Yesterday's crash of a Florida-bound jetliner was the second fatal accident involving commercial passenger aircraft in the nearly 42-year history of National Airport.
The earlier crash occurred at 11:46 a.m. on Nov. 1, 1949, when a four-engine Eastern Air Lines DC4 coming from New York and approaching National from the south was struck from behind by a World War II surplus P38 fighter piloted by a Bolivian air force captain.
All 51 passengers and four crew members on the airliner perished, but the seriously injured Bolivian pilot survived. Among those killed in that crash were Rep. George J. Bates (R-Mass.) and Helen Hokinson, whose New Yorker magazine cartoons lampooning middle-class clubwomen remain classics to this day.
The accident was the nation's worst airliner tragedy up to that time.
The collision triggered demands in Congress to build a new airport to relieve congestion at National. The ultimate result of the congressional move was the opening in 1963 of Dulles International Airport, 28 miles to the west.
Apart from the 1949 airliner crash, there was one other fatal accident at National, on July 2, 1970, when improperly secured cargo shifted aboard a small plane aproaching the airport, sending it diving into the river. Both crewmen were killed.
The worst air tragedy in the area's history involved a plane scheduled to land at National but diverted to Dulles because of heavy winds. That accident occurred Dec. 1, 1974, when a TWA stretch 727 hit a mountaintop in Loudoun County 23 miles west of Dulles, killing 85 passengers and the crew of seven.
In 1963, 81 persons died near Elkton, Md., in the crash of a Pan American jetliner on the way to New York after a stopover at Baltimore.
In 1975, five residents of Columbus, Ohio, were killed when their light plane bound for National struck the cloud-shrouded tip of a radio tower at American University and crashed.
Two years later, four people aboard another light plane that took off from National for Atlanta were killed when the craft crashed in McLean. Later that year a light plane flying from Columbus to Dulles crashed into a Reston home, killing two residents and the pilot.
The most recent serious air crash in the region occurred last May 6 when an Air Force jetliner with missile-tracking equipment aboard exploded in midair near Frederick, Md., killing all 21 aboard.
In 1949, when the airliner approaching National Airport was struck by the former military craft, it came apart and fell into the river off Hains Point, about a mile from the scene of yesterday's crash, sinking immediately. Police, Coast Guard and Navy launches worked well into the night and next day pulling bodies from the water.
The Bolivian pilot, Capt. Erick Rios Bridoux, was accused by the Civil Aeronautics Board of flying an uncertified airplane and failing to heed an instruction from the tower to "give way" to the passenger plane. Controllers said they were watching two blips closing in on each other on their radar screen and were trying frantically to get Bridoux to change course.
Nearly all the parties involved in the accident filed suit against one another. In the end, after a confusing tangle of court opinions, the U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed a jury finding that Eastern was responsible but that the federal government also was negligent. Bridoux was cleared of all charges.