On Friday, June 23, 1950, Northwest Airlines Flight 2501 departed New York’s LaGuardia airport at 8:30 PM EST and headed west under clear skies on its way to Seattle Washington, with intermediate stops in Minneapolis, Minnesota at 1:23 CST, and Spokane, Washington, early Saturday morning.
The plane operating as Flight 2501 was a Douglas DC-4 airliner numbered N-95425. Northwest had ordered several new Boeing Stratocruisers, but manufacturing was delayed and Northwest continued to use its aged fleet of DC-4’s. Many of those DC-4’s, including the plane used for Flight 2501, had been C-54 A military planes converted after the war into passenger planes.
Captain Robert C. Lind served as pilot. In the right hand seat sat co-pilot Verne F. Wolfe. Stewardess Bonnie Ann Feldman was in the passenger compartment taking care of 55 passengers, identified as 27 women, 22 men, and six children.
At 7:45 PM EST before the flight took off, Captain Lind was advised of thunderstorms and a possible squal line moving east over Lake Michigan, but other planes did not report severe turbulence and the flight was cleared for takeoff. The flight plan filed with Air Route Traffic Control (ATC) specified a cruising altitude of 6000 feet to Minneapolis. Lind requested an altitude of 4000 feet as he neared the Lake Michigan. His request was denied due to other traffic assigned at that level.
At 10:49 EST, when over Cleveland, Ohio, Lind again requested a lower cruising altitude of 4000 feet which at that time was approved. Forty minutes later ARTC directed a descent to 3500 feet to maintain a greater-than-normal separation from an eastbound flight at 5000 which was experiencing severe turbulence over the lake. At about that time, the a revised weather report was put on teletype and made available to ATC, but purportedly because it was less severe than the original forecast, Northwest Airlines personnel decieded not to radio that information to Captain Lind.
As the DC-4 passed over Battle Creek, Michigan at 11:51 EST, it entered the area of the storm. Captain Lind notified Northwest’s Air Traffic Control Center at Chicago by radio that he estimated he would pass over Milwaukee 46 minutes from that time. His course was due to cross Lake Michigan in airway “Red 57,” which runs from Battle Creek, northeasterly toward Milwaukee. At that time, however, the squall line was directly over the lake in the area of Red 57. By midnight the squall line was raging south down the lake. Lightning flashed between the cells of the storm. Winds whipped up the lake’s surface.
Although it is unclear what Captain Lind did when he reached the lakeshore and inevitably saw or felt the storm, at 12:13 AM EST when in the vicinity of Benton Harbor, Michigan (20 miles south of the intended route), Lind requested a descent to 2500 feet, but did not indicate his reason for the request. Air traffic control denied the altitude change due to other traffic in the area. That was the last communication from Flight 2501.
By dawn’s light, it became clear that Flight 2501 had crashed. Debris from the plane and an oil slick floated on the surface of the lake, evidence that there was no possibility of survivors. The airplane, along with 58 men, woman and children, had impacted the water, leaving few clues as to what had occurred. The crash represented the worst commercial aviation disaster at that time.