Plane still missing 64 years after Lake Michigan crash

A mystery similar to the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappearance unfolded over Lake Michigan 64 years ago.
March 19, 2014 3:15:18 PM PDT
A mystery similar to the Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 disappearance unfolded over Lake Michigan 64 years ago.

The crash of a Northwest Airlines flight from New York to Minnesota - at the time - was the worst airline disaster in U.S. history. Despite all the time that's passed, the plane has never been found. The cause of the crash: never determined.

Rescuers in boats and planes searched the waters of Lake Michigan near South Haven, Michigan for clues in June of 1950 after a plane vanished over open water. Its wreckage was never found - only small reminders of the 58 men, women and children aboard. Pieces of passengers' clothing and other debris were found. For decades, families have wondered. Among them: Darlene Larson, who lost her father.

"It's a hard concept because you don't have anything to hold onto, like a funeral, a casket, or a grave. I was certain he was wandering around Chicago with amnesia and would realize where he was and would come home," she said.

The curious have searched... Author Valerie Van Heest wrote a book about the crash and even dove Lake Michigan looking for wreckage.

World War II planes have been pulled intact from the lake's bottom, so why not Northwest Flight 2501?

"They don't understand, it really happened. It's hard to conceive if you don't have a body. The mystery of Flight 2501 is a mystery that's plagued these families for 64 years," said Van Heest.

Back in 1950, the search was called off after just one week. Jim Hokenson was just 9 years old, waiting at the airport for his cousins, aunt and uncle to land.

"Planes come, planes go, but they don't just simply disappear," he said.

Today, half a world away, families wait as the search for another missing airliner enters its second week. Decades and distance separate the pain but not the feeling.

"They're crying, weeping and wailing and they don't even know," Hokanson said.

"Ultimately, finding the plane at the bottom of Lake Michigan would give the final answers. That's what we hope can happen for the Malaysia Airlines accident. We need answers," Van Heest said.

Most of those who died were from the West Coast, East Coast or Minnesota. At least two, though, had relatives in the Chicago area.

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