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Birds Bring Down DC-10 at New York's JFK

By Patrick Mondout

At shortly after 1 p.m. on November 12, 1975, Overseas National Airways (ONA) Flight 032, a Douglas DC-10 crashed while attempting to take off from runway 13R at JFK Airport, New York. Of the 139 persons on the aircraft, 2 were seriously inured and 30 were slightly injured.

The crew consisted of Captain Harry R. Davis, First Officer (F/O) Raymond A. Carrier, and Flight Engineer (F/E) Jack A. Holland. Also in the cockpit was ONA F/E Ben Conaster, who was filming the takeoff from the observer seat behind the captain.

During the takeoff roll, the aircraft struck sea gulls (estimated to be a flock of about 100 by Captain Harris) and the takeoff was rejected.

The three General Electric (GE) CF6-50A high-bypass ratio turbofans were being feed by 235,000 pounds of jet-A fuel. The right engine disintegrated and caught fire; several tires and wheels disintegrated; and the aircraft did not decelerate as expected. Near the end of the runway, Captain Harris steered the aircraft onto a taxiway; the landing gear collapsed, and most of the aircraft was consumed by the fire.

ONA Flight 032

Captain Harry Davis took this photo short after exiting the aircraft. Notice the woman at the door about to jump down the yellow/white slide. (Click the image for a larger version.)

Image courtesy of Harry Davis/Pete Stark.

After the aircraft stopped, F/E Jack Holland pulled the fire handles for Nos.1 and 2 engines. Captain Harris closed the engine fuel shutoff levers to these engines before he left the cockpit. The public address microphone had become displaced during the stopping sequence, and an evacuation order could not be given. Fortunately, the aircraft was filled with ONA employees quite familiar with emergency evacuation procedures.

When F/O Raymond Carrier opened the right front cockpit window, he saw fire on the right wing. By that time, another crewmember had opened the cockpit door and black smoke could be seen in the cabin. Since there was a group of passengers around the right front exit, the three flightcrew members exited out the right front cockpit window and down the escape rope. Ben Conaster escaped with his camera through the right front exit.

Although rescue crews were at the scene within a minute, the fire was not extinguished fully for 36 hours.

The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the probable cause of the accident was the disintegration and subsequent fire in the No. 3 engine when it ingested a large number of sea gulls. Following the disintegration of the engine, the aircraft failed to decelerate effectively because: 

  1. The No. 3 hydraulic system was inoperative, which caused the loss of the No. 2 brake system and braking torque to be reduced 50 percent; 
  2. The No. 3 engine thrust reversers were inoperative; 
  3. At least three tires disintegrated; 
  4. The No. 3 system spoiler panels on each wing could not deploy; and 
  5. The runway surface was wet. 

The following factors contributed to the accident: 

  1. The bird-control program at JFK Airport did not effectively control the bird hazard on the airport; and 
  2. The FAA and the GE (makers of the engines) failed to consider the effects of rotor imbalance on the abatable epoxy shroud material when the engine was tested for certification. 

ONA DC-10-30

Captain Davis also took this shot. (Click the image for a larger version.)

Image courtesy of Harry Davis/Pete Stark.


The NTSB noted that the occupiable area of the aircraft was totally intact when the plane came to a stop. They determined the rapid and successful egress of all the occupants may be partially attributed to the fact that nearly all passengers were trained crewmembers and all were airline employees with knowledge of the aircraft, evacuation procedures, and facilities. Serious evacuation problems could have been experienced had this been a routine passenger flight with untrained airline passengers.

The Port Authority Aeronautical Services Division (ASD) was responsible for the control of the bird hazard at JFK Airport. Implementation of the program rests primarily with the airport's duty supervisor and construction supervisor. Before November 1, 1975, the number of personnel and vehicles actively engaged in bird dispersal ranged from one to six vehicles and up to seven personnel. Except for one individual, these personnel were not employed exclusively for bird control duties. They were assigned various other duties with bird control as an additional duty. Airport personnel in Airport Operations and Construction had radio contact with the JFK tower when on duty and would coordinate bird-dispersal activities with the tower. Port Authority personnel indicated that all employees of the airport were requested to observe and report bird loafing and related activities to appropriate airport personnel.

