top banner
Capt. Bragg's
"Brief History is that I was born in York, Alabama -- a very, very small town in northern Alabama about 30 miles east of meridian Mississippi. 1943 my mother and father moved to Mobile, Alabama where my father worked in the mobile shipyard building Liberty Ships which were used extensively in World War Two. I went to university military school, which was a private military day school for boys graduating in 1955 and after that I went to Auburn University, graduating in 1959."

"The degrees I received were a B.S. degree in aeronautical administration and a second lieutenant's commission in the United States Air Force."

"Training began with preflight, which was conducted at Lackland Air Force base in San Antonio, Texas. After preflight we went to Bainbridge, Georgia and took the training at Bainbridge airbase and while there I flew the T-34 which was a Beechcraft propeller plane and the T-37 twin jet Cessna plane. The type of assignment I received was a very good assignment; it was an excellent assignment. I was based at Charleston Air Force base where I transitioned onto the C-121, which was typically referred to as the Constellation airplane. Then, a year and a half later we received a brand new C-131 Hercules, which was a fantastic airplane also, as any brand new airplane is."

"I remained in the Air Force for four years. Flying time accumulated was right at 33 hundred hours, which is normal because a typical pilot in the military, military transport services, what it was called at the time was approximately 100 hours a month, so it's anywhere from 1,000 to 1,200 hours a year, so it's about 3,000, 3,300 hours."

"I was able to participate in some very interesting missions, I guess the most interesting was the one where we supported the Mercury astronaut program. They took eight of the C-130s in our squadron and placed them all over the world. Basically, where John Glen and the capsule came down outside of the drop area and the C-130 would be able get to him and capsule it in three hours and get we were on the earth and we had a pair of scuba divers that would dive, basically jump out of the back of the airplane parachute down in to the water close to the capsule, and then attach additional flotation gear of the capsule and then the second probably most interesting was when I operated out of Entebbe in Uganda, flying into Ethiopia, picking up Ethiopian troops, taking them down to the what at that time was Elizabethville and Leopoleville. They changed those names, by the way, now."

"After I got out of the air force, basically, I didn't have any idea what I wanted to do. I was at the Mobile airport one time and walked up to the Eastern airline counter and asked them how a pilot went about getting a job. They asked me if I was a pilot and I told them I was. They said, 'We will send you to Miami and you will be interviewed down there.' So I went down and interviewed at Eastern and when I was walking back to the hotel I saw the PAN American royal airways building which was commonly referred to as the Taj Mahal, because it was a beautiful building. And I walked in and asked to speak with a chief pilot, Introduced myself, and asked them how would I go applying for a job as pilot."

"He said, "We are not going to hire anyone for at least a year", and I said "Well, I would like to leave you an application anyway." He said, "You can, but you're wasting your time." That was on a Thursday."

"Monday morning they called me said that they just decided to begin hiring that day and asked me if I would like to go and be interviewed in New York's Kennedy airport, which I did. And at that time all of the airlines just began start hiring. PAN Am, by far, had the best interview cycle. They brought you in for a three day session, at which time they interviewed you. They gave you a physical. They gave you a stay-nine test, which basically is a test that consists of nine different sections, and after the results of the physical and the stay-nine test were in, they either offered you a job or didn't offer you a job. So that's why I got hired by Pan American."

"I was based at Pan Am initially in Berlin and that in itself was a very interesting situation. When I was being interviewed, I asked where could I expect to be based and they said presently the had openings at every base that they had which, was New York's Kennedy airport, Miami International airport, San Francisco International airport, and Los Angeles International airport, and Berlin. I chose Berlin and I was at Berlin for a year and a half -- was a DC- 6 engineer and then I went and transferred back to Miami and checked out as a 727 first officer, then a 707 first officer in Miami, then I transferred to New York and checked out as a 707 first officer in New York and then uh, later as a 747 first officer and captain at New York."

"I think pilots, uh, the airplane that they're flying in at any given time is a favorite airplane but I think without exception, without a doubt, my favorite airplane is a 747. We -- Pan Am was the first customer of 747 and when we got it, I was in the first class, pilots had transitioned on the 747 and it was a magnificent airplane. It was gigantic. I flew the airplane for 20 years and I never lost the awe of the size of the air plane. Every time I walked up to it I thought, "what a gigantic airplane!" The 747 was by far the best airplane that I was in and I always remembered -- mentioned yesterday- that for a lot of people, the bigger the airplane is the easier it is to fly and that's logical because its got the best equipment. It's got redundancy. Most items are doubled and many of them are tripled, so it's a fantastic airplane -- Boeing does a fantastic job building that airplane."

"We had uh, situations that were considered abnormal; none of those were major or anything what I would consider major. When we first got the airplane we had a problem of the windows glazing over and it would be just like a lightening strike and the windows would just go completely white where you could not see out of them. Now that happened to me twice, first time we were in a holding pattern over Rome and we got a lightening strike and the windows completely glazed over so we had to do what you call an auto land. In other words we land the airplane via the autopilot which does a fantastic job. That happened twice to me. Then on two different occasions -- one time taking off out of New York's Kennedy airport, we lost two wheels off the airplane."

"Keep in mind, a 747 has about 16 wheels but basically what happens, the tires go flat on the take off roll and then when the airplane lifts off the ground and the weight lifts off the tires, the tires basically come off the air plane. As pilots, you're so far away, upfront and up high, you cant hear things that are going on the airplane. We weren't aware, so the tower called us and said they'd just seen two wheels drop of the airplane and that's a fairly straightforward procedure. You need to go out and dump the fuel down to your max gross landing weight and come back and land. That takes about 45 minutes to go out, dump all the fuel down to your max landing gross weight, then when you come back in you cant even feel that the wheels are gone off the airplane when you make the landing."

"Then I uh, twice in 35 years, I lost an engine, which in common terminology, means it quits. I had one quit on me a crossing when we were out over the middle of the Atlantic and we were not able to get that one restarted. That's typically the procedure when the engine quits, you naturally try to restart it, well that one we could not restart and we just, and uh, in a 747 if you loose an engine you have to descend 8000 feet. And then the airplane will continue right on at the same speed as you were doing at a higher altitude on 4 engines. And, a matter of fact, you don't even tell the passengers typically because they cant see the propellers stopping."

