DISASTERS: Death at the Back Door

Ten minutes away from a landing at New York's LaGuardia Airport one night last week, 68 passengers stirred awake aboard American Airlines' big orange, blue and aluminum Flagship New York, dutifully obeyed the "Fasten Seat Belts" sign. The brand-new four-engine turboprop Electra had more than lived up to its billing: normal flight time from Chicago at the Electra's 400-m.p.h. cruising speed had been sliced a third. And the big aircraft had winged 713 miles eastward through almost steady rain at 21,000 ft. with barely a bump.

Forward in the cockpit, Captain Albert H. DeWitt, 59, wheeled the big Electra on...

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