Northwest 710

It left Minneapolis fifty-six years ago on this date, landed successfully for its stop over at Chicago-Midway.  Its final destination: fifty feet underground in a snowy soy bean field near Tell City, Indiana along the banks of the Ohio River - not making its intended final destination: Miami International.  The souls of fifty-six passengers and six crew members perished that day. 

The Lockheed Electra L-188 (reg: N121US) which carried these souls disintegrated separating its on board engines to which the debris spanned the area where Indiana borders Kentucky.  Like with any crash, come theories, and according to the Civil Aeronautics Board, there were three initial theories which seem to be common first thoughts of any crash, along with pilot error - which was not the case in this investigation.

  1. A bomb.
  2. Severe clear air turbulence.
  3. Metal fatigue.

Event Timeline

  • 12:51 - Departed MSP
  • 13:55 - Arrived at MDW
  • 14:25 - Aircraft was refueled and ready to continue to MIA.
  • 14:38 - Aircraft took off from MDW bound for MIA.
  • 14:45 - Crew reported position over Indianapolis ARTC Center at FL180 (18,000 feet), intentions were to report over Scotland, Indiana at 15:12
  • 15:13 - Crew reported over Scotland, Indiana maintaining FL180 and confirming radio contact over Bowling Green, Kentucky at 15:35.  This was final radio contact from the flight crew of Northwest Orient 710.
  • 15:25 - Outboard engines, their support structures, the complete right wing, and ailerons separated in flight sending the aircraft into a spin until it made impact.  The cruise speed was 406 mph and it made impact nose first with a speed of near 600 mph.
After the crash, Lockheed recalled all Electras for investigation and modifications.

Beforehand facts:
  • The first Electra purchased by Northwest.
  • The aircraft had only been in service for seven months.
  • After the crash, it was the third Electra to have crashed during a span of over a year.

Photo courtesy of David Clendenen
I try to make it a point to point out this tragedy every year on its anniversary for many reasons.  Most importantly, to pay tribute to those souls on board that could never be replaced.  Another being, this air crash in particular hits close to home.  As a native of Southern Indiana, I spent a good portion of my childhood around this crash site and will never forget the day I was hiking with my family up to ground zero.  That was the day that I told myself I would never step into a plane, a prop especially, nor fly anywhere.  Time and determination healed fears, and I ended up taking my first flight with the same airline going transatlantic.  The rest is history..

Back in 1960, one would only think tragedies like the above would come out of a fiction novel and would never happen in real life to our loved ones and ourselves, but as time went on they happen in real life, to real people.  I never want to look at the face of someone who just lost a loved one in an air crash, or any other way, for that matter - even if was myself having lost someone.  I would never have the words.  That's why action is more important.  It is up to us to take action and do our best to stop these from happening.



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