail and cut through the fuselage, sending Flight 2 nose-first into the canyon, two miles south of the juncture of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers. The United DC- 7, which had lost most of its left wing, began spiraling down. Capt. Robert Shirley radioed Salt Lake City a garbled message that controllers understood only after they slowed down the recording: “Salt Lake, ah, 718 . . . we are going in.” Flight 718 smashed into a cliff on Chuar Butte.

The accident plays a key role in a Tony Hillerman mystery, Skeleton Man — Hillerman writes about two Navajo Nation policemen.

I’m thinking of the crash today for two reasons. I’m off for a tour of canyons, including both rims of the Grand Canyon, in the next two weeks. The last time I was there was 1986, with the President’s Commission on Americans Outdoors. We flew in on a Twin Otter, coming up from Phoenix, over the Roosevelt Dam, up over the Mogollon Rim, over the Glen Canyon Recreation area and stopping it Page. From Page to Grand Canyon, we took full advantage of the huge windows in the Otter — seeing first hand the sights that the controversial tourist flights were designed to reveal. Safety was a key concern, and we talked about it constantly with the pilots.

A few weeks later, on June 18, 1986, that DeHavilland Twin Otter collided with a Bell Jet Ranger helicopter over the Canyon. 25 people died in that crash.

I have flown over the Canyon a dozen times since then — no longer will airliners dip down to give passengers a better view, not least because airliners cruise tens of thousands of feet higher now than they did then. I think of those airplane accidents every time I see the Canyon.

We’re driving in. We’ll spend a day and a half on the South Rim, and another couple of nights on the North Rim. We’re taking our time on the ground. But if we had time, and we could afford it, I’d love to get up in an airplane or helicopter to see the Canyon from the air again.

Independence Day quiz

June 30, 2008

An ISP called has an interactive Independence Day Quiz — feeling patriotic? Go see how your knowledge of U.S. history and lore stacks up against others. The questions are very good, really.

Remember to fly your flag on the 4th of July!

“Louisiana’s exorcist governor”

June 30, 2008

I love the headline: “Anti-science law signed by Louisiana’s exorcist governor.”

Tony Whitson’s quick analysis is good, too.

One might begin to think Louisiana really is cursed. Katrina, Rita, other political troubles — and then they elect the bright, young reformer as governor, and he turns out to be a voodoo history and voodoo science practitioner — heck, maybe he practices just plain old voodoo.

All this comes at a time when it may have saved John McCain from making a mistake that would make George McGovern’s selection of Tom Eagleton look like wisdom of the ages (when news came out that Eagleton had undergone convulsive shock therapy for depression, he was replaced on the ticket by Sargent Shriver, but not after much damage had been done to the credibility and viability of the McGovern campaign — why Nixon thought it necessary to sponsor burglary to defeat this ticket is one of the mysteries of the ages of Shakespearian tragedy come to life in in American politics).

Mind you, I like and respect McGovern, and I found working with Tom Eagleton on the Senate Labor Committee a great joy.

India, 100 years ago

June 30, 2008

World history and geography teachers take note: This site, Chat and Chai, has an interesting slide show of what appear to be stereoscope and post card photos from India, 100 years ago. The link may be useful for on-line demonstrations — you may be able to use the images in other presentations.

The slides show people in a lot of everyday activities, providing good, visual examples of how people lived then. An instructive comparison: Can your students find photos of Indians carrying out similar activities today? How has India changed, for how much of its population? I suspect you can find cases where Some Indians have leaped into the 21st century, and other examples where the lives of many millions of people have not changed all that much.

Several of the photos remind that they were taken 40 years or more before India won independence from Britain. These may pertain to discussions of empires and imperialism, and other economic issues, too.

One commenter asked the blogger to share the slides, but I don’t see a positive response.

Don’t ask me to explain the music the blogger selected for the slides.

Here is the actual slide show.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “India 100 Years Ago “, posted with vodpod

Dobson group pushes religious nature of intelligent design, in New Zealand

June 29, 2008

In the end, Dr. James Dobson and other ideological Christians may be the worst enemies of the idea that intelligent design should be taught as science. They just can’t resist emphasizing that ID is, to them, good Christian doctrine.

In the latest outbreak, the New Zealand chapter of Dobson’s group Focus on the Family has sent copies of the DVD, “The Privileged Planet,” to 400 New Zealand high schools. Why?

Focus on the Family’s executive director Tim Sisarich said the material was intended to expose pupils to an alterative theory of cosmology.

“We’re a Christian organisation so we believe that God made the planet and God made the cosmos … Science takes a theory and tries to establish it as the truth, and that’s all this is.”

Education Ministry senior manager Mary Chamberlain said parents had a right to withdraw children from religious instruction.

This undercuts the lobby group, Discovery Institute (DI), which argues that intelligent design should be considered good science and not religiously related. The DVD in question features an intelligent design advocate, Guillermo Gonzalez, who was denied tenure at Iowa State University in 2007 — in that flap, DI argued that the DVD was good science, not religion.

Creationism does tend to require being flexible on the truth. When fundraising, or when trying to defend Christian ideas, intelligent design is Christian doctrine. When DI and others are trying to sneak ID into science curricula in the U.S., it’s not religion at all, but scientifically related.

Treating subjects in that fashion is a form of moral relativism, or to most people, simple dishonesty.

(The discussion at the site of the Dominion Post is quite lively; see what New Zealanders think of intelligent design.)

Tip of the old scrub brush to Dr. Bumsted at Grassroots Science.

Update: P. Z. Myers at Pharyngula was already on it. Morris, Minnesota is just such a hub of scientific activity, it’s difficult to stay ahead of Dr. Myers when we’re stuck here in what appears to be the scientific backwater of Dallas.

Legacy of 1968: USS Pueblo still shadows North Korean relations

June 29, 2008

It’s clear that U.S. relations with North Korea (the Peoples Republic of Korea, or PRK) still suffer from institutional memories of the USS Pueblo incident. For both sides the Pueblo incident remains a sore point from 1968, a very trying year for the U.S. anyway.

PRK was scheduled to detail its nuclear activities in a report last Thursday when I started pondering this issue — part of the continuing negotiations to close down nuclear weapons production in PRK. PRK hoped to get off the U.S. list of “terrorist nations.

Al Jazeera featured this story, below, in September 2007. In addition to footage of the Pueblo, still illegally held by PRK, and used as tourist site and propaganda opportunity, the piece explores the effects of the incident on more recent events, the negotiations to de-nuclearize the Korean Peninsula.

And now we know the rest of the story. PRK delivered the report; Bush announced the nation would be taken off the list of supporters of terrorism.  (Report below from CBS News)

PRK destroyed the cooling towers to their offensive reactor.

And now we’re right back where we were in 1995. Eight years of Bush’s work pushed us backwards 13 years.  Partial compliance by PRK, but the bomb-building project is on hold.

Nuclear non-proliferation mades some strides this last week. Still I can’t help the feeling that January 21, 2009, cannot arrive quickly enough.

Remember the Pueblo veterans. The Pueblo Affair still dogs relations between the U.S. and the PRK, through no fault of the crew of the Pueblo who endured a year of brutal captivity, and then seem to have been forgotten by the nation they served so well.

Quote of the moment: T. H. Huxley

June 29, 2008

June 29, 1895: T.H. Huxley Dies

Thomas Henry Huxley, a British biologist and firm believer in evolution, dies at age 70. The greatest defender of Darwinism in Britain, he once said,

“The deepest sin against the human mind is to believe things without evidence.”

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