By Shawn McGrath - HP
Was it violent weather ? Mechanical failure ? Or pilot error ?
Nearly 60 years after the crash of Northwest Airlines Flight 2501 about 20 miles off South Haven in Lake Michigan, the cause of the then-worst air disaster in U.S. history is still unknown, and the location of the plane's watery grave remains a mystery despite yearly searches for the wreckage.
William Kaufmann was 6 years old and living in Seattle when his mother, 43-year-old Dorothy Jean Kaufmann, died in the crash.
"It was especially tragic because she missed her plane and took the next one, and that's the one that went down," Kaufmann, now 66 and a lawyer living in Oakland, Calif., said recently.
"I remember talking to her on the phone - the last time I talked to her - and she called to say she was going to be a day late. So, of course, I got up in the morning and asked my father if she was home, and you never saw such a look on a man's face."
According to the Civil Aeronautics Board's report of the crash, this is how the flight proceeded.
Piloted by 35-year-old Robert Lind, the four-engine DC-4 departed New York City's LaGuardia Airport bound for Seattle via Minneapolis and Spokane at 8:31 p.m. (EST) Friday, June 23, 1950. There were 55 passengers - including six children - and three crew members on board.
About 11:50 p.m., the crew reported to Air Route Traffic Control that the flight was over Battle Creek and due over Milwaukee at 12:30 a.m. About 12:15 a.m., near Benton Harbor, the plane was at 3,500 feet and the crew asked to drop to 2,500 for an unspecified reason.
Air traffic controllers denied the request because of other air traffic, and the crew's acknowledgment a few minutes later was the last communication sent from the plane.