1933 United Airlines Boeing 247 mid-air explosion
Restored Boeing 247 in United Air Lines livery, similar to the crashed aircraft. This one is on display at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum.
|Date||October 10, 1933|
|Summary||Sabotage via probable nitroglycerin bomb|
|Site||Jackson Township, Porter County, near Chesterton, Indiana|
|Aircraft type||Boeing 247D|
|Operator||United Air Lines|
|Flight origin||Newark, New Jersey|
|1st stopover||Cleveland, Ohio|
|Last stopover||Chicago, Illinois|
On October 10, 1933, a Boeing 247 propliner operated by United Air Lines and registered as NC13304, crashed near Chesterton, Indiana. The transcontinental flight, carrying three crew and four passengers, had originated in Newark, New Jersey, with its final destination in Oakland, California. It had already landed in Cleveland and was headed to its next stop in Chicago when it exploded en route. All aboard died in the crash, which was proven to have been deliberately caused by an on-board explosive device.
Eyewitnesses on the ground reported hearing an explosion shortly after 9pm, and saw the plane in flames at an altitude of about 1,000 feet (300 m). A second explosion followed after the plane crashed. The crash scene was adjacent to a gravel road about 5 miles (8 km) outside of Chesterton, centered in a wooded area on the Jackson Township farm of James Smiley.
Investigators who combed through the debris were confronted with unusual evidence: The toilet and baggage compartment had been smashed into fragments. Shards of metal riddled the inside of the toilet door while the other side was free of the metal fragments. The tail section had been severed just aft of the toilet and was found mostly intact almost a mile away from the main wreckage.
Melvin Purvis, head of the Chicago office of the United States Bureau of Investigation described the damage, "Our investigation convinced me that the tragedy resulted from an explosion somewhere in the region of the baggage compartment in the rear of the plane. Everything in front of the compartment was blown forward, everything behind blown backward, and things at the side outward." He also noted: "The gasoline tanks, instead of being blown out, were crushed in, showing there was no explosion in them."
An investigator from the Porter County coroner's office, Dr. Carl Davis, and experts from the Crime Detection Laboratory at Northwestern University examined evidence from the crash, and concluded that the crash had been caused by a bomb, with nitroglycerin as the probable explosive agent. One of the passengers was seen carrying a brown package onto the plane in Newark, but investigators who found the package amidst the wreckage ruled it out as being the cause of the explosion. A rifle was found in the wreckage but it was determined to have been carried aboard as baggage for a passenger who was en route to attend a shoot at Chicago's North Shore Gun Club. Despite the efforts of the investigators, no suspect was ever identified or charged in this incident, and it remains unsolved. This is thought to be the first proven act of air sabotage in the history of commercial aviation.
- 1933 in aviation
- 1933 in the United States
- Aviation accidents and incidents
- Lists of accidents and incidents on commercial airliners
- "Seven Killed in Crash of Giant Transport Plane" (PDF). The Citizen-Advisor (Auburn, NY). AP. October 11, 1933. p. 12.
- "Aeronautics: Death on No. 23". TIME. October 23, 1933.
- "Plane wreck laid to nitroglycerine". The New York Times. October 15, 1933. p. 31.
- "Suspects Bomb Wrecked Plane" (PDF). Prescott Evening Courier. AP. October 12, 1933. p. 3.
- "Wreck of air liner laid to a bomb". The New York Times. October 14, 1944. p. 5.
- "Accident details". planecrashinfo.com.
- van der Linden, F. Robert (November 1991). The Boeing 247: the first modern airliner (Google Books preview). Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press. p. 83. ISBN 0-295-97094-4.
- "Seven die as plane crashes in flames". (October 11, 1933) New York Times p. 1 (pay site)
- "Plane crash laid to blast in air". (October 12, 1933) New York Times p. 3 (pay site)
- "Seek 'bomber' of plane". (October 16, 1933) New York Times p. 7 (pay site)
- "Jackson Center, IN Airplane Crash, Oct 1933". gendisasters.com. - includes names and addresses of the deceased