Pan Am Flight 214

By | Dec 8, 2008

Pam Am flight 214, a Boeing 707-121, took off from Luis Munoz Marin International Airport at 4:10 p.m. EST on December 8, 1963 for a flight to Philadelphia Philadelphia. The 73 passengers and 8 crew on board had no idea that they would go down in history.

The airplane was built in 1958 and was named the “Clipper Tradewind”. It had logged 15,609 hours, as recorded by the Aviation Safety Network.

After a stop at Baltimore’s Friendship Airport (now BWI-Marshall) for a refueling stop the flight headed for Philadelphia. There were heavy winds at Philadelphia and it was determined that they would stay in a holding pattern instead of trying to land. Then at 8:58 p.m. EST, the plane was struck by lightning, causing an explosion.

With a final distress call of “Mayday Mayday Mayday. Clipper 214 out of control. Here we go.”, the plane crashed moments later near Elkton, Maryland. All 81 people on the flight were killed.

Prior to this it was believed that lightning could not damage an aircraft. This myth proved to be in error and costly.

It took nearly two years for the Civil Aeronautics Board to issue a probable cause of the accident. On March 3, 1965 issued a statement that read; “Probable Cause: 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.”

Memorial Monument for Pan Am Flight 214.

Memorial Monument for Pan Am Flight 214. Photograph by Carol Crawley.

Photo of the Memorial Monument was added to the article on April 26, 2012. Photo by Carol Crawley.


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75 Comments so far
  1. Paula Lancaster November 20, 2012 1:35 pm

    As the anniversary day approaches I just want to express my thoughts and prayers to everyone touched by this tragedy. My husband was one of the young Navy recruits that spent several days assisting in the recovery efforts. While he has shared some of the experience, he still has certain memories that to this day he is us able to talk about. He has often spoke of the one thing he is not able to get away from, wondering about those whose lives were forever altered by the events of that night. He is planning on making the journey back to Elkton for the memorial and I am hoping that for him, and everyone involved, just being with others who understand the significance of what happened there will bring some peace. Blessings to all.

  2. Shaunna Knuth December 10, 2012 9:45 pm

    My husband was just contacted by the Cecil County Historical Society. They are planning a 50th anniversary rememberance next year in Elkton. If you want more information email Mike Dixon at the Elkton Historical Society and he can give you updates as it gets closer.

  3. Dave Cameron January 31, 2013 5:12 pm

    I just came across this site and thought I would share my story on this tragic event.

    I actually saw this happen. I was 3 years old at the time and remember it vividly probably due to the traumatic nature. My house sits on hill west of Newark, DE on route 273 just before the state line. We had an open view to the south and southwest. My father was watching the storm standing by the picture window while my mother was reading to me on the sofa situated across the room. I happened to be looking out the window at that time when there was a bright flash. I remember seeing an orange fireball erupt and arc down from the sky. I was able to see it from when it happened until came very near the ground before it was behind trees. My guess is that is was 5 or 6 miles from my house.

    The neighbors from behind us came over and we set out in the car to try to find where it came down. Not knowing exactly where, we headed toward south Newark down route 896. If memory serves correctly, traffic was stopped by police or emergency and we were turned around near the U of D sporting complex.

    My parents have friends at the corner of Old Baltimore Pike and Pleasant Valley road. I remember being told, many years later, that the owner, Clayton, was helping in the search and finding a few body parts and much debris on his property. He owns several acres between Pleasant Valley Road in Delaware and Delancy Road in Maryland.

    This accident affected me for some time. I remember asking my parents why God would let it happen and if they were with Him. It is truly amazing what memories remain from youth.

  4. Kathleen McKernan Naughton May 13, 2013 6:05 pm

    My parent were on board with their very good friends, the Hefele’s and the Gilberts. Allentown PA was left with 12 orphans; the town lost some very fine people. I sincerely thank the townspeople of Elkton for the memorial marker and for the honesty in the comments shared here.

  5. Jeff Clark June 13, 2013 8:43 am

    I remember that night. My Dad jumped up to look out the window while watching TV. I was 8 years old at the time and lived in Elkton about 5 miles from the crash site. I asked my Dad “what was that?” he said, “I don’t know, now go to bed”. I think he knew. The next morning, when it was all over the news, Dad never said a word about it.

  6. Mel Lester Jr. July 2, 2013 3:15 pm

    My father was an Army Doctor stationed at Valley Forge Army Hospital in Phoenixville, PA, where we lived at the time. That night, he called my mother from the Baltimore airport to let her know he would be boarding flight 214 in a few minutes and would need a ride home from the airport in Philadelphia, about 30 miles away from our home.

