Pan American Airways Crash Worst Disaster in Maryland History

One of the arriving firefighters peers at the central point of impact, a crater on Delancey Road  Source:  Singerly Fire Company Museum

The next day investigators and emergency personnel begin the recovery task.  Source:  Singerly Fire Company Museum

Additional coverage on Delmarva History on Facebook.

As lightning periodically illuminated the cold, rainy night of December 8, 1963, five airliners flew in a holding pattern above Cecil County, awaiting clearance to land at Philadelphia International Airport. One craft, lightning crackling nearby as it circled, was Pan American Airways Flight 214. Suddenly the tower heard a transmission from that flight: “Mayday, mayday, mayday, clipper 214 out of control. Here we go . . .” Another circling plane radioed: “Clipper 214 is going down in flames.”

At quiet firehouses around the county clocks ticked unhurriedly toward 9 p.m. that stormy Sunday evening, until the emergency radio crackled to life with the startling alert: “Station 3 you have a plane crash,” the steady, professional voice of Rosemary Culley, the dispatcher at the control center, said. Following the first report that a large craft had “exploded and gone down in flames,” every phone in the dispatch center started ringing off the hook. While answering those lines and handling communications with a number of agencies that were going into action, the lone dispatcher coordinated the response of emergency responders.

Listening to the decades old tape of communications that night, it rapidly becomes obvious that this was a major catastrophe. Chief Edgar Slaughter, who was leading his men to the scene to search for survivors and put out fires, radios in many times asking for more information, more help, and more equipment. Within minutes of the first alert, Rosemary puts out a general alarm: “All available ambulances respond to a plane crash at Delancy Road in Elkton.”

The Eighty-one people aboard the doomed craft perished when it exploded and plunged into a cornfield outside Elkton after being struck by lightning. This horrifying explosion and crash of the Pan American Airways Boeing 707 is the most serious disaster in the history of Cecil County and the most serious air disaster in Maryland history. That terrible night is something residents living in the area at the time or the first responders rushing to that Maryland cornfield will never forget.

Note – Here are some additional resources.

Emergency Communications Audio — Rosemary Culley preserved the emergency radio communications tape from Sunday evening, Dec., 8, 1963 and the Historical Society had made a few minutes of the recording available online. We’ve now placed the entire recording of about 30 minutes on the Net.  Click here to here the emergency broadcast.  Thanks to Rosemary Culley for making that value recording available.

Official ReportClick here to read the official CAB report.

Another Airline Crashes in Cecil County — On Memorial Day 1947 Eastern Airlines Flight 605 crashed near Port Deposit, killing all 53 people on board the craft.  To read about this disaster click here.

First Emergency Responder to Arrive on Scene of 1963 Plane Crash Recalls Tragic Night

The terrible explosion shattered the aircraft, scattering small pieces of it across a Maryland cornfield.  Source:  Baltimore Sun photo from the Singerly Fire Company Museum


37 responses to “Pan American Airways Crash Worst Disaster in Maryland History

  1. Pingback: On Memorial Day 1947, Eastern Airlines Flight 605 Crashed Near Port Deposit « Window on Cecil County's Past

  2. Pingback: On Memorial Day 1947, Eastern Airlines Flight 605 Crashed Near Port Deposit « Window on Cecil County's Past

  3. Pingback: Pan Am Flight 214 – Update : 6 Things To Consider

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  5. Hi Mike,

    I’m a Picture Researcher working in London, England for Carlton Books, and I’m interested in using the pictures of the Pan Am crash in a book I’m working on about extreme weather. Can help me with high resolution files that can be reproduced, or contact details of the source of the photographs please?
    Any help would be much appreciated.

    Many thanks,
    Ben White

  6. Ben, we’ll be in touch by email. Thanks

  7. I am in a Flight Safety Class at Hampton University in Hampton, Va. We are doing a short presentation on the Pan Am 214 accident on Dec 8 1963. We would love the entire recording of about 30 minutes of the emergency broadcast. I tried to click on the link but it didn’t work. If you could email me the broadcast I would much appreciate it.

  8. Leslie, I have the link fixed now. Give it a try.

  9. As the anniversary draws near my thoughts and prayers are with those who were impacted by this tragedy. My husband was one of the ones the Navy assigned to perform the recovery efforts. He is still haunted by the events of that night. My sincerest hope is that those involved in whatever way find some peace.

  10. Paula, thank you for remembering. The historical society often hears from people (relatives, fire & police responders, and others) having some connection with the events that unfold on that stormy Sunday in December so long ago. Over ten years ago, the pilots son came to Elkton to visit the site and area. Today I was talking with one of the first responders from the fire department, who was a 17 year old when he answered the call on the local fire company ambulance.

    • Mike we so appreciate your efforts to keep history alive for our children and grandchildren. It helps to be able to show them some experiences their father and grandfather has had. He has always been their hero. Now they have evidence that he was someone elses hero as well. Blessings and Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  11. Paula, next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the tragedy that so suddenly affected so many people. We’ve been talking about doing a special program to remember the tragedy that happened in that cornfield at the edge of town on that stormy Sunday night so long ago. We’re just starting to think about it and will post information as plans move along. Time is getting on and it would be great to have people come and share their memories of the tragedy so we can create a permanent historical record. In Elkton, the old police chief, fire dispatcher, telephone company linemen, firefighters and ambulance drivers are still around locally. There are many others we haven’t met such as the young Navy recruits rushed to Elkton to help. Thanks again for sharing

    • Mike that sounds like a wonderful idea. Ron thinks that would be something he could do to help bring some closure for himself. Please keep us infomed. Thanks again.

