Disasters: Good Night

Beneath starlit skies in perfect flying weather, Eastern Air Lines Flight 663 poised for takeoff at New York's Kennedy Airport. Aboard the four-motor DC-7B—a piston-driven model that Eastern is phasing out—were 79 passengers and a crew of five. Airport, control-tower operators routinely told the New York Air Route Traffic Control Center on Long Island that Flight 663 was about to execute a "Dutch Seven Departure," a takeoff pattern designed to avoid New York City by making a series of turns over the Atlantic before the plane headed toward Richmond and points south.

At 6:19 p.m., New York Control said: "All...

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