Northeast Airlines Flight 823 took off from LaGuardia in New York on February 1, 1957, headed for Miami. It didn't get very far. Within the first minute of takeoff, it crashed on Rikers Island—it hadn't been ascending nearly as much as it was supposed to, so it hit the island's trees, tilted forward, and slammed into the ground.

Rikers Island, for those who don't know, is home to the biggest jail in the US (arguably second to L.A. County Jail, but we're ignoring L.A., because that one's a collection of different jails across 4,000 acres). So, if this were a movie, the noble survivors of this crash would now find themselves terrorized by the inmates of Prison Island. Either that, or the plane would knock down the prison wall, allowing the inmates to escape. Rikers being an island might make that second premise challenging, but Hollywood would still manage it; maybe the inmates would commandeer the plane and take off again, keeping the passengers as hostages. 

Instead, the people on Rikers rushed to the plane to help passengers and crew get free of the wreckage. Those Rikers people included both the guards who worked at the facility and the inmates. This hadn't been some controlled crash everyone was easily surviving: The wreckage was on fire, and some passengers were watching their skin burn and slide right off their bodies.

The warden actually let inmates out of their cells to help with the rescue efforts. 20 passengers died in the crash, but 81 got out, surely in part as a result of the inmates' work. Then, when the day ended, all the inmates returned to their cells. That was all the thanks they got.

Wait, no, we were just leading you on with that last sentence. Thanks to their heroics, 30 inmates received early release. It helped that the warden had specifically used what the prison called "trustees," trusted prisoners who already weren't expected to go around murdering everyone in sight. A further 16 of the prisoners weren't quite ready for release, but they did get their sentences reduced. The final 11 inmates aren't recorded as receiving any reward, so we have to assume that though they helped, they kept bragging about it afterward, so the prison lost all sympathy for them. 

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For more prison surprises, check out:

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Top image: USGS

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