As hard as it may be to imagine today, it was standard practice then for a jet hurtling over the metropolitan area at more than 350 miles an hour to be left to find its own way for minutes at a time. When the controllers on the ground were tracking planes on their radar scopes, using grease pencils to identify them on plastic strips called “shrimp boats,” they could not judge altitudes. Radar had only been in use at New York’s airports for about a decade, and the technology was still rather crude, retired controllers said.
“In the early days of radar, there were no depictions, you just got a raw target, just a green blip, like on Pong or something like that,” said Barrett R. Byrnes, who was an air traffic controller for 35 years and whose father was one of the first controllers in New York.
So, when two blips merged into one, a controller could only hope there was sufficient space between them. For the Connie and the United jet, there was not.
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This was years before my first air travel. My first flight was from Cincinnati to Indianapolis in 1968 or 69. My Sister worked for American. She bought round trip tickets for my brother and me (as a Christmas present). We flew to Indianapolis. Hung out in the airport. And returned the same day! Today that would seem like torture! Back then it was adventure!