Thursday, 18 October 2012

Sepia Saturday - The man behind the window

The theme for this week is a picture (see below) showing four men involved in what I would call mysterious dealings. We see two policemen and two civilians or maybe even plain clothes men. And then there is a person looking through a window. He seems to be in uniform. So is this a police station? If this is so, does that make the bicycles official vehicles of  the long arm of the law? Is the man on the left handing over a gun or is he receiving one? Is it a gun or maybe a summons? The two gentlemen on the right radiate this "I-am-to-be-here-for-ceremonial-reasons" attitude. To cut a long presumption short, I don't know what we are looking at. But I have to make a choice so I will elaborate on the man behind the window.
Those of you visiting my blog now and then may know that I publish old airline pictures, in particular pictures concerning KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, my former employer. Those posts are titled "Saved from the dustbin". Knowing this, my former neighbor and former KLM captain Michael D. send me a few pictures. They came from a shoe box he inherited from his mother. The first one shows a man and a woman descending from an aircraft stairway. The man is Charles Christian "Chuck" Harman, a Canadian captain with KLM. The lady is Mrs. D., the mother of my neighbor. 
KLM Capt. Chuck Harman and Mrs. D.
The aircraft is the KLM Lockheed 1049C Super Constellation 'Nucleon' with registration PH-TFX. The picture can be dated between August 5, 1953 and February 25, 1954. 
The photograph below shows a man waving from a cockpit window. He may not be as clearly visible as the man in the police station but still, it is a man behind a window! (Pffft, mission completed.) According to my source this is the same Chuck Harman but now seated in the Douglas DC-6B 'Willem Bontekoe', the PH-DFO. This shot was taken between March 6 and August 23, 1954.
Capt. Chuck Harman waving from the cockpit.
There is some unexpected drama in this picture. It so happened that this aircraft, the 'Willem Bontekoe', crashed in the North Sea, some 10 miles off the Dutch coast. The accident took place on August 23, 1954. The official accident investigation was unable to uncover the cause of the crash. It is still the most mysterious casualty that ever took place in the history of Dutch aviation.
Location where the 'Willem Bontekoe' crashed on August 23, 1954.
Map ex
The accident caused the death of all 12 passengers and 9 crew. The captain of this fatal flight from New York to Amsterdam was Charles Christian Harman...

For more drama, suspense and entertainment, please see the Sepia Saturday site.

To write this post I made use of internet information viz. the comprehensive site of Herman Dekker and Aviacrash. And of course I am grateful to Michael D. for sending me the photographs and for telling me about the late Capt. Harman!


  1. That was an interesting way of using the window theme. It is too bad the Captain later was in the plane that crashed.

  2. Oh. how sad. To see the pilot in the previous photos and then to find out that he went down with his plane in that mysterious crash. Wow. what a story. Very interesting post. And you even have a photobomb in that one shot with the the pilot waving from the plane and then that other man lurking on the tarmac.

  3. I see you can link anything to anything. Again a very interesting story as a result.

  4. As a lon time user of KLM this was an interesting post for me with or without the window theme. It would be interesting to know how took the photos and how they managed to get so close/

  5. Great nostalgic photos but a sad story, especially regarding the three kids on board of the plane.

  6. What an interesting story. I didn't know there were Canadian pilots with KLM. It was sad to read that the Captain, crew and passengers perished in a crash.

  7. This story makes that cheerful wave rather chilling.

  8. Wow! That was quite a lead-up and segue to the crash. Nice work, tying it all in with the SS photo for the week.

    Ha ha! Nancy, I didn't see the photobomb! Must go and check that now.


  9. Actually, I think the guy on the ground could be considered the "Photobomb" too.

  10. Terrific post. A fascinating story which has sent off to Google to learn more. Thanks for the enjoyable read.

  11. A sad end but I was struck by the crew passenger ratio, no wonder it is looked on as the civilised era of air travel, if not as safe.

  12. A very clever idea, Peter, to use the least obvious feature of our theme photo. I liked the way you enticed us into an innocent story which then took such a unexpected tragic twist.

  13. I ALWAYS click on the wrong thing when leaving a comment here, I'll get used to it soon, or else learn the language! Sad story but what a wonderful photo the first one is.
    Now let's see if I can click on the right one to save this!