"Second time I was coming out of London going to Frankfurt and the engine quit at about 1000 ft when we were making a left turn -- that particular routing you go London to Dover to Brussels to Frankfurt. That engine, we were able to get restarted immediately. So in a 35-year career those four or five times are a pretty good record probably."

"Pan American had a system where they had regular scheduled trips and uh you bid for those trips the previous month and got assigned the trips due to your seniority. They had what they called "open time trips" which was a trip that came up unexpectedly or wasn't a planned scheduled trip. They put it on their open time board and it was available for anybody to bid. The way they assigned the open trip numbers was they used the airplane registration number, which in our case, was 736, so they put a 1 in front of the 736, making the flight number " PanAm 1736." They put it up on a board and then you could go in and check on it and see the schedule of the flight. I bid on and got, an excellent flight. It went to New York, to Las Palmas, 24 hour layover in Las Palmas and then you ferried the airplane, empty, up to Paris, which was about a four hour flight. You got 24 hours off at Paris and then the next day you flew a regular scheduled flight back to new York. So it was a great trip in that respect. I will have to say it, when I got the trip, I had no idea where the Canary Islands were. I had to go get an atlas to see where we were going."

"Las Palmas is one of the main islands in the Canary chain of islands and the Canary Islands are approximately 220 miles off the west coast of Africa. If you look at an atlas, look for Casablanca and then look a little bit west and a little bit south and you will see the Canary Islands. There are four main islands in the Canary Island group."

"Las Palmas was the destination mainly because it is the seaport for the Canary Islands. Our passenger group were retirees mainly from California that had departed from Los Angeles. The flight had come from Los Angeles to New York, changed crews, and while they were changing crews, by the way, they let the passengers walk off the airplane and relax. A crew that's taking the airplane out will typically wait for the crew coming off the airplane and they can inform them if there are any mechanical problems or anything that the crew needs to know about so we talked to the crew."

"The passengers were going to depart from the airplane and join a cruise ship and this particular cruise ship was operated by the Royal Cruise Lines. The Golden Odyssey was the name of the ship. It was a completely normal flight, when we were descending into Las Palmas we had -- our flight was at 33000 feet and we were descending and when we came to 2000 feet we received a radio call from Tenerife approach control that said take up a right heading of whatever that happened to be and proceed directly to Tenerife and this was unusual in the respect that all Spanish Air Force -- control is, the Spanish air traffic control. Versus like in the United States, the federal aviation administration is not a government agency, it's a civilian agency."

"In Spain, its somewhat unique because all Spanish air space is controlled by the Spanish Air Force where as in the United States the Federal Aviation Administration, kindly referred to as the FAA, is in charge of the air traffic control. We received basically a command to turn right and proceed to Tenerife, the captain said to inform them that we would rather hold instead of diverting and going to Tenerife which I did. I told them that we would request holding vs. diversion to Tenerife and they said negative, you will turn right and proceed to Tenerife, switch frequencies and contact the air traffic control tower. So we asked later on, why the diversion, and it was because a terrorist bomb had been exploded at the check in counters at Las Palmas and they had threats of a second bomb. They didn't know anything about where it was going to be so they basically just closed the airport which was probably a good decision on their part."

"Well I heard later on that at least 100 airplanes which were destined for Las Palmas (at different times, naturally), all of those airplanes were diverted. When we got to Tenerife, the airport was totally congested because we were kinda last in the stack. The entire terminal and ramp area were completely crowded. There were probably 20 airplanes there vs. the typical 20 and 25. So when we landed they gave us taxi instructions that took us down to the west end of the ramp area and we were placed in a holding area, which is referred to as the holding area for runway 12."

"And just to give you a little explanation about the runway, we landed on runway 30. Runway 30 gets its number designation based on its direction. Run way 30 is basically pointed towards 300 degrees magnetic and they just drop the 0 and its called runway 30. Now the opposite of that, you subtract 180 degrees from the 300 and you get 120 or the runway is facing 120 degrees magnetic and it's referred to as runway 12. The holding area for runway 12 is just an area for airplanes waiting to depart on runway 12. They wait until their proper sequence and proceed to take off so that's where we were parked; there were 5 airplanes parked in front of us."

"It was approximately and hour and a half before we were able to find out what had happened. There were two gentlemen who came over to Tenerife from Las Palmas who were pan am employees that were sent to Las Palmas to support our flight. There was an operations rep who basically did the weight and balance and the flight plan and another gentleman who was a mechanic who handled the servicing of the airplane, fuel, oil and whatever maintenance items that needed to be taken care of. They heard about our diversion; they on their own initiative came over and that's how we found out about it. They told us that they had been informed there was a terrorist bomb at Las Palmas -- that's how we found out about it."

"We had been there approximately 2 hours and uh, it was a wait period because no one knew when the airport was going to open. The captain, Victor Grubbs, elected to have the passengers remain on the airplane which I think was a great decision because we didn't know when we'd be departing and as you can imagine, to take 375 passengers off the airplane, bus them into the terminal and round them back up and bus them back out to the airplane -- would be an extensive operation."

"Compared to what we did, KLM, which was the airplane directly in front of us, elected to allow their passengers to go inside so their passengers went in side and did duty free shopping and just spent their time. While we were there, the captain elected to open the cockpit door and allow the passengers to come up and look in the cockpit and ask any questions they wanted -- its typically very interesting for people who aren't pilots to come up and see the cockpit and see how everything goes on up there."

"All of the airplanes at Tenerife were monitoring the ground control frequency which was common practice -- when you're sitting on the ground waiting to be advised of any information. So the tower called and said, "All aircraft, we advise that the Las Palmas airport is now opened and request clearance when you are ready." So that's how we found out -- tower control warned everybody."

"Uh, basically as I mentioned earlier, we were number five in the position that we were parked in and therefore the people in the first airplane called and got their clearance first. Then the second airplane and the third airplane and then it got back to KLM -- KLM had just started refueling, probably 5 minutes before we received word that that airport at Las Palmas had reopened. As a matter of fact the captain asked and I called KLM and asked him, how long did he think it would take to complete his refueling and he said approximately 35 minutes. So basically being behind KLM, normally we would wait until he got his clearance. Now let me distinguish take off clearance, taxi clearance and ATC clearance."

