It’s a moonlit July night in 1948 with good visibility. A twin-engined Eastern Air Lines Douglas DC-3 plane with 20 passengers aboard is cruising at around 5,000 feet over Alabama. For the pilot Clarence Chiles and the co-pilot John Whitted it’s a routine flight from Houston, Texas to Atlanta, Georgia. But what’s about to happen at 2:45 a.m. will be very far from routine.
Chiles and Whitted had taken off at 8:40 p.m. on Friday, July 23 from Houston on the seven-hour flight to Georgia, which included a stop-off in New Orleans. And the Douglas DC3 they were piloting was a workhorse of the commercial airline industry. Indeed, it played an important part in bringing air travel to the masses.
As we already know, the flight was entirely run-of the-mill until early in the morning the following day. By 2:45 a.m., the Eastern Air Lines plane was around 20 miles to the south-west of the city of Montgomery, Alabama. The plane was traveling at around 170 mph.