    After he hung up, and tried to board the flight (he was in uniform and traveling military standby), he was told that someone had bumped him from the flight, but that the airline could get him on a different flight in about 10 minutes.

    My parent are still alive (Dad is now 83) and visited me this weekend when the subject came up. Dad mentioned that he has wondered for all these years who was the unlucky passenger who got his seat.

    We saw a newscast on TV reporting the crash just as Mom was leaving for the airport. I was 13 at the time. We had begun a “You’re the man of the family now…” conversation, when my Dad called from the Philadelphia airport wondering why no one had come to pick him up. At the time, he had not heard about the accident. My mother was in no shape to drive into the city, so Dad ended up taking the last commuter train to Paoli that evening where a friend from work met him and brought him home to us.

  7. Steven G. Atkinson July 27, 2013 9:51 am

    On Sunday, afternoon Dec., 8, 2013, the Historical Society of Cecil County will hold a remembrance program to honor the memory of those who lost their lives on a day we will never forget, as well as those who were touched in other ways by the tragedy. On this date, fifty years after the tragedy altered so many lives, families, emergency responders, and the public are invited to gather and remember the victims and those who answered the call to help. A complete schedule will be released as the date nears, but since many family members will be traveling a distance, the society is providing this preliminary information.

  8. Steve Hefele October 30, 2013 1:57 pm

    As an 8 year old, I remember being in bed that night and waking up to the sound of my paternal grandmother sobbbing on the phone in disbeleif over the news. My younger brother and I went downstairs to find out what was going on. Soon all our relatives showed up and the family prayed the Rosary through the night and hoped for the best. By the next morning my sisters, brother and I were told we’d be living with our cousins and aunt and uncle. Too young then to really comprehend the magnitude of those events. An incomprehensible loss, but eternally grateful to all of our relatives and friends of the family who stepped up and nurtured and guided us through our lives.

  9. Keli Hefele October 30, 2013 2:23 pm

    My grandparents, Dr. Charles and Mrs. Virginia Hefele, were on Pan Am Flight 214. Even though I never got to meet them, I know they would have been amazing role models and I still miss them to this day. I am the second oldest of six children, three girls and three boys. All of us wish we would have had our grandparents in our lives, but one day we will get to meet them.

    My father, one of five, was eight years old at the time of the crash. If they were still here, they would be very proud of my dad and the man he has grown to be.. He is the best father, and we are truly blessed to be his children. I am lucky to be a part of the Hefele family, and to know my grandparents were great people. My grandfather, a successful obstetrician in Allentown pa, delivered babies into this world, and it’s devastating that he and my grandmother were taken at such a young age. I have enjoyed reading everyone’s comments and even hearing some kind words about my grandparents from posts above. My heart goes out to everyone that is a part of this blog, and my thoughts and prayers will always be with you. My family and I will be there at the 50th Anniversary Memorial service to share this special remembrance with all the other families and friends that went through this tragedy, and has lost a special someone(s) on December 8th, 1963.

    Thank you to the individuals who are hosting the service and for bringing everyone together 50 years later.

  10. Patricia Hefele October 30, 2013 11:11 pm

    My parents were on the PanAm Flight 214 with two other couples, the GIlberts and the Mckernan’s. They were wonderful people and have been missed so much by their families.

    A day doesn’t go by that I don’t think about them. I miss my parents to this day.

    I vividly remember that night. My grandmother was taking care of me and my three siblings while my parents were away. She was watching the Ed Sullivan when a live news broadcast interrupted the the program to announce the crash. My grandmother knew immediately that it was the plane my parents and their good friends were on. Our lives changed forever.

    I thank the Historical Society of Cecil County for planning the Remembrance Program and would also like to thank all the brave responders and the people of Elkton who also risked their lives to help others.

  11. Mary Bogle November 12, 2013 1:32 am

    Dear Pat Hefele,
    My deepest sympathies for your loss. Colleen McKernan was a classmate of mine at St Francis Academy. I have thought about her and her devastating loss many times over the years. My uncle, Austin McCarthy was on the plane. I will be attending the ceremony on December 8th. Do you have any contact with the McKernan family? I would love to meet you if you will be in Elkton.
    Mary Bogle

  12. ellen j walker November 22, 2013 4:45 pm

    I will be attending the 50th anniversary of the 1963 plane crash that took the life of my mother’s sister and brother in law joyce miller gilbert and bob. It will be a bittersweet reunion of family and friends and I can remember the night of 12/8/1963 like it was yesterday.

