Guts, Feathers and All

By Keith Horton

   There were about twenty of us TWAers sent to Rome in November 1964, along with representatives from the FAA, NTSB, Boeing and Pratt & Whitney. We were anything but tourists, as we were there to investigate the tragic accident involving our Flight 800, which had aborted its takeoff after a wing struck a piece of motorized construction equipment that had been parked too close to the side of the Fiumicino Airport runway. The collision resulted in an explosion and fire in which about half of the people on the airplane perished. I’ll not go into all the details, but we were there to determine what happened and what must be done to prevent future occurrences.

 All told, there must have been at least forty of us working the incident. We would travel out to the airport from our hotel in the morning, spend the entire day at our difficult work, and then ride back to the hotel in the evening. At noon, we would go to a restaurant in the terminal for a somber lunch.

 We had been there about a week consuming a variety of Italian fare every day. But it soon was approaching Thanksgiving, and several of us told the staff we’d like to have some turkey for a change. And the next day we were served with sliced turkey sandwiches and they tasted pretty good. Well, just as in the good old USA , we also were served turkey sandwiches the next day … and the next day … and a few more days after that. By that time the supply of turkey must have been getting scarce, as we began noticing pieces of cut-up bone lurking in the turkey meat.

 We guessed that the cooks were slicing the meat in a regular slicer and unintentionally got some bones in it as well, which led to the wry observation by our Jim Davis that they were probably slicing the entire bird, using one of his favorite expressions -- “guts, feathers and all.”  We finally told the kitchen staff to forego the turkey and take us back to the usual Italian fare.

 Tony Ristuccia from JFK was there, as was Clark Fisher from MCI, and whenever any of us would get together to recount airline “war stories,” we almost always got around to talking about those turkey sandwiches -- “guts, feathers and all.”

 Keith Horton, 1941-1983, served in Maintenance/Technical Services Engineering and Field Maintenance.

 (Editor’s Note: When the investigation concluded, this accident turned out to be the one that spurred the entire industry to train flight attendant and cockpit crew to aggressively evacuate everyone from stricken aircraft as quickly as possible. After coming to a stop near the runway the 707 was intact, resting on its landing gear and relatively undamaged. What no one knew at the time was that one of the fuel tanks had ruptured, leaving a trail of spilled jet fuel back to the accident site. Unfortunately the trail ignited, leading to a disastrous explosion and the loss of 49 lives, all of whom were being evacuated in the former standard procedure of orderly, careful, deliberate egress. As we all recognize, that’s not how it’s done today, thankfully, with crews barking like drill sergeants to save lives, i.e., “GET THE HELL OFF THIS AIRPLANE … NOW, DAMMIT!!”