2,500 Quit Homes in Disaster
The Jersey Journal, November 9, 1956
Plane Tragedy Brings New Court Battle
By Gene Scanlon
Ironworkers today attached a cable to the top section of the 810-foot WOR-TV tower, hoping to bend the plane-battered
tip in a direction, which would permit a harmless crash.
It was a gamble.
WILL TIP HIT HOMES?
Would the pull on the cable have the desired result? Or would the 110-foot, 12-ton steel segment snap off and come
crashing down on homes below?
Already dead were four persons; already destroyed were the top floors of a large North Bergen apartment house,
the result of yesterday's crash of an airplane which first hit the tower.
TOWER MUST GO
As North Bergen and neighboring communities rallied about a common battle cry-"The tower must go!" -an
eight-man team rigged the cable and ran it to a winch on a truck, safety to one side.
Mayor Angelo Sarubbi expressed the fear that the top of the tower, falling to the ground, might mean the loss of
some houses in the area.
The top floors of the apartment house at 7805 Broadway, were lost yesterday when the twin-engine plane, after clipping
the tower and shearing off a wing, dove into the roof of the structure.
The area surrounding the tower---from Bergenline Avenue to Broadway and from 71st to 75th Streets --- was a ghost
town. Some 2,500 persons had been evacuated from their homes, and few tried to go back today for belongings.
A few hundred persons stood on the perimeter of the police lines and watched the proceedings. Occasionally a bus
stopped so that its passengers might get a glimpse of the tragedy scene.
But inside the perimeter there were no watchers. Police kept a strict guard and cars were detoured away. Wreckage
littered the streets.
Two ironworkers and two riggers hooked the steel cable around a girder near the torn portion of the transmitter.
A fifth man, meanwhile, climbed hand-over-hand up the outside part of the tower while a 70-mile an hour wind buffeted
the shaky steel structure.
Three other workmen followed the five up the tower in an ascent, which normally takes 45 minutes.
Sarubbi says he would declare the state of emergency canceled when the teetering part of the transmitter was grounded.
However, Srubbi reported that emergency crews would not be able to remove personal belongings from apartment houses
in the expected path of the tumbling steel.
In Guttenberg, where several hundred persons were evacuated from their homes last night, Mayor Herman G. Klein
called a special town commission meeting this afternoon. Town Attorney John Tomasin was to be empowered to take
action against WOR-TV if satisfactory action on removing the tower were not taken voluntarily by its owner.
Meanwhile, a report that a fifth body-possibly that of a child-had been discovered in the wreckage was labeled
as unfounded by Clarence Rieman, agent for the medical examiner.
CRASH DEATH TOLL
Two North Bergen women were killed. Mrs. Harriet Phelps, 65, and Mrs. Estelle Pyne, both of whom lived in the five
story apartment house.
Also dead were the pilot of the plane, William L. Cromley, 32, of Trafalgar, Ind., and Russell S. Williams Sr.,
60, of Indianapolis, described as a millionaire oil company executive, who was a passenger in the plane.
Treated for injuries at North Hudson Hospital, Weehawkin, were:
PETERSON, Patrolman George, 30, of 7604 Park Ave., North Bergen, smoke poisoning. Released.
HAGERMAN, Fireman Henry, 53, of 901 Smith Ave., North Bergen, smoke poisoning. Released.
SINKINSON, John, 48, of 7803 Hudson Ave., North Bergen, smoke poisoning. Released.
ZIEGLER, Fireman Michael, 58, of 336 72nd St., North Bergen, fracture of the spine. Detained.
FERENCE, Fireman Michael, of Guttenberg Hose Co. 1, treated for smoke poisoning.
NOWATNICK, Fireman Paul, West New York Engine Co. 5, treated for a cut on the left index finger.
Detained at Christ Hospital, Jersey City:
O'NEILL, Patrolman William, Hudson County Boulevard Police Department, treated for smoke poisoning.
The Red Cross declared the section a disaster area. Last night schools were opened to feed and house those evacuated.
Early this morning the First Army sent in emergency supplies.
TRIED FOR PARK
North Bergen Commissioner James P. Nolan said investigation revealed that Cromley apparently became lost in the
heavy overcast and after striking the tower tried to make a crash landing in the North Hudson Park just one block
north of the apartment house.
The $1,000,000 tower, which has not been in use for three years, stood as high as an 80 story building. Soaring
from a high bluff, it reaches a height greater than the Empire State Building.
After it hit the tower the plane spun crazily over the crowded Immaculate Heart of Mary chapel school before hitting
the apartment building. A 75-foot gash was ripped in the top of the building and fire gutted the fourth and fifth
One of the plane's two engines buried itself in a garage behind the school. One of its wheels bounced on the street
150 feet from the apartment, narrowly missing passersby. One wing dangled over the edge of the apartment, which
housed 35 families. The other wing hung from the steel skeleton of the television tower.
PLUNGES TO DEATH
Mrs. Phelps, wife of an engineer at the New York Times, plunged to her death in an alley after clinging momentarily
to a windowsill in her fifth floor apartment. Mrs. Pyne was killed by the impact of the plane. She too lived on
the fifth floor.
The tower is east of Bergenline Avenue between 72nd and 73rd Streets. The apartment house is six blocks north,
at 78th Street and Broadway.
Last night police and firemen toured a 20-block area around the tower, warning residents that the top of the tower
could topple without warning. Many families already had prepared to leave their homes and some carried bedding.
For years North Bergenities fought for the removal of the TV tower. Always they argued that someday a plane would
hit it and townspeople would be killed. They fought it through the highest court in the state and they lost every
The apartment house, erected 26 years ago, the last to be built on Broadway, is owned by Mr. And Mrs. Max Fernoff,
who live on the fourth floor. The building is worth about $130,000, Mrs. Fernoff said yesterday.
Last night Sarubbi met with engineers who built the tower in 1948. Following the meeting, Gordon Gray, vice president
and general manager of WOR-TV said the top would be removed today and the "all safeguards" were being
taken to insure the safety of people living near it.
Williams, the passenger in the plane, was flying to New York to meet his son, due to arrive there today from Europe.
The plane had taken off at Indianapolis and was headed for LaGuardia Field.
CAA DOESN'T LIKE AERIAL OBSTRUCTIONS
A.J. Nogard, supervising agent of the CAA at Teterboro Airport declared that "normally we don't like high
towers or any other aeronautical obstructions." Nogard headed a team of CAA investigators at the scene.
PBA TO AID FIGHT FOR TOWER RAZING
James Cacacie, president of the North Bergen Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said today that the PBA will adopt
a resolution calling for the removal of the tower. "Our organization will do everything it can to help the
township officials in this fight." Cacacie said.
SECTION OF TOWER FLIES 8 BLOCKS
A 300-poind section of the tower struck the home of Michael Grebelja, 333 75th St., North Bergen. The 10-foot long
piece of steel tore into the side of his house, broke a bedroom window and landed in Grebelja's yard. He lives
three blocks from the tower.
PART OF MOTOR CRASHES BEDROOM
A Cylinder head from one of the plane's engines crashed into the bedroom of the home of Sol Mars at 237 76th St.