  14. That sad to see him waving and then learn he crashed. But that's the way it happens.

  15. @Postcardy
    Sometimes coincidence comes your way and you see these two windows within a week. And then... 1+1=2 :)
    Don't think I know the word 'photobomb'. It's not in my Webster. Is it a kind of a 'pictorial surprise'?
    Believe the man on the tarmac is just walking towards the plane. Or do you have a different view?
    Indeed one can :) And fortunately Sepia Saturday people have very flexible minds!
    I believe the photo's have been taken by Michael D.'s father who was a captain with KLM as well. And airport security then not being what it is today, he was in a good position to make photographs on the tarmac.
    Fate does not distinguish between young and old I am afraid...
    I'm sure he was not the only one. We had many nationalities in our crews.
    You are so right!
    Please see my reaction to Prenters comment. And thank you for following my blog!
    Thank you and I'm sorry that both sites I referred to, are in Dutch...
    I agree with your appreciation of flying in those days but this one was just a flight with a very low load factor. Seating capacity of the DC-6B was around 100. With that number of passengers crew would also be consisting of 9 persons.
    Thanks Mike, if the story was not so sad I would have been proud of the twist...
    You did click on the right one this time :) But there are so many former Dutch people living in NZ, it should be no problem to take a quick lesson somewhere?
    Btw, thank you for following my blog also!
    And he was just 36 years old...

    I noticed that the two pictures could not be enlarged by clicking on them. That has been corrected.

    Thank you all for commenting.

  16. You are a master story teller as well as many of the SS folks. I tried to pull up but it said it was under maintenance at this time. That is a new word to me. Great post Peter.

  17. Thank you so much, you always bring to us such delightful stories(except the ending here was sad) and such great photos. I too, am one who enjoys a good mystery, and it is a shame that they never learned how or why. Something I'm sure today they would know right away. Sometimes we just never know when it's our last good-bye, so we have treasure each waking moment.

  18. Wow! What a tragic and unexpected ending to this story! Do you know if they were able to retrieve the airplane and passengers from the ocean?

  19. Interesting twist on the theme and such a tragic ending for the captain and others aboard! Thanks for including the link to your previous post "Saved from the dustbin." I enjoyed reading about the 3,000 images saved in the nick of time.

  20. Peter that's so sad. I'd just got to like Captain Harman with his cheery wave and you dropped your bombshell!
    This was a clever take on the prompt and I enjoyed it a lot!

  21. @Peggy
    I didn't know about this site. I'll keep an eye on! #curious.
    @Karen S
    Part of the reason they never found the reason of this crash was that only a very fragmented 50% of the aircraft was recovered. Strong currents prevented investigators and fishermen to find more.
    Pse see my comment above. For the same reason only two bodies were found...
    @Queen Bee
    In case you are interested, I have written 13 posts all titled 'Saved from the dustbin'. So if you have an afternoon to spare... :)
    @Little Nell
    The only "positive" thing I could discover about Chuck's death is that, although he was married, he had no kids...

    My thanks to everybody for visiting!

  22. Peter, sad but interesting story of this KLM Plane. Fate is sometimes very fickle, as it happens.

  23. Oh, no! I wasn't expecting that ending.

    This was a great post, Peter. I loved the vintage airplane photos. With those steep stairs, I suppose that not many alter-abled folks could easily board that plane.

    Kathy M.

  24. Fascinating story and pictures. It made my spine tingle. Great unfolding of the tale. You are definitely on my follow list!

  25. @Titania
    You are dead right :)
    @Kathy M
    I may be wrong here but I think those stairs were intended for crew only.
    As far as the follow list is concerned, thank you and likewise!

  26. And thank you for dropping in!

  27. An interesting post and that first pic was almost perfect in its framing. Thanx 4 sharing!!

    PS: Even nowadays, with the current technology, they're still unable to clear up the mystery surrounding that crash?!?

  28. @Ticklebear
    As I mentioned earlier, only 50% of the aircraft was recovered. I doubt whether they can solve that riddle without a substantial part of the other 50% being present. But even if they would find the remainder I don't think the first 50% is still available. Also I haven't got a clue whether our CAB would still be interested to investigate a 58 years old crash related to a not very current aircraft type.


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