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Help researching 1961 Electra crash

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Help researching 1961 Electra crash

Old 11th Nov 2017, 19:27
  #141 (permalink)  
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cordwainer,

This project is like an electronic archeological dig. It comes with a big chunk of emotional load, obviously, and I get a lot of free psychoanalysis out of that. But mostly it's a puzzle.

I've talked with the Chicago & Northwestern historical museum. They have all the archives but nothing to the level of detail I need. If you've read the missing-engine puzzle you can see that they might have provided a key bit of evidence in their job ticket journal.

I'd be very interested in topo maps for the area as of that date, if for nothing more than locating our photographer. Topo maps would give power and phone lines. Maps from 57 and 63 would be close enough to be useful. A man who was a pastor at a church near the crash site told me that the area was virtually untouched for many years after the crash, and the scattered homes visible in the panorama suggest it was pretty stable for some years before. The whole area is now warehouses. When I was recreating the flight with a simulator, I kept crashing into warehouses. By the way, my videos are on Youtube and can be found searching for N137US.
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Old 11th Nov 2017, 20:34
  #142 (permalink)  
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I've loaded the third composite. It's several sequences, explained in the notes.

https://ibb.co/gYGsHb
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Old 11th Nov 2017, 20:51
  #143 (permalink)  
 
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Topo maps and other

Just sent you a PM with some links to topos and 2 planning reports
c
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Old 12th Nov 2017, 01:55
  #144 (permalink)  
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After looking at his other three videos, it's clear he had a zoom lens and uses it A LOT. Probably too excited to use it for the crash scenes. There's a bunch of great clips there; love those old planes.
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Old 12th Nov 2017, 17:07
  #145 (permalink)  
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Big thanks to cordwainer for the information. One of the topo map links he sent was pure gold. I've clipped out the O'Hare portion of it, overlaid it with the CAB report map showing the flight path as a half-transparent image. The landmarks line up exactly, validating the CAB cartographer.

https://ibb.co/e4n1dG

Turns out the impact point was virtually on top of the A from my other image. I had guessed it was farther north.
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Old 13th Nov 2017, 02:26
  #146 (permalink)  
 
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Additional records...

1) The corporate records of Northwest Airlines are archived at the Minnesota Historical Society

www2[dot]mnhs[dot]org[slash]library[slash]findaids[slash]00110.xml

The 1961 O'Hare crash is specifically noted in the Accident Files, which also references a section of general info on accidents between 1929 and 1974.

2) There was also a Coroner's Jury inquest held October 4, 1961, for which a transcript theoretically exists. The Cook County Medical Examiner's office is responsible for warehoused inquest archives, which are public documents. BUT: be forewarned there are no end of complaints about how difficult, time-consuming, and expensive it is to get those records. Numerous genealogy researchers have expressed frustration with obtaining even simple reports, or cited charges of $5 per page of sworn testimony from inquests.

One researcher's attempts to obtain a large inquest file are detailed in this article, which gives you an idea of what you might be facing:
www[dot]chicagonow[dot]com[slash]chicago-history-cop[slash]2016[slash]02[slash]cook-county-medical-examiners-office-is-a-joke-especially-on-valentines-day

I did find a few articles about the inquest that discussed some of the witness testimony - will PM a Dropbox link for you to access the clippings. Though you've probably already seen them...

c
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Old 13th Nov 2017, 03:31
  #147 (permalink)  
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I'm frankly amazed that the MNHS has records, because retired NWA people and the NWA History Center told me that Delta would have everything, and Delta won't answer me. At any rate, I see the entry in the MNHS index and have asked my sister in St Paul if she's willing to go look at it. Thank you very much for the lead. How do you know this stuff?

As for Cook County, I'd heard about that, and the obvious records to get from them are autopsy files, and I'm not real sure I'm ready for that. It's only been 55 years, after all. Give it some time.

Thank you for the clippings. I think I have most of that after searching newspaper archives, but I'm going through them.
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Old 13th Nov 2017, 03:57
  #148 (permalink)  
 
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I definitely wasn't suggesting you obtain autopsy records - that would be too grim, and I wouldn't be so insensitive.

Instead, the suggestion is to obtain the transcript from the Coroner's Jury hearing. That would contain the verbatim statements from the eyewitnesses and first responders, as well as from some of the investigators at the scene.

The point of the Coroner's Jury hearing was primarily to determine whether the deaths were accidental or if some person or party bore responsibility (e.g., were there grounds for manslaughter or negligence charges). The verdict was the crash was an accident.

My impression was that the Coroner's role at that time was similar to that of the Coroner in British jurisprudence. This is no longer true, but in 1961 Coroner was an elected position, and didn't actually require any medical knowledge or background.

A lot of the testimony and evidence are probably identical to that given at the CAB's separate hearing 6 days later. Since thus far it is proving impossible to locate any of the CAB transcripts or detailed investigation files, it seemed the Coroner's Jury hearing transcript would be the next best thing. If you could actually get it, which as noted is the problem.

