1933 United Airlines Boeing 247 mid-air explosion
Restored Boeing 247 in United Airlines livery, similar to the crashed aircraft, on display at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum
|Date||October 10, 1933|
|Summary||Deliberate on-board explosion|
|Site||Near Chesterton, Indiana |
|Aircraft type||Boeing 247D|
|Flight origin||Newark, New Jersey|
|1st stopover||Cleveland, Ohio|
|Last stopover||Chicago, Illinois|
On October 10, 1933, a Boeing 247 airliner operated by United Airlines and registered as NC13304 crashed near Chesterton, Indiana. The transcontinental flight carried three crew and four passengers and 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 caused by an on-board explosive device. Eyewitnesses on the ground reported hearing an explosion shortly after 9 p.m. and seeing the aircraft in flames at an altitude of about 1,000 feet (300 m). A second explosion followed after the aircraft 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 combed through the debris and 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 of the door 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. On November 16, 2017, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) declassified 324 documents related to the investigation.
United States Bureau of Investigation investigator Melvin Purvis said, "Our investigation convinced me that the tragedy resulted from an explosion somewhere in the region of the baggage compartment in the rear of the aircraft. Everything in front of the compartment was blown forward, everything behind blown backward, and things at the side outward." He also noted that the gasoline tanks "were crushed in, showing [that] there was no explosion in them."
Dr. Carl Davis of the Porter County coroner's office and experts from the Crime Detection Laboratory at Northwestern University examined evidence from the crash and concluded that it was caused by a bomb, with nitroglycerin as the probable explosive. One of the passengers was seen[by whom?] carrying a brown package onto the aircraft in Newark, but investigators found the package amidst the wreckage and ruled it out as the source of the explosion. Investigators found a rifle in the wreckage, but they determined that a passenger carried it aboard as luggage, as he was en route to a shoot at Chicago's North Shore Gun Club. No suspect was ever identified in this incident and it remains unsolved, but it was the first proven act of air sabotage in the history of commercial aviation.
Pilot Captain Terrant, his co-pilot, stewardess Alice Scribner, and all four passengers were killed. Scribner was the first United stewardess to be killed in an aircraft crash.
- 1933 in aviation
- 1933 in the United States
- Aviation accidents and incidents
- List of accidents and incidents involving commercial aircraft
- "FAA Registry (NC13304)". Federal Aviation Administration.
- "Seven Killed in Crash of Giant Transport Plane" (PDF). The Citizen-Advisor. Auburn, NY. AP. 11 October 1933. p. 12.
- "Aeronautics: Death on No. 23". TIME. 23 October 1933.
- "1933 Crash of United Airlines Trip 23 Boeing 247 NC13304 Part 01 of 01". FBI. Retrieved 2017-12-21.
- "Plane wreck laid to nitroglycerine". The New York Times. October 15, 1933. p. 31.
- "Suspects Bomb Wrecked Plane" (PDF). Prescott Evening Courier. AP. 12 October 1933. p. 3.
- "Wreck of air liner laid to a bomb". The New York Times. 14 October 1944. p. 5.
- 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.
- "Accident details". planecrashinfo.com.
- "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