KLM PH-TFF Bangkok Crash

KLM March 1952 Fiery Landing at Bangkok

March 2006


L749A PH-TFF at Bangkok, Thailand March 23, 1952


I received an email from Tom Beudeker a few weeks ago with some very interesting photographs of KLM L749A PH-TFF, which was destroyed by fire at Bangkok’s Don Muang Airport on March 23, 1952 after making an emergency landing. Tom, who is a captain with KLM, found the long lost photos in his father’s archives and was gracious enough to share them with me.
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While not a crewmember on the ill-fated flight, Tom’s father, Frans Beudeker, was a flight engineer for KLM on Constellations from 1948 to 1962. Tom remembers seeing the photos about 30 years ago when his interest in aviation began to develop. Tom recently investigated the origin of the photos and believes they were taken by Piet Vandergucht, the flight engineer on the ill fated flight. (Note: Although Mr. Vandergucht passed away in 2005, his granddaughter Barbara Portengen confirmed in October 2012 that he indeed took the photos.)
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The good news about the accident was that no one was seriously injured or killed among the 10 crewmembers and 34 passengers (including one baby). The flight had departed Karachi for Bangkok, in route from Amsterdam to Sydney under the command of Captain James H. Creel. Upon reaching their assigned cruising altitude of 5,300 meters, the pilots noticed a slight vibration in the control wheel and instrument panel. While not too alarmed by the situation, the crew attempted to troubleshoot the problem, including descending to 4,200 meters which had no effect on the vibration. Finally the crew found that by increasing engine power from 2050 rpm to 2150 rpm, the vibration just about disappeared. The flight proceeded normally to Bangkok and the aircraft began to let down for landing on Bangkok’s runway 21. At about 500 meters, while making a left turn to base leg, a loud noise was heard followed by severe vibration. One of the propeller blades on the #3 engine had failed and a fire broke out in the engine and nacelle. Immediately after turning final, the #3 engine broke free and the aircraft made a normal landing on runway 21 with fire continuing in the #3 engine nacelle. This fire caused enough damage to cause the right main gear to collapse just prior to the aircraft coming to rest. The ensuing fire completely destroyed the aircraft but all passengers and crew were able to escape without serious injury. One can only imagine the tragic consequences had the propeller failed and fire started just a few short minutes earlier.
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An accident board was convened and issued its report on March 23, 1953. The board concluded that the Curtis Electric propeller blade had failed due to a hydrogen contaminated weld, which led to fatigue failure induced cracking and ultimately failure of the blade. While the board noted that the crew didn’t attempt to feather any of the engines during their troubleshooting efforts, they did not consider this to be negligence nor did they criticize the crew’s actions. They went on to praise Captain Creel and stewardess Miss Y. Disselkoen for their actions during the evacuation of the aircraft. They remained at their posts in the aircraft, risking their own lives while giving indispensable guidance to passengers exiting the aircraft. Captain Creel received a letter from Dr. Albert Plesman, the founder of KLM, praising his actions during the accident. The board was not too complimentary about the behavior of other crewmembers during the evacuation. The board also recognized the courage of Nai Chai, a Siamese KLM ground crewman. At great risk to his own life, he entered the burning aircraft and rescued the baby, which had been left behind. I’d like to thank Tom for sharing his pictures and story about this long forgotten piece of Constellation history. I'd also like to thank Captain Creel's son Jim and Ronald Aker for providing me with a copy of the crash investigation report.

Ralph M. Pettersen
March 2006

Photo Credits: Piet Vandergucht via Tom Beudeker

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----Created 13 March 2006----Revised 25 October 2012----