Salt Lake City, UT Flaming Jetliner Crash, Nov 1965



By James C. Bapis
United Press International
Salt Lake City (UPI) -- A United Air Lines jetliner carrying 90 persons burst into flames Thursday night as it touched down at Salt Lake Municipal Airport. Forty died in the flaming wreckage.
A number of Utahns were among the dead and injured. At least three from Ogden and four from Hill Air Force Base perished.
The 50 survivors, many of them injured, broke windows, smashed open emergency doors or sat stunned in the inferno waiting for rescuers to rip into the plane with axes and torches. At lest four were trapped in a rear section for a half hour after the crash.
Those who managed to find an exit leaped to the ground or jumped onto the drooping wings of the sleek Boeing 727, then slid to the ground where they staggered or just slumped to the asphalt runway.
Amazed rescuers who reached the scene as black smoke and flames billowed from the wreckage, carried or helped some of the survivors walk away to safety.
Jammed Escape Doors.
"Everybody rushed for the doors before the plane stopped," declared Air Force Lt. JOHN SULLIVAN, who was the navigator on a C124 which collided with a small, private plane last Sunday over Tulsa, Okla., killing three persons. "Then panic started."
"One young fellow, a recent college graduate, tried to keep everyone calm, but he couldn't do it. I don't know if he survived."
The young officer from Malden, Mass., who is stationed at nearby Hill Air Force Base, was bitter.
He kept saying no one had "consideration for other people, no consideration whatsoever."
SULLIVAN reported some of the passengers "were packed at the exits, when I finally hit the ground. I thought the plane was going to explode so I ran."
Describes Scene.
The panic described by SULLIVAN, who lost three "close buddies" in the jet crash, was supported by a UAL ground worker who was among the first to reach the stricken jet.
"The passengers were screaming and trying to get to the rear exit," said the employe.
Twelve hours after the crash, United set the death figure at 40. All the victims had been trapped inside the plane. Their bodies were carried out several hours after the mishap.
However, Sgt. STANLEY CARTER, of the Utah Air National Guard, who headed the detail that removed the bodies from the burned hulk, said he counted and tagged 41 badly burned and mutilated bodies.
Thirty-six survivors of the New York to San Francisco flight were hospitalized, while 14 others were either unhurt or suffered minor injuries.
The pilot and co-pilot were given blood-alcohol tests by Salt Lake City police. An official at University Hospital said the tests were made only to clear up "rumors that intoxicants might be involved."
Chiefs Cooperate.
Pilot GALE C. KEHMEIER, 47, and co-pilot PHILIP SPICER, both of Denver, were termed "very cooperative and willing" by the officer who administered the test.
United spokesmen reacted angrily to the rumors, stating they had no foundation.
DR. GEORGE KIDERA, the airline's medical director, said the purpose of the test was to determine if the fliers had inhaled "toxic chemicals, such as rain repellant and other ingredients found in the cockpit."
The crash was the third in the past three months of the Boeing-built 727. The first occurred Aug. 17 when a United plane plunged into Lake Michigan, killing 30 persons. Earlier this week, an American Airlines 727 crashed while approaching Cincinnati, Ohio, killing 58.
CAB Studies Situation.
The Civil Aeronautics Board in Washington said no decision on grounding the planes would be made until investigators determined the cause of the latest crash. Boeing said in Seattle it has delivered 195 of the aircraft, which have carried nearly 13 million passengers a total of 165 million miles.
Investigators said today it was too early to decide the cause of the mishap. However, two factors under scrutiny were collapse of the airliner's main landing gear and the jet's apparent touchdown short of the runway.
Federal Aviation Agency officers at the airport's control tower said "normal conversation" transpired with the pilot before the crash.
An FAA spokesman in Washington said he believed this was the first time the entire crew -- the jet carried six members -- had survived a major airline tragedy. Whole crews have survived some lesser crashes, he said, but this accident was "a very unusual thing."
Relatives and friends of the plane's passengers clustered in the "horizon room" of the air terminal, clutching cups of coffee that slowly turned cold in their hands.
Priest Came.
A priest moved slowly through the group, giving comfort and encouragement, while a stewardess served coffee. The waiting relatives cried, prayed, or just waited motionlessly for word from airline officials on survivors.



Bill Linderman

My dad was on that plane that crashed in Salt Lake City, Utah. He told me that Mr Linderman the rodeo cowboy was sitting right across from him and died on the plane.
My dad was able to excape with the help of a stewardess that guided him to an excape emergency ramp. Dad died years later as a result of What the smoke inilaation had done to him. Hope this helps.

