The 3rd worst disaster in US domestic aviation history occurred on November 8, 1961 at Byrd Field in Richmond, now Richmond International Airport. The plane, a 15 year old Lockheed Constellation L-049 was carrying 74 Army inductees, who had embarked in Newark, Wilkes-Barre, and Baltimore on their way to Columbia, SC. Many of the young men on the plane were taking the first flight in their lives.
The pilot attempted an emergency landing in Richmond after losing power in 2 of 4 engines because of poor fuel pressure. The first pass at the runway was unsuccessful. A third engine failed as the plane attempted to make the turn back to the head of the runway, and the plane crashed in the woods. The exit from the passenger areas was blocked by trees and branches. The pilot and one crew member managed to climb out of the cockpit through the broken windshield as fire erupted, but everyone else in the plane died of asphyxiation.
The disaster prompted changes in Pentagon procedures for hiring domestic carriers for military transportation, so-called “nonscheds”. Until 1961, the military had been required to accept the low bidder. This resulted in a dismal safety record because of substandard maintenance and crew training in the lowest cost carriers like Imperial Air, which owned and operated the doomed Constellation L-049. An investigative report of the crash speculated that impurities in the fuel might have caused the loss of fuel pressure, but because the plane caught fire, a conclusive cause could not be determined.
A historical sign in Richmond and memorials in Passaic, NJ and Bethlehem have been erected in remembrance of the lives lost in the crash.