Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 2501

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Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 2501
Occurrence summary
Date June 23, 1950 (1950-06-23)
Summary Unexplained disappearance
Site Lake Michigan
42°22′N 86°37′W / 42.367°N 86.617°W / 42.367; -86.617Coordinates: 42°22′N 86°37′W / 42.367°N 86.617°W / 42.367; -86.617
Passengers 55
Crew 3
Fatalities 58 (all presumed; only body fragments found)
Aircraft type Douglas DC-4 (former C-54)
Operator Northwest Orient Airlines
Registration N95425 (formerly 42-72165)
Flight origin LaGuardia Airport
New York City, New York
1st stopover Minneapolis–St. Paul, Minnesota
2nd stopover Spokane, Washington
Destination Seattle, Washington

Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 2501 was a DC-4 propliner operating its daily transcontinental service between New York City and Seattle when it disappeared on the night of June 23, 1950. The flight was carrying 55 passengers and three crew members; the loss of all 58 on board made it the deadliest commercial airliner accident in American history at the time.[1]

The aircraft was at approximately 3,500 feet (1,100 m) over Lake Michigan, 18 miles (29 km) NNW of Benton Harbor, Michigan[2] when it vanished from radar screens after requesting a descent to 2,500 feet (760 m). A widespread search was commenced including using sonar and dragging the bottom of Lake Michigan with trawlers, but to no avail. Considerable light debris, upholstery, and human body fragments were found floating on the surface, but divers were unable to locate the plane's wreckage.[3]


It is known that Flight 2501 was entering a squall line and turbulence, but since the plane's wreckage was not found, the cause of the crash was never determined.[3] The incident was reported as follows:

A Northwest Airlines DC-4 airplane with fifty-eight persons aboard, last reported over Lake Michigan early today, was still missing tonight after hundreds of planes and boats had worked to trace the craft or any survivors. All air and surface craft suspended search operations off Milwaukee at nightfall except the Coast Guard cutter Woodbine. The airplane, a four-engine 'air coach' bound from New York to Minneapolis and Seattle, was last heard from at 1:13 o'clock this morning, New York Time, when it reported that it was over Lake Michigan, having crossed the eastern shore line near South Haven, Mich. The craft was due over Milwaukee at 1:27 A.M. and at Minneapolis at 3.23 A.M. If all aboard are lost, the crash will be the most disastrous in the history of American commercial aviation. The plane carried a capacity load of fifty-five passengers and a crew of three, headed by Capt. Robert Lind, 35 years old, of Hopkins, Minn. In Minneapolis, Northwest Airlines said the craft was 'presumed to be down,' and that they were beginning notification of relatives of passengers. In his last report, Captain Lind requested permission to descend from 3,500 to 2,500 feet because of a severe electrical storm which was lashing the lake with high velocity winds. Permission to descend was denied by the Civil Aeronautic Authority because there was too much traffic at the lower altitude.

The New York TimesMilwaukee, June 25, 1950

Families lost[edit]

Two families were lost in the accident. The largest family group was the Hokansons — John, his wife, Kay, their seven-year-old daughter Janice, and their four-year-old son Thomas. The other family was the William H. Frengs. Mr. Freng, a lawyer and vice president of the International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation, was accompanied by his wife, Rosa, and their daughter Barbara, 18.


The missing airliner is the subject of an annual search by Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates, a Michigan-based non-profit organization. The search is funded by author Clive Cussler.

In September 2008, a researcher investigating the crash of Flight 2501 found an unmarked grave that she believes contains the remains of some of the 58 victims. Valerie van Heest says human remains from the June 1950 crash into Lake Michigan washed ashore and were buried in a mass grave. She claims they were buried in a St. Joseph-area cemetery without the knowledge of the victims' families, and the grave was never marked.[4] In a 2008 ceremony at the cemetery with 58 family members of Flight 2501, a large black granite marker was placed that now lists the names of the 58 and the words:

"In Memory of Northwest Flight 2501, June 23, 1950. Gone but Never Forgotten."


  1. ^ The New York Times. June 24, 1950.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. ^ Accident description at the Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved on 2008-01-27
  3. ^ a b "The Disappearance of Flight 2501". Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates. Retrieved 2013-11-25. 
  4. ^ "New developments in mysterious Michigan plane crash". AP. September 12, 2008. Retrieved December 9, 2009. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Van Heest, Valerie (2013), Fatal Crossing

External links[edit]