Hi, I was curious of


I was curious of something and thought maybe you could shed some light on it.

Bill Linderman who was a successful rodeo cowboy and was also at one time president of the Rodeo Cowboys Association died on that flight. There was always a rumor that he got out of the plane and then went back in to help and ended up dying.

I never read anything about how the plane was exited or if it was even possible to go back inside once outside.

Thought maybe you could clear up any speculation or even knew of the incident if it did happens.


Death Certificates and other records

I'm an archivist with the State of Utah and came upon this historical event when preparing 1965 death certificates for public access after 50 years. Any family members would be welcome to contact me for copies, which will also soon be available online for free. I've been doing research to add some context to these standard forms and would be happy to hear from and gather stories of survivors and friends and family of victims.

Find my contact info at

The 727's demands

UAL had another accident where the 727 was descending at 2,000 fps and impacted Lake Michigan at night. Why a pilot as good as Mel Towle failed to stop the decent at his at the altitude of 6,000 feet he was cleared to descend to and hold will never be known. We do know that the airplane was between 500 or 2,000 feet above the water when it last communicated with approach control at that time the crew calmly read back the altimeter setting incorrectly. When the controller corrected him the pilot read back the proper setting. The difference between a "black hole"approach over Lake Michigan and the final approach to the runway at Salt Lake City is that the Salt Lake flight had the runway and approach lights for visual reference and the crew that went into Lake Michigan did not. The 727 was a much hotter airplane than the propeller airliners that folks were used to flying. But that does not excuse rhe error of a high rate of sink on final approach or failing tolevel off at the altitude that the flight was cleared to.

Kehmeier vs 727

Anonymous you are wrong. It was common talk amongst UAL copilots at the time that Kehmeier, and some other senior captains were not able to adopt to jets. At 6,500 feet m.s.l. the first officer tried to add power (the rate of decent was 2,00 fpm). Kehmeier stopped him from adding power. About 15-20 seconds later the first officer did add power and assumed control of the airplane. With an altitude at that time of only 1,00 above ground level and a sink rate of 2,00 feet per second and the lag of the engines spooling up did not allow enough time to reduce the rate of descent to a safe level. The CAB Accident report was quite correct when it blamed the accident upon "the failure of the captain to take timely action to arrest an excessive descent rate during the landing approach." Kehmeire was NOT flying the airplane in the fashion the crews were trained to do.

The article doesn't say

The article doesn't say anything about your dad's heroics in opening up the door. He told my mom and dad about it this weekend and they related to story to was an amazing story.

Errr.. sorry anonymous, but

Errr.. sorry anonymous, but your assertion is complete nonsense. Although the dangers of low thrust/high rate of descent unstable approaches in swept wing jet transports were not, perhaps, as well appreciated in 1965 as today, the bald fact is that high rates of descent close to the ground are dangerous. Most airlines today use "1 minute to impact" as a good rule of thumb - i.e. do not exceed 2000 feet per minute below 2000 above ground, 1000 fpm below 1000'. I fly for an airline where any excursion outside those parameters means a mandatory missed approach.
The CAB report makes clear that this was an avoidable accident, solely down to crew error. The captain, sad to say, was clearly not up to the job of flying high performance swept wing jets.
The 727 developed a reputation in its early days of being a 'hot ship' with several high sink rate accidents. Remember these were the early days of jet transports and the bald fact is that many of the captains were from a bygone era of piston engine flying and clearly not capable of the transition to jet equipment.

Utah plane crash 1965

The investigation into this crash and several others involving this same model showed the planes sink rate was higher than the flight manuals and training simulators showed. This error caused the aircraft to lose altitude faster than the original test flight data indicated, If the plane was flown by those numbers the craft came in short of the runway or stalled if pilots pulled the plane up to get to the runway. That faulty data caused several 727 crashes, is a well known fact in the industry. The pilots on this flight were flying it by the numbers given them by Boeing and had no fault in this tragedy.

My grandfather died on that

My grandfather died on that plane. My mother was the oldest of four when she lost her daddy. It no doubt changed her life forever. She has wondered if any of the crew is still alive. Can you contact me, please.

SLC Utah Crash 1965

I was very surprised to come upon this page about the 727 jet crash Nov 11, 1965; a day I will never forget. I was a crew member trapped in the aft of the aircraft wondering at what point of burning that I would actually die. Being only 21yrs old, I prayed for a miracle and God heard and answered me. The firefighters had given up hope of finding any more living survivors when I found a small opening along the ground to stick my fingers out. They started foaming that section on the tail and put the fire out just in time. I owe my life to God and that fire fighter. I am indeed blessed!

Stewardess: Annette Folz