"The ATC clearance, or the air traffic control clearance, is your routing clearance. It basically gives a pilot information on how he gets from his departure point to his destination -- gives him the routing and the altitude that he flies at. That's your ATC clearance. A taxi clearance is basically that, the clearance to taxi the airplane to a point typically short of the active runway. And then the take off clearance, once again, is exactly that -- it is the clearance to take off on a particular runway, so when I asked KLM how long it would take him, he said approximately 35 minutes. The captain asked the flight engineer and myself to go out and measure the wingtip difference between the KLM left wing and the PanAm right wing because that's the way we were positioned. The engineer and I went out and measured- paced off the distance and measured -- we were 12 feet short of being able to get around the KLM plane."

"So when I went back, I then forwarded that information to the captain, Victor Grubbs, that now we were forced to wait on KLM. So about 30 minutes later, we looked at KLM and I saw two passengers leave his airplane with their bags. Turned out these were the only two people who would survive the accident. Their final destination was Tenerife, so they elected, instead of going to Las Palmas and turning around and coming back to Tenerife, they elected to get off the airplane at Tenerife. They were the only 2 people to survive. When they left the airplane , the jet way (the staircase up to the airplane) was moved out of the way. They closed their doors, and then we heard KLM call and request start and taxi clearance, which he received, and as soon as he requested his start and taxi clearance, we followed by our request for taxi clearance and were both given the start clearance."

" Yes, uh, probably 15 airplanes departed before we did. It's significant in the respect that the three airplanes parked in front of KLM and ourselves received their taxi clearance in a situation. In an airport where you've only got one runway; as we said, Tenerife only had one runway, three zero, and the opposite, reciprocal being runway one two zero, or one two is the runway. Their taxi clearance was basically to taxi down the runway, which was commonly referred to as back tracking. They were given the clearance, 'you're clear to back track down runway one two'."

"The number one airplane's instructions were to back- track down runway one, and upon reaching the end, make a 180 degree turn, or turn completely around, and wait. The number two and number three airplanes were given the taxi instructions, follow the first airplane, back track down runway one two, and exit the runway at taxiway charlie four, which is a 45 degree angle taxi way off of runway one two, putting the airplanes in the holding position for runway three zero. That's significant cause we'd seen these airplanes do that. That is the way we taxi, that is a very very common procedure, it is nothing unusual to have to back- track down a runway and as you can imagine, any place in the world where they only have one runway, if you're at one end of the runway and you have to get back to the other end, you have to back track down the runway."

"He started as soon as he refueled. *say again'."

"Captain van Zanten , the captain of the KLM airplane, started his engines immediately after refueling. We started approximately 5 minutes after he did and we received taxi clearance, basically the same as the first three airplanes, back- tracked down the runway one two, and our taxi instructions were basically follow KLM, back- track down runway one two and those were the taxi clearances. So we were following KLM. At that time the visibility was unlimited; we could see the entire width of the island. So when we were taxing, we had KLM in sight the entire time, until the fog bank came down off the mountain on both sides of the airport. Tenerife is located down between two islands, mountain ranges, and it's very prevalent, fog conditions there."

"While you're taxing the airplane down the runway, you complete what is commonly referred to as a taxi checklist. And as Captain Victor Grubbs was flying the airplane and I was the co-pilot, I read the checklist. I would read an item out and either the Captain would respond to it, or the flight engineer would respond to it. The same thing was happening in the KLM airplane."

"We received our taxi clearance immediately after KLM. Within three or four minutes of when KLM received its taxi clearance, we received our taxi clearance. ""

"In the beginning, nothing was unusual, as I said, it was absolutely normal procedures. We were doing our checklist, errr. We noticed that this fog bank basically came off of the south mountain range and as we were taxing down, the fog bank was very obvious. It was coming down off the sides of the mountain, and it was weird looking because it came down and stopped right on the runway. It didn't go past the runway. It stopped right on the runway. The visibility had been unlimited up until that time. The visibility went from unlimited to 500 meters. A meter being approximately three feet, so basically the weather conditions went down to 1500 feet. If, the next time you're flying on the plane as a passenger, you look out to the side of the runway, the lights, the lights on the side of the runway are 1000 feet apart. So it was one and a half of those widths, what the visibility went down to."

"That's an interesting situation because as we were taxing, the tower called and called and he referred to us as gentlemen, and he said "gentlemen, meaning both the KLM airplane and the Pan Am airplane, be advised that the runway centerline lights are out of service". That's critical because the takeoff minimum at most airports is based on certain lights being operational. As soon as we heard the centerline runway lights were out of service, we flipped our approach and departure charts over, and it gives you the runway takeoff minimum based on the lighting, and since the runway centerline lights were out of service, it said that we had to have 700 meters to be able to take off.

"Note that the tower had said the weather was now 500 meters. So we basically thought that the airport was closed because they didn't have the take off minimum. Now I will explain that all US carriers use one particular chart. It's produced by a company whose primary function in life is to produce airport charts. Other carriers might not use those charts. KLM for example, might use KLM charts, err, Lufthansa produces their own charts, for their own flight, so maybe they used a different set of errr charts, which possibly specified a different minimum for takeoff. I don't know that for a fact. But as far as we were concerned, we had to have 700 meters, and that is an FAA regulation. It sets these departure minimums up, so our position was that we intended to comply with the 700 meters and our thinking was that we would continue down the end of the runway until the weather did raise and until we had our 700 meters take off visibility."

"When we first saw the KLM airplane, it didn't surprise us too much, because we were aware that he was down there. And the first thing that got my attention was that his landing lights were on, and that's one of the very last things that a pilot does when you receive the takeoff clearance; we reach up and turn the lights on. So that's probably the last thing you do on your checklist before you release the brakes and start your takeoff roll. So that got my attention to start with. Then due to the low visibility, it was very obvious that the airplane was moving, coming at us, and my initial reaction was, I said very loudly, "I think he's moving", and then it was very obvious that he was moving, and the Captain had seen the same situation as I had, and he had pushed the throttles to full up, full power."

