Of the passengers and crew on those two flights, only one survived the initial crash. But that survivor -- an 11-year-old boy who had been thrown into a snowbank -- later died; half a dozen people on the ground were also killed.
Weather conditions at the time of the collision were what could be called, at best, sketchy: it had snowed earlier, and rain and fog still lingered (2). And while neither flight had reported any mechanical problems, but the United flight was apparently having trouble with its navigational receivers. Either way, it had strayed a dozen miles off course and into that of the TWA flight.
Witnesses speculated that the United flight's pilots were attempting an emergency landing in Prospect Park. On the face of it, it's not an unreasonable supposition, since the park is only a few blocks away from the crash site at Stirling Place and 7th Avenue, but it's uncertain whether the pilots still had control of the plane.
Wikipedia has an article about the crash; the "References" section contains a few sources not linked to here.
In addition, the New York Times has been running a series of articles about the anniversary.
- "A Collision in the Clouds" (December 12)
- "How It Happened" (December 14)
- "Scarred Roofs and Jet Parts" (December 15)
- "Sights and Sounds" (December 16)
- "50 Years Later, Traces of an Air Crash Linger in Rusty Metal, and Memories" (December 12)
- "The Neighborhood in 1960" (December 13)
- "The Boy Who Fell From the Sky" (December 16)
- "A Little Brother Remembers" (December 16)
Brooklyn Public Library's "Brooklynology" blog had a post about the crash, as seen through one photographer's lens; it had not worked its way through my feed reader when I initially published this post.