The bird dispersal program consisted, in part, of the following mesures:

  1. On the day of the accident seven carbide cannons were in service along the first 5,000 feet of runway 13R.
  2. One vehicle had the capability of transmitting tape recorded stress cries of birds.
  3. Shotguns and bird patrols were used.
  4. Vegetation, rodent life, water ponds, and food sources are to be removed from the airport.
  5. Efforts were made to reduce the attraction to birds presented by dumps. The efforts were being made by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the FAA, the Port Authority, and the New York City Sanitation Department.

A number of changes were mandated by the FAA following NTSB recommendations to prevent this kind of an accident.

A photograph of this DC-10 in happier times is here.

Source: Adapted from National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report NTSB-AAR-76-19.

Overseas National 032 at a Glance
AirlineOverseas National
DateNovember 12, 1975
Flight number032
Registration NumberN1032F
Crew Fatalities0 of 10
Passenger Fatalities0 of 129
Total Fatalities0 of 139

Air Safety References:
Bartelski, Jan. Disasters in the Air: Mysterious Air Disasters Explained. Airlife Publishing: England, 2001.
Beaty, David. The Naked Pilot: The Human Factor in Aircraft Accidents. Airlife Publishing: England, 1996.
Cushing, Steven. Fatal Words: Communication Clashes and Aircraft Crashes University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1997.
Faith, Nicholas. Black Box: The Air-Crash Detectives-Why Air Safety Is No Accident. Motorbooks International, 1997.
Gero, David. Aviation Disasters: The World's Major Civil Airliner Crashes Since 1950. Sutton, 2003.
Job, Macarthur. Air Disaster (Volume 1). Aerospace Publications: Fyshwick, Australia, 1995.
Job, Macarthur. Air Disaster (Volume 2). Aerospace Publications: Fyshwick, Australia, 1996.
Job, Macarthur. Air Disaster (Volume 3). Aerospace Publications: Fyshwick, Australia, 1999.
Krause, Shari Stamford. Aircraft Safety: Accident Investigations, Analyses & Applications. McGraw Hill, New York, 1996.
Macpherson, Malcolm. The Black Box : All-New Cockpit Voice Recorder Accounts Of In-flight Accidents. New York: William Morrow, 1998.
Macpherson, Malcolm. On a Wing and a Prayer: Interviews with Airline Disaster Survivors. Perennial, 2002.
Owen, David. Air Accident Investigation, 2nd Edition. Motorbooks International, 2002.
Stewart, Stanley. Emergency! - Crisis on the Flight Deck, 2nd Edition. Airlife Publishing, England, 2003.
Walters, James M. Aircraft Accident Analysis: Final Reports. McGraw-Hill Professional, 2000.
Wells, Alexander T. Commercial Aviation Safety, 3rd Edition. McGraw-Hill Professional, 2001.


Share Your Memories!

What do you remember about this crash? Were you a witness? Have you any compelling stories to share? Share your stories with the world! (We print the best stories right here!)

Your Memories Shared!

"I was one of the passengers on this crash. We were all company employees enroute to a temporary assignment in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. One of the passengers had a camera around his neck as he jumped off, so he stepped back and took some great pictures. We all have a copy of them. [Editor's note: It was actually the captain. We received permission to reprint them here.]"

--Brian VanHandel

"I was a store clerk at Ona in Wilmington, Ohio. We had just serviced this aircraft before it went to JFK. This was very traumatic to all those at Wilminton Ona base. I was horrified when I heard that it was destroyed. When we saw the pictures, I was even more so."


"[Notice in the picture the rope from the cockpit;] both pilots went out the windows on escape lines - 1 inch straight nylons resulting in torn and burned hands. [A Vietnamese flight attendant] was on her first trip and her last - she quit."

--Pete Stark



Airline: Overseas National

Location: JFK Airport in New York

Aircraft: McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30CF

Date: November 12, 1975

Total Fatalities: 0 of 139

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