JFK Airport No Stranger To Disruptive Incidents

While the bomb threat aimed at Alitalia Flight AZ604 before it landed at JFK Airport was the most recent incident there, it certainly wasn’t the first. The passengers were successfully evacuated and the only harm to them was the hour-long wait for luggage. Like any other major airport, JFK Airport has had its share of crashes and others sorts of disruptive incidents. Some of the most famous are detailed below.

Before JFK Airport had its current name, it was called Idlewild Airport. The most famous disaster at Idlewild was the 1960 collision of a United Airlines Douglas DC-8 and a TWA Lockheed Super Constellation, killing everyone aboard the two planes as well as six people on the ground. Known as the Park Slope Plane Crash, it was the first crash where flight recorders helped determine what happened to cause the crash and lead to many reforms.

In 1975, Eastern Air Lines Flight 66 crashed at JFK Airport while trying to land in windshear (when there is a difference in wind speed and direction in a small area). 106 passengers and six crew members died; ten passengers and two flight attendants lived. The accident was ruled to have been preventable because the runway that the plane attempted to land on has been already known to be hazardous in the windy conditions. The famous medical examiner Michael Baden would write about attending to this crash in his 1989 book, Unnatural Death.

Avianca Flight 52 in 1990 crashed when it ran out of fuel outside JFK Airport. Of the 149 passengers and 9 crew members, there were 73 fatalities and 85 survivors. JFK Airport officials said that the flight crew did not declare a fuel emergency. (In actuality, whether a fuel emergency was declared is debatable; the Avinaca crew repeatedly declared “priority,” and the Spanish term for emergency, “priorato” may have been confused with the similar sounding word with a very different meaning.)

The deadliest incident at JFK Airport occurred only two months after the 9/11 attacks on the United States. American Airlines Flight 587 crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all 264 people aboard as well as one person on the ground. It was the second deadliest crash in the United States ever. While its timing led to many fears of terrorism, the ultimate cause of the accident was ruled to be separation of the vertical stabilizer from over-use of the rudder in turbulence.

Of course, not all the incidents at JFK Airport have been plane crashes. In 1967, the Lucchese crime family took almost 420 thousand dollars from an Air France cargo terminal. Incredibly, in 1978, another member of the Lucchese family planned and executed another robbery from JFK, this time from a a Lufthansa vault. Over 5 million dollars were stolen. The cash was never recovered, but the mastermind behind the robbery was eventually arrested and charged with the murder of another one of the robbers, one of nine murders associated with the heist. Several others involved in the case were arrested in 2014.

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