"We were only going three knots on the ground, as we were looking for our taxi way and due to the fog conditions, the captain was slowing the airplane way down, but when he saw the KLM airplane coming at him he tried to get the airplane turned, turned the airplane, which later turned out to be about 27 degrees, and as we were turning I looked back out of my right side window, and KLM had lifted off the ground, and I could see his red rotating beacon on the belly of the airplane. All 747s have two beacons, one on the belly and one on the top of the airplane. That was the only time in my life I have ever seen something happening that I could not believe was happening."

"And I basically ducked, closed my eyes and when the KLM airplane hit us, I really didn't think the man had hurt us. It was a very slight impact, very slight noise, like CLUNK, that was about it, it was so minor it was unbelievable, until I opened my eyes and looked up. The first thing I noticed was that all the windows were gone in the cockpit. Then I looked out to the right and the right wing was on fire, and then I looked to the left, and on this particular configuration airplane we had an upstairs lounge with 28 passengers in it. In fact, some of those passengers- the captain had allowed two elderly ladies to come up to the cockpit and watch us start the engines- when I looked back, the lounge and all the people were gone.As a matter of fact, every seat on the flight was filled. 373 passengers, when I looked back to the left, the lounge was gone and all the 28 people were no longer there and there was just a void, just a big hole and I could see all the way to the tail of the airplane."

"There was no flooring left or anything else, and I could see all the way to the tail of the airplane, just like someone had taken a big knife and sliced the entire top of the cabin of the airplane off. I looked back and the way you shut down the engines, the quickest way is what they call start levers; they're right down on the pedestal of the cockpit. I grabbed all four of them at once and went off with them and nothing happened, and it turns out later that all the controls were severed to the engines or any other portion of the airplane. Then I looked up to grab the fire control handles, and that's when I noticed that the entire top of the airplane was gone, not only was the entire top of the plane gone, but the flight engineer's panel, which was a fairly big panel, probably 5 feet by 5 feet, was missing. There was only one foot of the floor left, the back of a pedestal, which is between the pilots, and we had two jump seats, directly back of the captain. Those were where the two men that had come from Las Palmas to support us were sitting."

"They were no longer there; those seats were gone. Turns out later that those gentlemen, they did the same thing as I did, they closed their eyes and ducked, when they looked up they were upside down, dangling from the ceiling of the airplane, dangling into the first class section. They were smart enough to reach over and grab the side of the airplane before they released their seat belts, and they got out of the airplane, and survived the accident. That's it."

"As I mentioned earlier I uh, saw the airplane coming and at that time I had made up my mind he was moving mentioned very loudly, "Get off, get off, get off," to the Captain. He had seen the air plane the same time I did, so he had gone to full power and turned the airplane to the left, to try to get out of his way and we were only going 3 miles an hour so with that big of an airplane it takes a long time to get that much mass moving, but we were told that the airplane was turned 17 degrees and as we were turning I looked back out of my right side window and the KLM airplane had lifted off and I could see his rotating beacon underneath the belly of the airplane. 747s got two beacons; they've got one on the belly and one on the top."

"So I turned back to the right facing the front of the airplane and reached down and grabbed the four start up levers. The four start up levers are basically what turns on and cuts fuel off to the engine and I grabbed all four of the start levers and went off with them and nothing had happened because we found out later that all the control lines were severed, not only to the engines but to any control in the cockpit. Then I reached up to get the power control handles, those are right above the pilot's head and they basically shut the engine down also. It does 8 different functions but mainly cuts the fuel to the engine. That's when I noticed that the top of the airplane was gone. Not only was the top gone but the flight engineer's panel which is right back of the pilots on the right side of the airplane was missing and that's a fairly big panel -- approximately 5ft by 5ft. I also noticed that the two jump seats were missing."

"It was about that time that I figured it was time to get out of the cockpit. And as before I had said "Get off" to the captain, this time I was saying "Get out". I was saying "Get out, get out, get out," and I stood up and when the copilot stands up you face to the left and get out of the airplane, get out of the seat, there was only a foot off the floor left so I reached and grabbed hold of the captains seat and just jumped right over the side and uh, its approximately 38 feet down but at that time I gave no consideration to the height above the ground."

"They give you...Boeing designed the airplane so that they give you 3 means of egress, three emergency exits. The first one, and the most desirable and the preferred route of evacuation from the cockpit is, you come out of the cockpit and there's a spiral staircase that goes from upstairs down to first class so that you exit through the main cabin door. Second is, there is a crew emergency door right in the cockpit, right back of the flight engineer's panel. You open that door and a chute automatically inflates and goes all the way down to the ground and you jump from the chute and slide down to the ground. Third and final way is, over the second jump seat back of the captain, there is an escape hatch up in the ceiling of the airplane. You open that escape hatch and it drops down in to the cockpit. You stand on the second jump seat and take hold of an inertial reel and basically jump out of the top of the airplane holding the inertial reel and its supposed to stop you before you actually hit the ground. Uh, I can't think of any time that's ever been used. But those are the three ways that they evacuate a cockpit and get out."

"Now I think I hold that distinction being the only one who's jumped out and I hope I'll be the only one who ever has to."

"The last thing I remember hearing the air plane do before the KLM airplane hit us was the nose gear dropping off of the runway onto the ground, so luckily when I jumped out of the cockpit of the airplane, I hit on the grass and rolled and I think I sprained my ankle. It wasn't very painful and I could walk around on it but once I got to the hospital they insisted on x-raying it and they did put a very big, very heavy cast on my ankle. It was minor injury."

"First thing I saw was one of the passengers, probably from the upstairs lounge, and this lady was on her knees and all her clothes were burnt off of her, her hair and everything was just singed and I walked over to the lady and said everything would be ok. That's the only thing I could think of saying to her and she basically just collapsed. And then the impact of looking at this airplane burning up was what impacted me. I just could not believe this airplane in that short a time was.. had turned into that raging fire. Next thing I noticed was the raydon, the nose of the airplane, just dropped off the airplane. Also I noticed by that length of time which couldn't have been but a few minutes, the entire left wing of the airplane had filled up with passengers. Now you've gotta kinda picture this because the engines where going at full speed and were extremely loud but the wing was full of passengers just standing there so I went back up as close as I could and started yelling and motioning for them to jump and they did. They did exactly what they were supposed to do; they jumped right off the wing. Now that's fairly high also, that's like 25 feet."

