Winona, MN Northwest Airlines Plane Crashes, Aug 1948



Winona, Minn. (AP) -- Twenty-seven bodies were recovered today from the wreckage of a Northwest Airlines plane which crashed near here late Sunday. This brought the death toll to 37.
The 37th body was identified as that of RICHARD L. SULLIVAN, 37, Minneapolis, chief engineer for Midcontinent Airlines. Previously announced passenger and crew lists had carried only 36 names.
The bodies were taken to the municipal auditorium in Fountain City, Wis.
Human Chain.
A human chain of 100 men stationed on a precipitous and rocky slope brought the mangaled bodies from the crash site. The bodies of 10 were carried out last night.
The Chicago - Minneapolis bound airliner crashed into a heavily wooded Mississippi River bluff, during a storm.
The bulk of the wreckage settled 150 feet down a 500-foot precipitous slope, made slippery by heavy rains last night.
Inspect Wreckage.
Pieces of wreckage that were lifted in order to remove the bodies were carefully inspected and logged by Civil Aeronautics Board and Civil Aeronautics Administration officials who are trying to determine if any structural defects might have brought about the crash during the storm.
The nearest road approach to the wreckage is aboue[sic] one-quarter mile away. The bodies were being carried through rough, wooded country to a farm trail bordering growing crops, then over a township lane to a country road.
Thrown 1,000 Feet.
The body of one man, unidentified, was found early today 1,000 feet from the main part of the wreckage. The body was strapped with a safety belt in a seat. Authorities said they believed other bodies were similarly catapulted into the heavily wooded area.
A posse of 50 men was combing the area around the wreckage for bodies.
Up to 10 a. m., a total of 17 bodies, including those removed last night, had been recovered. Authorities said six more bodies were visible in the wreckage. They believed more would be found in the earth after heavier parts of the plane are lifted, with power winches.
In Wisconsin.
The crash occurred between Winona and Fountain City, Wis., on the Wisconsin side of the river during the height of a severe electrical and rain storm.
Coroner HERBERT F. STOHR of Alma, Wis., said ten bodies were removed to Alma before recovery efforts were halted last night. He said that the sides of the ravine were so steep that he must use a human chain of workers to remove the bodies still trapped in the angled wreckage. The woody and rocky ravine has 45 degree slopes.
The plane was one of the airline's newer Martin 2-0-2 ships and was bound for Minneapolis from Chicago with 33 passengers and three crew members.
Behind Schedule.
It left Chicago at 3:50 p.m. (CST) and although due in Minneapolis at 5:30 p.m. apparently was behind schedule because of the storm.
NWA's Twin Cities headquarters said its last message from the plane was received at 5 and read, "Am descending through heavy overcast." The plane was then at 7,000 feet and in the vicinity of La Crosse, Wis., about 30 miles from the crash scene. The pilot indicated he would go down to 6,000 feet. A spokesman said it is normal procedure for the planes to begin their descent at LaCrosse preparatory to landing at the Twin Cities.
Saw Plane Fall.
A crash witness told the coroner he saw the plane fall into the ravine at Sutter's Ridge after lightning shattered a wing. A NWA pilot who was among the first to reach the crash scene, said he thought the ship had been struck by lightning.
HOWARD RACKOW, a farmer living on Perry Island in the Mississippi river, told the coroner he was getting some stock out of the storm when the plane passed over.
"I was in the yard with my mother," he said. "There was a flash of lightning. It struck the plane. A part of a wing fell off and the ship started down."
MRS. CHARLES GUENTHER, a Fountain City farm woman, told a similar story. She and her husband saw the crash from their automobile.
"We were returning from Winona and saw the plane rolling like a barrel," she said. "Some pieces of the plane fell off. Then it crashed."
MRS. GUENTHER placed the crash at about 5:30 p. m.

The Brainerd Daily Dispatch Minnesota 1948-08-30