Over Mojave Desert, CA Suicide Attempts to Wreck Plane, July 1957



The Federal Bureau of Investigation yesterday stepped into the probe of an explosion aboard an airliner to determine if the blast had been set off as part of a suicide plot.
An explosion plucked one passenger into the air in the pre-dawn darkness high above the Mojave Desert.
The Western Air Lines Convair, carrying the remaining 12 passengers and a crew of three, landed at George Air Force Base.
The missing passenger is S. F. BINSTOCK, 62, of Canoga Park, who was in the lavatory at the rear of the plane when the blast occurred.
The big plane left Las Vegas, Nev., early yesterday. Less than an hour after the departure pilot MILTON SHIRK, 37, radioed the control tower at Los Angeles International Airport saying a large hole had been torn in the side of his plane and he would attempt an emergency landing at the air base.
The explosion ripped a hole four-by-seven feet through the wall of the plane and extending partly into the main compartment.
Four holes were found in the plane's fuselage in the lavatory and at first were believed to be bullet holes. Subsequent investigation indicated they were for bolts which held the wash basin in place.
The blast occurred 47 minutes after the plane left the Nevada resort city and while it was flying at 10,000 feet above the desert. The flight had originated at Minneapolis, with a stop at Las Vegas.
Western Air Lines said the plane's cabin was pressurized to 5000 feet but that it was "unlikely" that the hole was torn in the fuselage by a decompression blast.
Captain SHIRK also said he did not believe decompression was responsible for the big hole.
"It wasn't like normal decompression," he said. "Something else -- something explosive -- caused it, I believe. In my opinion, bullets would not cause that much structural damage."
The passengers reported that they heard a "sharp, loud single shot" which was followed by a gush of air through the plane.
The FBI indicated it was investigating the possibility of a suicide motive for the blast in view of the report of an insurance underwriting firm at Burbank, where BINSTOCK boarded a plane for the round trip to Las Vegas, that he had taken out $125,000 in flight insurance Thursday.
Helicopters from George Base searched the desert for BINSTOCK'S body.
BINSTOCK flew to Las Vegas late Thursday, never left the air terminal there and then boarded Flight 39 after telephoning his wife in Canoga Park that he was returning aboard the plane.
In was 3:37 a.m. (PDT) when Captain SHIRK radioed the report that he had a hole in the side of his plane and was trying for an emergency landing.
The Air Force immediately made emergency preparations for a possible crash landing, rescue crews standing by.
Other passengers reported that BINSTOCK entered the plane's lavatory shortly after the takeoff and was not seen leaving the cubicle. They did not notice whether he carried any package or traveling bag with him.
After the passengers were disembarked at George and held until the FBI permitted their departure, they were taken by bus to Los Angeles, about 100 miles away, after being fed breakfast by the Air Force.
The FBI entered the case immediately under federal laws which make any attempt at destruction of an aircraft in flight a federal offense.
It was hours later that investigators were informed by A. M. KLUM, chairman of the board of Mercury International Insurance Underwriters, that BINSTOCK had purchased two "maximum" flight insurance policies from separate companies represented by Mercury. The policies were for $62,500 each, the maximum the companies can write. One policy had a suicide clause, KLUM reported.

The Independent Pasadena California 1957-07-26