"They jumped, with the exception of one lady, and she jumped and slid down the side of one of the engines. It was the right side of the number two engine and she burned herself very badly. Most of the other people just jumped straight off the wing out onto the grass. And I was motioning for them to get away from the airplane and I expected the wings and the entire airplane to blow up and I saw one man pulling a lady by the ankle running as fast as he could and it was strange, and I asked myself, "Why is he doing that that way?". Turned out this lady was.. I talked to both of them the next day. Turned out that this was his wife and when she jumped, she was one of the first jumpers and everybody hit on top of her and it broke both arms, both legs and her back and as soon as her husband discovered that she couldn't walk, he grabbed her by the ankle and just started running as fast as he could but he accomplished what he wanted to do -- he got away from the airplane and about that time the center fuel tank went off."

"The center fuel tank is basically underneath the fuselage right where the wings connect to the airplane. It's the largest fuel tank on the airplane. The center fuel tank exploded and shot a flame and smoke into the air probably 2-300 feet high. Gigantic flames came out. And it shot a huge piece of metal, I have no idea what it was, but it came right over towards me, but I watched it go over and hit in a field back of me and about that time the airplane just collapsed. When it blew up, the structure, I guess just collapsed down on its belly. No support from the gear because they'd collapsed. The number one and number two engine which are what I was closest to and was looking at, basically just unspoiled, which means they just stopped turning more than likely from fuel starvation, but the wing didn't blow up at all which surprised me."

"As I was watching the number one engine, the entire n1 section, and the n1 section is probably the front 20% of the engine, fell off. In other words the front section of the engine just fell off on the ground. The number two engine just kept running until it unspoiled and just stopped and by that time and it was probably within five minutes after the accident there was absolute silence. In the beginning, people were yelling and screaming as you can imagine in any type of accident, but it was utter silence. And that was a big surprise to me. I later on asked our medical director what would have caused that and his explanation was when you have a fire that gigantic and that big the fire takes all the oxygen out of the air and people basically suffocate. And they will do that in less than two minutes so they were alive one minute and then in two minutes they had suffocated and that's why there was absolutely silence, no noise, just complete silence."

"About that time I saw the two jump seat gentlemen and they came up to me and uh, they as I, wondered what had happened. That was their first question to me, what do you think happened. And I guess that was the first time I made my comment that I think KLM took off without a clearance. I've always thought that. I think that to this day. It was a situation where I think a pilot, he was their best pilot. He was their number one check pilot -- training captain, training instructor. I think he just got in too big of a hurry. When you re-emphasize that the co-pilots were at takeoff, that's not a normal call. When I heard that, I made the comment over the radio. Clipper 1736 is still on the runway. And we were to report clear of the runway and that's when we saw the KLM airplane, so he was in a big hurry. There are some explanations for this."

"The European carriers have very very stringent and strict rules for crew duty time. When they start a flight, it was in this case Amsterdam, their crew duty time starts. When they reach a certain number of hours, lets say 15 hours, the crew has to stop. They cannot continue the flight. So lets say they get to Las Palmas. If they didn't have enough time to get back to Amsterdam before their fifteen hours expired then they would have to stay in Las Palmas and understandably I think he was very concerned about getting the flight going and making the flight back to Amsterdam within his time constraints."

"They were basically running away from the airplane and I was trying to enforce that attitude in them. I was telling them to get away as fast as they possibly could. And then something very interesting happened. I stopped and I thought the passengers were still standing there. I asked, wondered myself, why in the world aren't they getting away from this airplane and I stopped and looked and it turned out these were civilians. People that had lived around the airport that had on their own initiative, climbed over the fence, come out to the accident site and they were helping. They were helping pick people up. I saw one of these people carrying them in on his back. And there must have been 50 of 75 of them. So basically they were helping people get away and as soon as they got them away, they'd come back and then help other people get away."

"What I was thinking was I couldn't believe what was happening to me. When I was looking at the airplane burning up there and the nose fell off and a massive amount of fire and all the people and everything it still, I wasn't conceiving what was happening. The situation was beyond my capable possibility of thinking of it. Uh, and everything was happening so fast. Like I said within a couple of minutes after the accident the airplane blew up, exploded, couple of minutes after that there was total silence -- and eerie total silence and then when we walked around the airplane I saw the two jump seat riders."

"The three of us walked entirely around the airplane and I think that's when it was very obvious to us how many people had probably not survived that crash because. Number one, the debris field on a big airplane is gigantic now let me explain what a debris field is. A debris field is basically everything in the airplane gets thrown out on the ground. It can be magazines, it can be clothes, it can be any thing that was on the airplane. This debris field was extensive. It was probably 200 to 300 yards long so it's just a massive. And naturally it's an eerie subject but there were an awful lot of bodies of people that were around. So we went back around and at that time I did not know what had happened to KLM. KLM had hit us, as I found out later, had hit us, had severed his landing gear on our airplane. As a matter of fact they found his landing gear in our wreckage."

"He exploded and hit fifteen hundred feet down the runway from us. And at that time there was still fog. I didn't know what had happened to KLM. I was wondering why a fire truck or ambulance or some type of airport support had not gotten out to our airplane. Here's what happened. When KLM hit us, all communication ceased and the tower tried to call both KLM and our airplane, Clipper, which was our call sign, and he couldn't get a response. Basically there was an airplane in a holding pattern right above the airport. He called the tower and said, 'I see smoke and fire on the runway'."

"As soon as the tower heard that, he hit the emergency alarm which went off in the fire truck station (which they had one by the way) and it went off and the ambulance station and they came out. If you look at a diagram of where this accident occurred, KLM airplane hit just about in front of the control tower, so when the fire truck and ambulance came out they came to the KLM wreckage first. They stopped there and no one came out to our wreckage, our site."

