Some people heard a whistle and a crash during the snowy, late winter evening of Friday, March 3, 1972.
Others saw smoke, and watched and listened as ambulances and fire engines rushed into their Albany neighborhood. Mohawk Airlines’ Flight 405, a two-engine turboprop, had just crashed into a house at 50 Edgewood Ave. Sixteen people aboard the airplane were killed, including the pilot and first officer; 36 passengers were injured. A man who rented the second floor of the house also was killed.
Pilot Robert McAdam, 44, had left New York’s LaGuardia International Airport at 8:05 p.m., the second of two-round trips he was making between New York and Albany. He was just 31⁄2 miles away from Albany County Airport when trouble began.
McAdam radioed tower personnel that he had lost power in the left engine. He and first officer William E. Matthews, 38, were trying to “feather” the propeller, altering its pitch so the blades were parallel with the line of flight.
‘We’re in trouble’
McAdam’s voice was on the plane’s flight recorder, and his words appeared in a report on the accident issued in April 1973 by the National Transportation Safety Board. “Tell ’em were gonna land short; we’re in trouble,” he said to Matthews, 30 seconds before the crash.
The plane, a 5-year-old FH-227B, crashed into the split-level house at 8:48 p.m., its center buried under debris. The tail section was visible from the front of the house. There were no flames, not even with 4,600 gallons of jet fuel stored in the right wing tanks.
Joseph Rosen, his wife and two sons were watching television on the first-floor of the house, near Washington Avenue and the University at Albany. Portions of the airplane landed in the basement; all four members of the Rosen family were taken to Albany Medical Center Hospital for treatment.
In addition to the man on the second floor of the house, the dead included several employees of the General Electric Co. who were passengers.
Gordon Snyder, 28, was one of the survivors. Snyder of Houston, Texas, was on his way to Amsterdam to visit his parents. He told reporters he realized the plane was in trouble when it banked sharply left just before impact.
“I don’t think anyone realized it until a second or two before the crash,” Snyder told Gazette newsman Fred Hoekstra. Snyder suffered scalp cuts and hurt his ankle; he was taken to St. Peter’s Hospital for treatment.
A woman who was sitting near the tail section with her baby survived the crash.
“We were told on the intercom that we were making our landing approach,” she told Hoekstra, as she left the scene for hospital attention. “The next thing I knew, it appeared that one of the wings collapsed.”
The safety board’s report also said pilot error contributed to the crash.
“The board is unable to determine why the left propeller could not be feathered,” the report read. “Contributing factors for the non-standard approach were the captain’s preoccupation with a cruise pitch lock malfunction, the first officer’s failure to adhere to company altitude awareness procedures and the captain’s failure to delegate any meaningful responsibilities to the co-pilot, which resulted in a lack of effective task-sharing during the emergency.”
The Schenectady Gazette published an editorial about the accident on Monday, March 6.
“What is most remarkable about the tragedy is that it was not much worse,” it read. “The plane could have exploded with perhaps death to all aboard and all those in the house into which the plane crashed.”
The Capital Region had seen an airplane disaster before. On Sept. 16, 1953, an American Airlines plane crashed and burned in a lot near the Lone Pine Trailer Court on Central Avenue. All 28 people aboard were killed.