Northwest Airlines Flight 4422

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Northwest Airlines Flight 4422
Accident summary
Date March 12, 1948
Summary Controlled flight into terrain (CFIT)
Site Mount Sanford, Alaska Territory
Passengers 24
Crew 6
Fatalities 30 (all)
Aircraft type Douglas C-54G-1-DO
Operator Northwest Airlines
Registration NC95422 (formerly 45-513)
Flight origin Shanghai, China
Stopover Anchorage, Alaska
Destination New York City, New York

On March 12, 1948, Northwest Airlines Flight 4422 (NC95422) crashed into Mount Sanford, Alaska, with a crew of six and 24 passengers.[1] The flight was a C-54 charter flying back to the United States from Shanghai. The aircraft refueled at Anchorage (Merrill Field) and took off at 8:12 P.M. to continue on to its destination, New York City (LaGuardia Airport). Instead of following the published airway, which detoured around Mount Sanford, the aircraft flew a direct line, crashing into the mountain.[2] After the initial impact the wreckage slid down for about 3000 feet before coming to rest.[1] There were no survivors. The passengers were American merchant mariners, crew members of the tanker SS Sunset, being ferried back home.[3]

Many witnesses in the nearby town of Gulkana saw the crash, and the wreckage was initially located from the air, but it was completely inaccessible at the time. Snowstorms quickly buried it in a mountain glacier, and it was lost for over 50 years. Over the years, various individuals, lured by rumors of a secret gold cargo shipment from China, searched the mountain and came home empty-handed. Northwest pilot Marc Millican and Delta pilot Kevin McGregor had been searching the mountain together and on their own since 1995.[4]

In 1997 Millican and McGregor located a few pieces of wreckage but were unable to confirm it was from Northwest 4422. Only in 1999, after obtaining permission from the National Park Service and victims' relatives, were they able to remove wreckage confirming it was from Flight 4422.[5] No secret treasure was ever found. At the time of the crash it was determined the pilots were 23 miles (37 km) off course and may not have seen the mountain at night. An NTSB investigation in 1999 shows the propellers were spinning at high velocity when they struck the mountain, which supports this theory.[citation needed]

In addition to wreckage discovered in 1999, a mummified left hand and arm was found in the Alaska glacier. After nearly a decade, identifiable fingerprints were recovered from the remains by Edward Robinson.[6] The remains were then positively identified by Michael Grimm on September 6, 2007 using fingerprints,[7] making this the world's oldest known identification of post-mortem remains using fingerprint identification.[8] The limb was from Francis Joseph Van Zandt, a 36-year-old merchant marine from Roanoke, Virginia, one of the passengers on Flight 4422. Subsequently, using DNA from a descendant of Van Zandt, Dr. Odile Loreille, an expert in DNA analysis, was also able to identify the remains using mitochondrial and Y-DNA identification.[9] Only the remains of Francis Joseph Van Zandt were ever recovered or identified. The bodies of the remaining 29 individuals still await possible recovery.[10]

A complete factual account of this accident, the numerous expeditions to the site, and the associated legends of treasure being on the plane are fully researched and explained in Kevin A. McGregor's recent book, Flight Of Gold, published in 2013.

See also[edit]


  • FLIGHT OF GOLD - Two pilots' true adventure of finding Northwest Airlines Flight 4422, Alaska's Legendary Gold wreck. Published 2013, In-Depth Editions.
  1. ^ a b Accident description at the Aviation Safety Network
  2. ^ "CAB report for March 12, 1948 accident involving NC95422, Docket No. SA-168, File No. 1-0025." (PDF). Civil Aeronautics Board. Adopted July 23, 1948. Retrieved 2009-11-05.  Check date values in: |date= (help) (plain text version also available)
    (if links above fail to load report, visit and select "Historical Aircraft Accident Reports (1934-1965)", then retry report links)
  3. ^ *Bruce Felknor (June 21, 2000). "Tragic Voyage of the SS Sunset Crew". Retrieved 2009-11-05. 
  4. ^ Theresa Mattick (October 1999). "Finding Northwest Flight 4422". Air Line Pilot. p. 18. Retrieved 2009-11-05. 
  5. ^ "Major Airline Disasters: Involving Commercial Passenger Airlines 1920-2011". Retrieved 22 February 2013. 
  6. ^ "GW News Center". 2008-08-26. Retrieved 2013-10-14. 
  7. ^ [1] Archived August 2, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ "EVIDENTŽ Crime Scene Products – Merchant Marine Identification". Retrieved 2013-10-14. 
  9. ^ "Mummified remains from 1948 plane crash identified" (PDF). Associated Press. August 17, 2008. Retrieved 2009-11-05. Nine years of sleuthing, advanced DNA science and cutting-edge forensic techniques have finally put a name to a mummified hand and arm found in an Alaska glacier. The remains belong to Francis Joseph Van Zandt, a 36-year-old merchant marine from Roanoke, Va., who was on a plane rumored to contain a cargo of gold when it smashed into the side of a mountain 60 years ago. Thirty people died in the crash. 
  10. ^ [2][dead link]

Coordinates: 62°12′47″N 144°07′37″W / 62.213°N 144.127°W / 62.213; -144.127