"If you look at an airport diagram, KLM basically when they hit our airplane severed any gear and exploded and they hit approximately 1500 feet down the runway from our location. Their location was approximately even with the control tower when the one fire truck and the one ambulance came out they came to KLM site first and stopped, natural. No one came down to our site and that was one of the things that I was wondering about. Why in the world hadn't anyone come down to our plane and help us."

"Then the first thing I saw was a taxicab pull up. Then I thought to myself then I must have gone to the big airline in the sky because it was just so unusual to see a taxicab. There was a good explanation and it was an excellent decision on the part of the airport officials when they realized the enormity of this accident. They opened the gates of this airport and ordered the taxicabs to come out to these two airplanes. As a matter of fact, there were sixty-two of our passengers who survived the accident itself. Of those 63, about 55 got to the different hospitals. There were two hospitals and an auxiliary hospital."

"They got to the hospitals in taxicabs. Then when I was standing there a gentlemen in a suit came up to me and they call all pilots Captain, even though I was a co-pilot. He said "Captain, we've got everything under control." He bodily opened a taxicab door and pushed me into a taxicab. The taxicab took off. Got back to the terminal. The door opened, somebody bodily pulled me out of the taxicab and bodily threw me into another taxicab and that taxicab took off. The guy was going so fast I had to ask him to slow down. I mean, he was probably going 100 mph down these streets to get me to a hospital so that was what was happening at that particular time."

"When I got to the hospital it turned out that it was an auxiliary hospital, a small hospital. And I saw five or six of the passengers there and I felt that we'd gotten a lot more people out of the airplane and I knew it. So I asked the doctor about the number of passengers and he said the explanation for that was that, "This is an auxiliary hospital, but I will take you to the main hospital." So we went out and drove over to the main hospital. When I got back to the main hospital and walked through, it was complete havoc, I mean there was just so much activity going on. But once again this hospital had done some things that were just outstanding, I mean that were just fantastic decisions. Soon as they heard about the accident, they got on the public radio and public television and asked all hospital workers to report to the hospital so the hospital was fully manned and staffed."

"And when I got to the emergency room I found the Captain, Victor Grubbs, the engineer George Warren, and four of the flight attendants. And what I did, and I have no idea where I picked this up, obviously it was probably in Air Force training. I started a survivors list, so I put tape on each persons hand, on the back of their hand, put a number on it, and wrote it on a pad of paper and put their name down and I continued that with the eight crew members that were there and I went up and called Pan American. I had a little small address book in my pocket and I called Pan Am. I introduced myself to the person I got at PanAm scheduling, flight-ops. And I said, 'This is Robert Bragg. I was on the Pan Am 1736 flight in the Canary Islands and I want to give some more information about the accident and the survivors.'They said, 'What accident?' They hadn't even heard about he accident so I said, 'We've had one heck of a big accident in the Canary Islands on Tenerife and I think personally it was KLM which took of without a clearance and he rammed us and I think we lost an awful lot of people.'And I said, 'Here are the crew members that I know for a fact got out of the accident,' and I read out the Captain's name, the flight engineer and the four flight attendants name and it's interesting because May Grubbs, who is the wife of Captain Vic Grubbs, got the call from Pan Am about one minute prior to a news special came on TV, telling about the Canary Island crash. So she told them that she was forever thankful that she found out that Vic was OK because she knew he was in the Canary Islands."

"But they called everybody and I went up and went back to the emergency room and I kept finding passengers so the list got up to sixty names within a hour and a half. I called PanAm seven times and you know, basically updated the survivors list is what it came down to."

"The KLM airplane exploded and broke in to several major parts. Pan Am airplane didn't break into as many parts but it just exploded and just came apart. And I will use this diagram over here, basically to show what happened to the two airplanes to show how they were spread out but I will show you one piece. This is a piece of molten metal. That was given to the captain by the Pan Am vice president of operations and is what is remaining of the airplane, one piece of what was remaining of the airplane. As you can see it was just molten aluminum so the fire was very intensive. As a matter of fact it burned everything in the airplane, baggage, there was nothing left of the airplane -- there are pictures that show that very well."


"And then I started seeing passengers and all and you have to kind of visualize this, all of a sudden 63 people come into the hospital all at one time basically so it just flooded the hospital basically. But the hospital did an outstanding job from the very beginning. They took care of all the people. They treated them very nicely and gave them all rooms, without exception, they gave every single person a room the first day so I kept adding to the survivors list people's names. I asked them about their telephone number, if they had a telephone number they wanted Pan Am to call. And I went up and called PanAm seven different times and updated this list and then I went in and sat down with the Captain and naturally we discussed what we thought had happened and we couldn't believe what had happened."

"And I think the Captain, the flight engineer and myself probably had consensus of opinion that KLM had taken off without a clearance and I was very specific in telling the captain that I thought he had done everything he possibly could. And I said if it wouldn't have been for him probably no one would have gotten out of that plane which I feel because if he had hit us straight on I don't think any body would have gotten out of that plane. So basically the beginning of the evening it was just talk amongst ourselves, the passengers, and that was the very same question we were asked by the passengers as soon as we see them, "What happened?" and I used a rote answer. I said "I think KLM took off without a clearance." Then they put us all over the hospital. They put me in a maternity ward. In the hospitals in Spain, maternity wards, they separate the mothers and the newborn babies."

"There's a glass wall that separates them so I was in the maternity ward and the first person that came in to visit me was a Spanish Air Force Colonel who turned out to be the base commander and he came in and introduced himself. He couldn't have been more polite. He was just a real gentleman. He came in and asked if he could see me. So he came in and uh, he once again asked me what I thought had happened and I told him, I said, 'I think KLM took off without a clearance,' and he says, 'do you feel that the tower had any blame for this accident?' and I said 'no no, none whatsoever,' and he said, 'I'm glad you said that because I've listened to the tower tapes and I don't think our tower was at fault,' and I said 'nope'. He asked if he spoke good enough English, and I said 'sure, ' that I understood his English. And I assume the KLM plane understood his English. And he asked me 'Did you ever hear a take off clearance issued?' And I said, 'No sir, I never heard a takeoff clearance,' which I didn't. So he thanked me very much and then he left and then I thought it would be a good idea to write down all my memory of this particular accident. So I asked for paper and I wrote down ten pages of things that I could remember about the accident."

