1960 Plane Crash Victims Families Exploited by Local Media.

Pillar of FireImage by writRHET via Flickr

Fallout from a Plane Crash.

On December 16, 1960, United Flight 826 and TWA Flight 266 collided over Staten Island, New York. The United plane, while attempting an emergency landing at LaGuardia Airport, crashed into the Park Slope section of Brooklyn.

From the Green-Wood Historical Fund:

Ten brownstones near the intersection of Seventh Avenue and Sterling Place were set on fire, as were a funeral home, a laundry, a delicatessen, and, strangely enough, the Pillar of Fire Church.

134 people died that day including my husband’s father. My husband was four years old.

But the tragedy didn’t end with the victims suffering or with the families devastating losses. On that day a Channel 4 news reporter, Gabe Pressman, had gotten a hold of the passenger manifest from United Flight 826 and called my husband’s mother, and likely other families, to get an interview.

He called my mother-in-law live on the air to inform her that her husband was on United Flight 826 and said something to the affect of, “Do you have a comment?”

That’s how my mother-in-law found out her husband was dead. Her brother then grabbed the phone from her and said, “Fuck you Gabe Pressman,” then hung up.

When recounting the incident of his father’s death on the 50th anniversary of the air disaster, my husband said of Gabe Pressman, “How callous and cold-hearted.  Just to get a story.”

NY Times television critic Jack Gould had criticized the television coverage of the crash and had published a piece called,

“Exploiting Sorrow,” specifically, “the disgraceful and tasteless attempts to interview grief-stricken people who lost members of their families in the tragedies.”

Fifty years later while reflecting on Jack Gould’s criticism of his handling of the story, Gabe Pressman had this to say:

“. . . he didn’t know beans about covering a story on the scene.”

And I say to you, Mr. Pressman, you don’t know beans about integrity in journalism or respect for victims families. A line needs to be drawn between “getting the story” and respecting the privacy of those who survived a loved ones untimely death. This was “gotcha journalism” at its worst.

In spite of the soul gouging by journalists that transpired that day, today, Thursday, December 16, 2010, fifty years later, we remember the souls aboard the two doomed aircrafts, as well as the victims killed on the ground.

On the 50th anniversary of the air disaster that set a section of Brooklyn ablaze, theGreen-Wood Historical Fund in Park Slope is dedicating a memorial to those who died on that cold December morning.  Back in August, while responding to an inquiry about a grave in a public lot, cemetery archivist Theresa LaBianca accidentally discovered the story of the 1960 tragedy.

From the Green-Wood Historical website:

On December 16, 1960, United Airlines Flight 826 and Trans World Airlines Flight 266 collided over Staten Island. The United flight then tried to make it to LaGuardia Airport for an emergency landing, but crashed in Park Slope. Ten brownstones near the intersection of Seventh Avenue and Sterling Place were set on fire, as were a funeral home, a laundry, a delicatessen, and, strangely enough, the Pillar of Fire Church. Eighty-four people on that flight died, and six people on the ground also were killed. The TWA flight crashed in Staten Island and forty-four passengers and crew died there. The investigation of this disaster marked the first time that an airplane’s black box data recorder was used to provide details of what had happened.

In an era before DNA identifications were possible, three caskets of “Fragmentary Human Remains” were filled from the Park Slope crash site and were buried in a grave in lot 38325 that was purchased by United Airlines. No marker was placed on the grave.

Pillar of Fire Church after Crash.

An eerie side note: Twenty years ago I worked for a real estate advertising company in Harrison, NY. While having a discussion about family with my boss, I mentioned the 1960 air disaster and my connection to it. My boss then told me that he had been a student at the time at a mid west college and was booked on the same doomed flight out of Chicago O’Hare airport. He missed the flight. My husband’s father caught an earlier flight to get home to his family for the Christmas holiday.

To read more about the air disaster and subsequent cover up, read the book Sterling Place by Ray Garcia.  I haven’t read it yet. My husband did. He had heard about the book before its publication and had contacted the author, concerned with the tenor of the content. My husband was pleased with the author’s response.

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12 Comments 1960 Plane Crash Victims Families Exploited by Local Media.

  1. Leeuna

    People like this Gabe Pressman give the rest of us journalist a bad name. That had to be the worst case of tasteless reporting ever in history.

    What a tragedy. And what an ass this guy was. I would NEVER do that! I don't see how anyone with a heart at all could be that cruel.

  2. Lauren

    Leeuna: You are a wonderful soul. You've got a huge heart and the integrity to match it. In an egg carton, you'll always find one or two cracked eggs. Gabe Pressman is one cracked egg.

  3. ReformingGeek

    YIKES! That's quite a tragedy. It's too bad about Gabe but he has an interesting last name but maybe it should have been ROTTENEGG.

  4. Mrsblogalot

    Unbelievable. What a way to hear such tragic news. And that is an eerie side note. It makes one fall into the "what-if" or "if-only" frame of mind for a good long time. Tragic in so many ways.

  5. Lauren

    Mrs B: I like to keep things light here but this story needed to be told. Life is full of coincidences and I believe it falls into a master plan. I just haven't figured out who writes it.

  6. H.J.

    Great story on many levels; thanks for sharing it. It reminds me that life is fragile; temporary. It also demonstrates human selfishness. The reporter was only interested in how he could profit from that tragedy; he didn't consider, or maybe he did and just didn't care, how it would impact the lives of others.


    I'm glad you shared this personal story Lauren. I've been surrounded by much unexpected tragic death lately, though none of them (Thankfully, in the case of reporters like Gabe Pressman) have been newsworthy. I couldn't imagine having a reporter call me now. As for your eerie encounter with your boss. I agree that sometimes, you wonder if the universe puts out some kind of energy to send you further down a path. I'm very sorry for your husband's loss. This story definitely needs to be told. Thanks for the book recommendation.

  8. Lauren

    Snee: Sorry to hear about what you're going through. My thoughts are with you and your family.

    I'm beginning to think that there aren't any coincidences. Things happen for a reason.


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