Recently, I discovered an Associated Press news article dated August 22, 1964. It was published in the Knoxville (TN) News-Sentinel. The initial headline reads: Radio Fire Indicated In Plane Crash. The headline on Page A-12, where the article was continued, reads: Evidence Of Radio Fire In Crash Found.
The story begins, in the first paragraph, “Civil Aeronautics Board investigators, picking their way laboriously through fragments of tragedy, are turning to the possibility of a cockpit radio panel fire as the cause of the crash…“
The story goes on to mention the plywood and chicken wire mock-up that was used in the process of reconstructing the “airline cabin” at the Naval Research Laboratory. It mentions the sooting patterns of airplane parts being studied by CAB officials. The story quotes CAB chief investigator-in-charge, George Richard Baker, “By finding where the in-flight fire is not, we hope to get down to where the fire was and eventually to pinpoint where the fire started.”
My assumption is that, by virtue of his above quote, Mr. Baker was likewise responsible for quotes later written in the article regarding the aircraft's inverters and fire extinguishers, etc.
Of course, there is a likelihood that a News-Sentinel editor sensationalized the headlines in order to catch the reader's eye. If one parses words enough, it can also be concluded that Mr. Baker, as he was being interviewed, may have not intended to place too much emphasis on a cockpit radio panel fire. The article mentions it as a “possibility” that the CAB was “turning to”.
So, one needs to be cautious by recognizing that, oftentimes, a reporter's or newspaper publisher's biggest desire is to sell newspapers.
Still there are a couple of things that are troubling.
It has to be recognized that the Civil Aeronautics Board eventually was to be the arbiter of any evidence put forward by the various agencies and companies. I am left to wonder, then, why a CAB spokesman would make mention-approximately six weeks after the crash-the various possibilities that were under consideration. In my opinion this is the same as a judge discussing evidence prior to conducting a trial.
I have to admit that I am uneducated as to protocols and standard operating procedures that were in existence during the 1960s, regarding the news media. However, it seems to me that had an indication existed that there was a “possible” malfunction of a system that included the flight's means of communication, and was widely reported, it should have been stated as a retraction in the final CAB Report.
Just why weren't there further communications from the flight crew to either Atlanta or Knoxville?
The aircraft was fitted with two VHF radio transmitters. While it is true that mountains and hills can interfere with VHF signals, the position of the aircraft and the nature of the terrain would not have fostered this problem.
Page 13 of the CAB report states ”…the crew discovered the fire sometime during the period between cancelling their Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) and before being observed in a descent about 4,000 feet above the ground.” The position of the plane-even as they later headed off course of Victor 16-would have still allowed them the Visual Flight Rules (VFR) they were permitted. At 1802:45 the flight cancelled their IFR clearance. Three minutes earlier, the crew requested “the lowest altitude available”, which was 8,000 feet. At that time they were well above 8,000 feet. In fact the Instrument Flight Plan requested for the route along the various Victor Airways, was 14, 000 feet. They did not begin descent until after reaching the Holston VORTAC. So the flight was probably well above 8,000 feet when the request was made for a lower altitude.
The weather along the last segment into Knoxville was clear and calm according to witnesses on the ground.
The crew would have easily been able to see landmarks on the right, Bays Mountain, and the mountains that comprise the NC/TN state line on the left. These reference points would have guided the flight right into Knoxville. The Smoky Mountains, the highest in elevation, are well to the south of Knoxville and would not have interfered with the aircraft's line of sight or its radio transmissions.
The report notes that, The accident occurred in day VFR conditions about 1:40 before sunset.
It is safe to assume that when the fire broke out on the aircraft it was at a reasonably high altitude so as not to have expereinced VHF radio interference attributable to terrain.
Why were there no calls of distress? Why was a “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday” not heard by either Atlanta or Knoxville, or anyone else on their frequency?
What we know about Captain Sabatke is that he was a seasoned World War II pilot (Scroll Down 11-30-44) who capably ditched his Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat in the ocean after he encountered problems with that particular aircraft. Anyone in the military-no matter what their occupation or duties-has contingencies drummed into their heads during training. It is what enables men to react during times of duress. Could he have been distracted that much, to not have given a distress signal? I find it doubtful-the reason being that, in the CAB report, he is credited with having the presence of mind to perform every emergency check.
“Conjecture” is used as a means of explaining why there was a discharge of CO2 into the baggage compartment. See Page 14 of the report. The report reasons that this discharge of CO2 was an action taken because of the remote possibility of being helpful, instead of being an indication of a fire below the cabin floor.
Conjecture should also be allowed when I state that there were no known communications beyond the “OK” at 1802:55 because radio communications were crippled by some sort of electrical failure which led to a malfunctioning of the flight's radios.