"I gave that to the national transportation safety board when they arrived the next day and I have no earthly idea what happened to it. Right after that a four star General came in. A Spanish Air Force General who was in charge of the Spanish Air Force. He came in and we went through the same thing about what had happened and I think the tower was at fault (unclear). Once again, and I'm probably over emphasizing, but he was as courteous as he could possibly be and he probably spent an hour with me. He talked to not only me but the Captain and the flight engineer. And when he left one of our passengers came in. This man had his arm in a cast and this was the particular man I mentioned to you earlier about dragging his wife away from the accident by the ankle because she had broken both arms and both legs and her back and he had his arm in a cast so he sat and talked to me for probably about two hours."

"And one thing to me was very appreciated. None of the passengers ever even hinted that we had been at fault. Never. So he and I sat there and we talked and I'll be very frank about this one; I made the comment, and I said "I've never wanted a beer so bad in all my life." And he said "I agree with that." So I said, "I'll see what I can do." So I called a nurse over. She spoke zero English. She spoke no English. But I asked her is there anyway she could get us two beers so she left but she came back with the doctor. And we asked the doctor and he spoke, he'd gone to medical school in the United States as a matter of fact. And uh, he said, what could he do to help us and I said, "Is there anyway you could possibly get us two beers?" and he said, "Let me see what I can do," and he left and came back with a brown bag, the old brown bag trick and he said, "I couldn't find beer but how about this?" and he pulled the brown bag off and it was a bottle of champagne. So the passenger and I sat there, or laid there in my case, and we drank the bottle of champagne and talked about the accident."

"The adrenaline was pumping so rapidly, I didn't get a wink of sleep for three days. Now the very next morning, the hospital did something else which was exceptional. They moved all the crew members and all of the surviving passengers into the one wing of the hospital and they did it for security reasons more than anything else because the very next morning we heard that there were 350 news paper reporters on the pilot. So they had security guards at all entrances to that particular wing and they would not let any one in that didn't have pervious authority to get in. The first call I received was from a newspaper reporter from Toronto. And he introduced himself as a newspaper reporter but I didn't give him any information and I said "I'm sorry, you'll have to get in touch with Pan Am." Then it happened about every ten minutes, they would come in and roll my single bed down to the telephone at the desk and it was another newspaper reporter. So finally I had to tell them, please do not come and roll me down the hall to speak to newspaper reporters. Just take their name and tell them we'll get back to them. So that went on all night long. But the next day after they had put all the survivors into different rooms."

"The Captain and I were in different rooms next to each other and the flight engineer was right there. Dorothy Kelly, the person on the flight, and I, were the only two people not hurt. She and I went around and spoke to every single person. The crewmembers and the passengers, and we asked them is there anything we could do for them, is there anything we could get for them. And it was interesting to me: all of the men wanted razors and all of the women wanted makeup. So we proceeded to get them everything we possibly could. Uh it was bad in the respect that, and I didn't realize this, but you'd be talking to somebody very badly burned and they would not realize how badly burned they were and you would leave their room and come back an hour later and they would be passed away."

"First time in my life I ever realized how quickly burn victims can expire and they really don't, you can tell by talking to them, they don't really comprehend the extensiveness of their burn situation. So during that day it was mainly more interviews. It was that morning, that Monday morning, that I really discovered what had happened to KLM. We saw pictures and the Spanish newspapers will put whatever they photograph on the front page. In other words there were burned bodies, pictures of burned bodies on the front page. The airplane remains and everything and the number of passengers, over 500 killed. I think it was several days after that they really discovered it was 585. I think there were more because there were 323 on our airplane that got killed."

"There were 285 on his airplane that got killed so that number comes out more than 585. But that's the official number, 585, and that's how it got designated the largest jet accident in history. The first time we saw Pan Am was that afternoon about five o clock. Now I had called them, as I mentioned earlier, seven times, and I've got to add, they never returned any of my calls. Every time I called them and I gave them more information, I gave them the telephone number where we were. I later on asked the Pan Am official why our calls weren't returned and their response was, which to me was totally inadequate, was "in situations like this, certain things get forgotten"and it just got forgotten and I thought "it shouldn't have got forgotten." And Pan Am got out there. It took them nearly 24 hours to get out there."

"They flew a 707 from New York and not only did Pan Am officials come on the airplane. The NTSB, from the national government, the National Transportation Safety Board, and the FAA. The federal aviation administration. Representatives from Pratt Whitney, the engine manufacturer and Boeing the aircraft manufacturer. So they all came and this is typical international procedure where I guess you could say, the interested parties, visit the scene. I'll have to add that any time an accident between airplanes happens outside of the United States, that particular country is responsible for the accident investigation. As a matter of course they typically invite the NTSB and the FAA because the NTSB is known as the world's best. They have the best CVR, cockpit voice recorder, uh, translator machine."

"There have been cases, one was in Mexico, where they did not invite the US government by choice, so the Mexican government in that case, was in charge of the investigation. But in our case they did invite all of the parties I just mentioned and they started immediately doing the investigations. At one point they were all in our room. A representative from the NTSB, FAA, Boeing, Pratt Whitney, KLM, the Spanish airport authority and the room was packed as you can imagine. And they just said, 'tell us what you think' and I did, I had my ten pages of notes and I said, 'if you'd like I'll read you the notes"and that's what they wanted so I read them the ten pages of notes and one of the KLM attorneys, which I'll never understand why, popped up and said "it looks like our man took off without a clearance.' I thought, 'I bet he hears about that later on because he admitted it in front of everybody', "

"After two days being in the hospital, they were able to discharge me. They discharged me and put me in a hotel very close to the airport under an anonymous name which did zero good because as soon as I got to the room I started receiving telephone calls from reporters. The national enquirer offered me fifty thousand dollars for an article, exclusive article, and I said well, I respectfully declined. I should have taken it because they put an article in there with my name on it anyway. So they offered the captain $125,000 dollars for an explicit article."