  12. Paula thanks so much. We’d be pleased to have Ron join us. In January we’ll start talking about this to see how we want to move forward and get some firms plans together. We’ll post notices as we move along. Thanks again.

  13. Mike , I can’t tell if this site is still active. No recent comments since Dec. of 2011. I have been to the 911 crash site in Pa. and have passed the memorial placed in Port deposit. Is there any kind of memorial at the Delancy road site?

  14. Gerald, there is a small monument at this site. It’s right off Delancy Road in at Wheelhouse Drive, a roadway leading into a development. It’s right near where the nose of the plane came down. I’ll see if I can post some pics and an article about the dedication ceremony later, Gerald.

  15. I learnt about this tragedy only yesterday; quite frankly, I was shocked. My Husband was born in 1963, he grew up in the area and had not learnt of such a disaster until his Australian wife (me) explained what happened. We are both Airborne ex military members, my father once a RAAF pilot in WW2, and to think that such a huge loss of life like this could have occurred just a few miles from our home – its unbelievable – ….I drive up Delancy Rd every day! Such heroic efforts by all that were involved….if there is anything I can do to assist with any memorial or remembrance of this event…please contact me….

    • Thanks Lyndal. Keep an eye on our posts and as we get closer to the event and begin actual work it, we’ll always be glad to have a few extra hands. Meanwhile check out some of our other programs. We think you’ll enjoy some of those too. Since you are in the area you might want to stop b the Historical Society Library (135 E. Main Street in Elkton) and check out our files on the disater. Again thanks so much for our interest.

  16. I was one of the sailors who helped with the horrific recovery of the remains. And I was wondering if Paula Lancaster is the wife of Ronnie Lancaster from Munster, Indiana. I was in radio school in Bainbridge, Maryland with Ronnie Lancaster. John Kanable of Cookeville, TN previously of Kokomo, Indiana My contact info is

  17. I am a photo researcher for a children’s book publisher called Capstone. I am currently working on a book titled “Threatening Skies: History’s Most Dangerous Weather.” We would like to include the first photo on this page of the firefighter looking at the impact for the deadliest lightning strike. Do you own the rights to the photo? If not, can you direct me to the person who does?

    Thank you,
    Marcie Spence

  18. Sandee L-Hoover

    .Although I was only 7 years old, I remember that night vividly. There was a terrible thunderstorm, and my Mother went into labor with my brother. Our neighbor, my babysitter, was terrified of storms, and was known to hide under her bed. I remember Mom being so upset that she had to pull her our from under the bed to come over and watch me. My brother was born in the wee hours of December 9th. The stories she told about being in the emergency room waiting area were horrific.

    My sister-in-law (a teenager then) lived on the farm where the plane went down. She would never speak about it.

  19. Hi I actually live on delancy about 100 yards from the main impact site. My house has been quite active with spirits and I believe at least one ( a young boy) is from this accident. My home was built in 64 however pieces of the wreckage were strewn across my property. I am now with a paranormal investigation team in Cecil county and we are interested in speaking to anyone involved in that nights rescue efforts or witnesses. You can reach us on Facebook ( Cecil and beyond paranormal) or email me at
    We believe in respecting those who tragically lost their lives that night and those who lost family members/friends. We mean absolutely no disrespect and only want to learn from this incident.

  20. I remember Pan Am Flight 214 My name Mary Shelby and lived on route 213 in Elkton I was about 5 years old . I was looking up out the window at the lighting when it surround’ed the plane ,It fell from the sky, I new as a child it was,not going to be good It was not a good night for me.

  21. My name is Russell Crowe navy veteran. I was instructed by our chief to board a navy bus along with 10 other sailors. I had just finished boot camp and was to report to FTG “A” school in Bainbridge Maryland. When we arrived plane was still burning and smoking. Clothes were on the ground and in trees. Body parts were everywhere including three infants. Watches,billfolds and jewelry were turned over to state police. The first day we had no gloves. Day 2 &3 we had gloves.

  22. .This event certainly impacted a lot of people in the area. Although it was a tragedy, I enjoy reading the comments and stories. I know I’ll never forget that night.

  23. My father commanded a MP company at Aberdeen Proving Ground, and his company was called out to patrol the site to prevent looters from looting the bodies and suitcases. He was gone for days, when he returned home, even though I was only 5, I was stunned by how shaken and exhausted he was. He told me many years later that the crash was so horrific that he picked up a woman’s bra that didn’t have a single drop of blood on it- it had been blown off of a passenger. He had served in World War II and Korea, and he said that crash was far worse than anything he had ever seen in the wars.

  24. On this night my father and mother were heading to church when they saw this happen. After calling the authorities they called the Baltimore Sun to report what they saw. A couple weeks later they got a reward from the newspaper.

  25. Gertrude Holmes

    My husband Donald Holmes was Disaster chairman for the Red Cross for Harford County and we had to go to take coffee and food for the men that had to work the site. It was a very eerie place and you don’t forget it.

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