  13. Donna Mitchell December 6, 2013 4:29 pm

    I grew on on a farm on Old Baltimore Pike now Dearborne woods and always felt as if someone was watching us as we went about our daily business. I was about 30 when i moved from the farm and was finally able to tolerate the dark without the hair raising up on my arms. I had heard stories of this terrible plane crash – as kids we found parts of the plane, misc atifacts even a small piece of the wing. at times late at night I would look out my window and att he end of our lane would be a blinking light…it would come and go…now in the house i am in i recently realized what is should feel like to be in a home…at peace. on the farm there was definately something going on there…i hope that someday those poor souls can find peace.

  14. Jay Kornblatt December 7, 2013 10:31 am

    My sister, H. Sue Kornblatt-Skolnick and her new husband, Irvin Skolnick, were in the plane coming home from their honeymoon in Puerto Rico. Although it’s been 50 years, that night, seems like yesterday. I do have one momento which I look at fom time to time. It was my Brother in laws Accutron watch, which had the crystal melted onto the face at exactly the moment the plane blew up. I treasure it. JK

  15. J Kahn December 8, 2013 9:49 pm

    My wife’s father was the second officer, Paul Orringer. As C Getter mentioned above, he had a wife and two young children, Andrew, who was 6 or 7, and Jane, who was 4. Jane just mentioned to me that today is the 50th anniversary.

  16. Rich Loving December 8, 2013 11:58 pm

    Thanks for hosting this site.

    I lost my grandparents on this flight. It is interesting what google can dig up but this site has more feedback from those involved.

    Thanks again for hosting.


  17. Matt Gilbert December 10, 2013 1:03 am

    I just want to thank the Cecil County Historical Society for hosting this past weekend events. I would also like to thank all of those who made it possible for the McKernan, Hefele and Gilbert family to gather for brunch prior to the Rememberance in Elkton. It was very special. I known my father Jeff was very happy to meet with and talk with the other families prior to us going to Elkton. If possible can someone forward to us a copy of the picture we posed for outside the resturant. Thanks again and as my Uncle said god Bless and Merry Christmas to all!

  18. Keli Hefele December 10, 2013 10:15 am

    I also wanted to thank the Cecil County Historical Society for the beautiful memorial service this past weekend. I’m so happy to have met some of the other families who share a similar bond, especially the McKernan & Gilbert Family, who were the friends traveling with my Grandparents on December 8th. We instantly connected with several of the people and even had the opportunity to exchange stories with them. I also enjoyed learning additional information from the speakers and PowerPoint presentation. The memories shared will always be remembered.

    Thank you again and to all the others that contributed in bringing everyone together at such a lovely event 50 years later.

    Matt- I will email you that picture! :) It was great meeting you and all the other wonderful McKernans. We need to stay in touch!

    Take care and Happy Holidays!

    Keli and the Hefele Group!

  19. Matt Gilbert December 16, 2013 11:09 pm

    @ Keli Hefele, thank you that would be greatly appreciated. Make sure you get a chance to look at the power point that the Historical Society put out. It a very moving and wonderful refelection of all the victims.

  20. Sherry james February 10, 2015 10:28 pm

    One thing is for sure and that is one of the most haunted places in the world. I have a relative that owned land and built a house around the crash scene. I cant even begin to put it into words.

  21. Carlos Montilla June 17, 2015 12:11 am

    One of the crew members was my Uncle Mario Montilla. A great person loved by all. This was to be his last flight. Retirement was next. He traded for this flight to get home sooner. We have missed him dearly since.

  22. Tonya June 25, 2015 9:55 pm

    Does anyone know if there was a little boy about 5 on that flight? I saw the list but ages were not included.

  23. Tonya June 25, 2015 9:57 pm

    Just curious if anyone knows if there was a little boy on the flight about 5?

  24. John Stewart October 9, 2015 12:46 pm

    My uncle, John Dale, was the first officer. Today would have been his 100th birthday.

  25. Jamie Foxwell January 28, 2016 12:55 am

    Such a terrible accident and loss of life for so many folks. Interesting that someone talked about seeing lights on the property they lived on near the crash site long after the fact. I grew up across Delancy rd in buck hill farms. Our house was new in 1979. As a child I was plagued with “night terrors” as doctors explained to my mother. I would see bright white lights in the woods behind our house and I called them “bright eyes”. The woods were thick and not possible for vehicles to get into them in those years. May just be in my head as a kid but after doing some reading on this crash I am not sure. I can say I never actually saw any spirits in our house

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