"The man that took all the pictures appeared in time magazine. I saw him take all the pictures. He was one of the passengers that got out of the airplane. Was clicking pictures just as fast as he possibly could. No telling how many he took. Someone offered him 50,000 dollars for his pictures. They got the pictures and he never got a cent of his money and those were the pictures that appeared in one of our national magazines on April the 11th 1977. So after being in the hotel for about a day, I came back along with Peter Jennings, ABC chief correspondent, and 8 of the surviving passengers and we went from Tenerife on a commuter plane, (small airplanes who had to use the taxiways for taking off and landing)."

"When we got from Tenerife to Las Palmas, Pan Am met us with our airline tickets and went off and forgot about us, now when I say us I mean peter Jennings, 8 of the surviving passengers and myself and he forgot about us and allowed us to miss the flight from Las Palmas to London. So peter Jennings on his own initiative went and bought the tickets to get us from Las Palmas to Madrid, when we got to Madrid, Pan Am was supposed to meet us and they didn't so Peter Jennings again went and got taxi cabs for all of the people, we got over to the international departure terminal. Peter Jennings, on his own, bought the airline tickets for the eight passengers, himself and myself to get to London so when we got back to London they held the around the world flight for all of us, so that was a strange feeling because it was the first 747 I'd been back on after the accident and every crew member came down and spoke to me and asked me what had happened and that was appreciated also, so Peter Jennings and I came back together from the accident."

"When Pan Am got there, they had assigned a flight attendant to provide all the crew members whatever they needed. And when this young man came into my room he said, "What do you need?" and I said, 'I need everything. I lost my suitcase in the accident,' I said 'I don't have any clothes, I don't have any shirts, pants, underwear, socks, shoes.' He said, 'Oh we'll take care of that.' What I was provided, basically when I got up to the hotel room, I had been provided a sweater, in 90 degree weather, a pair of beach sandals, a pair of men's underwear, which I could not possibly get on they were so small, one toothbrush with no toothpaste and one razor without a razor blade. So you can imagine I was fairly well upset about that. And I got back to the States, the Vice President of operations, Euan Mulligan had to loan me his blue jacket, a guy about six inches taller than I was, loaned me his pants. Another man had loaned me his shirt and I looked like the proverbial hobo, coming back, so I was pretty upset as you can imagine."

"Very definitely, as I mentioned, I went to see each and every passenger the next day, Dorothy Callahan and I both did. The thing that struck me about each and every passenger was that they were very, very independent of nature, they did not have to be told to get out of the airplane to save their lives because the accident happened so quickly, there were no PA announcements made, there were no doors open, therefore the escape chute is attached to the door, it's a manual system where when you throw the door open, the escape slide automatically inflates and that is the way you get out of the airplane onto the ground."

"No doors were used. The people that got out, you could talk to them and tell they were independent and they basically got out of the plane on their own, they were able, the way the airplane was torn up. They were able to step out of the cabin of the airplane onto the left wing. Now remember the right wing was on fire, so they couldn't go out that way so they either got out by going out on the left wing, which about 95 percent of them did or trying to jump out of the airplane."

"The way the KLM airplane impacted our airplane, it hit right back over the wing so no one got out of the airplane back of row 31 which is about half way in the business class section, or about half way, if you look at the wing, where it joins the fuselage of the airplane. That's about the section that he hit us, so no one survived back of that. So the people that survived were in a good position to survive, they just stepped out of their seats on to the left wing and as I mentioned the gentleman pulling his wife by the ankle, he did what he had to do, but I think every single one of those people were that type of person."

"Their situation was basically, 63 of the passengers survived the crash, those 63 people got to the hospital. They, some of them were at the auxiliary hospital, the balance were at the main hospital. Once again, the hospital made some very, very good decisions. They brought the people from the auxiliary hospital over to the main hospital so they had all the passengers there, they had over 63 of them, of the 63, eight died later that day, mainly from burns or injuries."

"The US Air Force, about the second day, Pan Am got there Monday night, about 24 hours after that, the accident happened at 5 PM on Sunday afternoon. Pan Am and the Air Force got there Monday night. An Air Force Colonel came into my room and introduced himself and said they had brought a C-130e from Las Palmas to land on the taxiways at Tenerife. They had a C-141 at Las Palmas so they medically evacuated the crew, Captain Grubbs, the four flight attendants, and all of the passengers; I said 63 survived the accident, which 8 died later so that left 55. Of that, some 8 of those survivors came with me and Peter Jennings. And the other ones were medically evacuated from Tenerife to Las Palmas, taken off the C-130 and placed on the C-141 and flown non stop back to McGuire Air Force base in New Jersey and were placed into the military hospital there. So the US Government definitely did an outstanding job in supporting the Americans in this particular accident."

"They took, they made a temporary morgue in one of the hangers: it was an extremely large hanger. Peter Jennings personally told me that it was the worst sight that he'd ever seen to see that many people laid out in a situation like a morgue situation. As you can imagine, with that many deaths. The Island did not have anywhere near the number of caskets they needed so Pan American flew the caskets from England to Tenerife and the Spanish authorities, for some reason, that I still don't know why, took all of the jewelry off every passenger that didn't survive."

"As you're probably aware, that's the way they identify people, by their rings or whatever they might have initials on them. Officials at Tenerife informed both KLM and Pan Am that if they didn't get the bodies off the Island in 48 hours, they would dig a mass grave and bury all of the people right there. So Pan Am and KLM evacuated the bodies back to the United States and Holland, which to my knowledge, is the first and only accident that they've ever done that. And Pan Am did real well in that respect, that they evacuated the bodies back to the United States and had memorial services for them and made sure that they were properly taken care of."

"I think probably the biggest lesson, and err I think its something that can never be forgotten, is that this particular pilot, pilots do not cause accidents by choice, I think that's obvious, I think it was a simple case as a gentleman trying to do as good a job as he possibly could and he got in a hurry, and I think anytime that any professional, especially in aviation, it just doesn't pay to get in an extremely big hurry."

"I think we all have a tendency to do it and I think you have to come up with some type of program, self motivator, or whatever, just to calm yourself down to make absolutely sure that you not only check, but that you double check, and you triple check things. And when you make mistakes, you have very disastrous results as this accident proves. So, to answer your question directly, I think you can not get in a hurry in a situation, be it in an airplane, cars, or whatever. That is what I learned from it."

All images and content 2004 Shenendoah Media Co. L.L.C.