Wednesday, June 22, 2005


The Mysterious 1950 Crash of Flight 2501

By Linda Paige
June 20, 2005

Holland - In 1950, commercial aviation was still not a common way to travel.

That year on Friday, June 23rd, Northwest Airlines flight 2501 left New York on its way to Seattle. There were thunderstorms in the area when they reached the West Michigan shoreline. The crew made a radio call, asking to fly lower. That was the last anyone heard from the plane.

Newly married Jackie and Muryl Eldred remember that night. “The storm was really brewing when that plane went over the thunder and lightning it was terrible,” says Muryl.

Jackie says, “it sounded like he was having trouble, motor, it just kept a coming and coming and it seemed like it was getting lower and then all the sudden the motor stopped.”

By dawn the next morning it was clear that the plane had crashed, and an intense search of the lake began.

Larry Otto was a young ensign with the coast guard who helped with the search. He talks about his experience, “we were off Benton Harbor and we didn't find anything." After a couple of days, Larry says, "it came up it bubbled up and what we saw were seat cushions.”

Search teams only recovered small pieces of wreckage. There were no survivors.

At the time, this was the worst airplane disaster in history. Yet amazingly, it did not receive much press coverage. No one from West Michigan was on board, and it happened at the same time President Truman committed the country to fight in the Korean War.

By July 4, 1950, most people in west Michigan had put the crash behind them. But interest in the crash is now increasing.

Solving the mystery of a commercial plane crash in Lake Michigan has become the mission of one prominent shipwreck researcher. Author Clive Cussler and sonar expert Ralph Wilbanks are famous for finding a submarine from the civil war off the coast of South Carolina.

Craig Rich, with the Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates says, "he keeps his eyes open for mysteries around the world that he can help solve.” And he sent Wilbanks to West Michigan to help.

Valerie van Heest, with the Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates says "in the month long time that Ralph Wilbanks was here searching we've covered about 20 square miles of bottom land off south haven.

As of now, so far no airplane."

So the mystery of the lost airliner continues. Clive Cussler will send Ralph Wilbanks back for another month-long search next spring.


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