SkyNet - Special Report

Date: December 8th, 1963
Type: Boeing 707-121
Registration: N709PA
Operator: Pan American World Airways
Where: Elkton, Maryland
Report No.: File # 1-0015
Report Date: March 3rd, 1965
Pages: -

The following report was summarized from the Civil Aeronautics Board report about the incident, which was released March 3rd, 1965.

File # 1-0015 December 8, 1963
Pan American World Airways Flight 214, Boeing 707-121, registration
N709PA, near Elkton, Maryland.


A Pan American World Airways Boeing 707-121, N709PA, Flight 214, crashed at 20:59 e.s.t., December 8, 1963, near Elkton, Maryland.

Flight 214 was in a holding pattern awaiting an insturment approach to the Philadelphia International Airport when it was struck by lightning. Immediately thereafter, the aircraft was observed to be on fire. A large portion of the left wing seperated in flight and the aircraft crashed in flames approximately ten nautical miles southwest of the New Castle, Delaware VOR. All persons aboard, 73 passengers and eight crew members, perished in the crash and the aircraft was destroyed.

The Accident

Pan American Flight 214, a Boeing 707-121, N709PA, departed friendship International Airport, Baltimore, Maryland, for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at 20:24 e.s.t., December 8,1963. The aircraft, with 73 passengers and a crew of eight, was on an Insturment Flight Rules (IFR) clearance. The flight reported over the New Castle Delaware VOR at 2042 and was instructed to hold at 5000 feet, west of the VOR. At 2058 a "MAYDAY" transmission was heard from the flight. Shortly thereafter, the pilot of another aircraft radioed that "CLIPPER 214 IS GOING DOWN IN FLAMES".

Flight 214 crashed two miles east of Elkton, Maryland, at 20:59 e.s.t. . All persons aboard were killed instantly. The aircraft was destroyed by explosion, impact, and fire.

The Investigation
(a brief summary)

Analysis of the debris showed evidence of a lightning strike to the left wing, specifically at the No. 1 reserve fuel tank, and evidence of a strike near connection points for the HF antenna. Samples of fuels were taken from San Juan, Puerto Rico, Idlewild, New York, and Baltimore Maryland. The mixture of Types "A" and "B" fuels was studied, and not found to be a significant contributing factor. Testing of the aircraft's fuel tanks and supporting structures showed evidence of "magnetic anomilies" which would be consistent with the lightening strike theory. Of the 140 ground witnesses interviewed, 99 reported sighting an aircraft or flaming object in the sky. Seventy-two said they saw lightning, and seven stated that they saw lightning strike the aircraft. Three other persons reported seeing a "ball of fire" appear at the fork-end of the lightning stroke.

Probable Cause

The Board determines the probable cause of this accident was lightning- induced ignition of the fuel/air mixture in the No. 1 reserve fuel tank with resultant explosive disintegration of the left outer wing and loss of control.


/s/ ALAN S. BOYD, Chairman
/s/ ROBERT T. MURPHY, Vice Chairman
/s/ CHAN GURNEY, Member

The Flight Crew

Captain George F. Knuth, age 45
First Officer John R. Dale, age 48
Second Officer Paul L. Orringer, age 42
Flight Engineer John R. Kantlehner

The Aircraft

Boeing 707-121, N709PA, was purchased by Pan American in 1958, and had a total flying time of 4,609 hours. The last major inspection was performed March 25, 1963, and the last layover transit inspection December 7, 1963. The aircraft was powered by four Pratt and Whitney JT3C-6 turbojet engines.

Many thanks to Tim Hufnell for his research and assistance in compiling this report.
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