Cheers,
c

Last edited by cordwainer; 13th Nov 2017 at 04:01. Reason: my inability to spell "coroner" the same way consistently
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Old 14th Nov 2017, 20:42
  #149 (permalink)  
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Got the ALPA files. They are mostly clippings. A quick scan shows several items of significant interest.

First, there's a cover letter for the ALPA report being sent to the CAB in August '62. I mentioned in my document that the ALPA seemed to be in a rush to get their report out, and the cover letter suggests that the reason is so the ALPA could put a stake in the ground regarding the crew. As a union voice, this is a major role for the ALPA, and they wanted to get the ALPA view into the CAB report. I blamed this rush for the apparent errors in the ALPA report.

Second, the Chicago Trib carried a graphic on their last page showing the CAB scenario of a right wing hit, the plane spinning around and sliding backward some 800 feet. As I demonstrated, the plane had to have slid forward until it flipped at the end. I called it unconscionable that the CAB would put this out on the afternoon of the crash. The CAB never walked back this scenario, and the ALPA clippings include a much better image than the one I got from the Trib microfilm conversion.

Finally, there is a closeup of a piece of debris on the railroad tracks. If I can identify its location in the wing, this will tell us that the wing was destroyed at least to that station at the tracks. My maintenance manuals may or may not allow me to identify it.

This is an exciting development, and thanks again to cordwainer.
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Old 16th Nov 2017, 15:43
  #150 (permalink)  
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I've assembled the back page scans. These scans are informal and low-res, intended for review. I'll have them redone as high-res. You can see the power line at the bottom of the picture. The positions of people on the track exactly match their positions on page 41 of my document, so this is a wider-framed version from the same exposure. Page 70 of my document shows the terrible quality that came from the Trib microfilm.

https://ibb.co/hMoFA6

Note that it shows the right wing breaking off at the tracks. In my opinion, the break should be shown between engines three and four. I suspect the reporter conveyed the CAB story to the artist wrong, but having worked at a newspaper I can attest that it's sometimes more important to be finished than to be correct.

This is the same image which under higher resolution shows a large object on the tracks, but no large object was there by the time a photographer got to the tracks.
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Old 16th Nov 2017, 19:30
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Whatever the object was on the tracks, it probably wasn't that heavy. The apparent speed with which it was removed suggests something that could be shifted using just manpower. So probably some part of the wing structure rather than an engine or other massive part.
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Old 16th Nov 2017, 22:38
  #152 (permalink)  
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It's an interesting puzzle.

If the object was light enough that a half dozen guys could pick it up, I could see them doing that and putting it on the west (unused) set of rails. But they wouldn't carry it away entirely; that's the job of the crash investigators. When a news photographer got there later that day and shot the scene, the papers carried a picture of an unimposing chunk of aluminum sheet between the rails, looking like twenty pounds tops. If an engine had been there to shoot, they sure would have taken that. And the chunk of aluminum sheet was way too small to be the object lying on the east tracks in the overhead shot.

The railroad guys are experts at clearing tracks, picking up stuff and moving it. Probably have a small flatcar with a jib boom on it, the railroad equivalent of a pickup truck, for jobs like this. Once they had the go-ahead from investigators, it was probably a ten or twenty minute job.

When you add in the whole missing-engine conundrum as I laid it out in an upcoming chapter and uploaded standalone as https://we.tl/2iOuz04If7, the simplest explanation is that the number four engine was blocking the track. But the evidence is thin.
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Old 17th Nov 2017, 01:01
  #153 (permalink)  
 
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The photo that shows a chunk of debris lying between the railroad tracks looks to me like a highly crushed and distorted wing rib with some additional components attached. Given that the aircraft wing is assumed to have made first contact with the ground in the vicinity of the raised embankment, that sort of debris is to be expected. That is why propose that the large object on the tracks was part of the outboard wing.

Contact with the embankment is undoubtably responsible for the loss of the outboard engine but where I can see a large chunk of wing breaking off and remaining on the rails at the top of the embankment due to snagging and air resistance, the engine is an altogether different matter. The engine and gearbox are a compact mass of metal travelling at over a hundred miles an hour. There is absolutely no way it would have remained on top of the embankment. Sheer inertia would have carried it a considerable distance and/or buried it in the ground on the far side of the embankment.

We know that propellor strikes were evident across the embankment, so it is reasonable to assume that a section of the wing outside of the outer engine broke away as the aircraft struck the rising embankment. The propellor strikes them shattered the propellor of the outer engine and shock loaded the engine to the extent it too broke away from the wing structure. The remainder of the aircraft with three engines continued in flight until making contact with the ground some distance from the embankment. This would certainly account for three of the engines being found relatively close to each other with the fourth some distance away.

The inertia contained in the engine and gearbox components can be estimated by the depth to which some penetrated the ground, eight feet deep in at least one case if I recall correctly from your report.

The extent to which the railroad tracks were apparently distorted in the crash is a matter of inches. Pretty much what you might expect from contact with a high speed but relatively light weight structure such as a wing. Solid contact with a gearbox or engine block would surely have broken or severely dented the rails, not just shifted them sideways a bit. Apart from the apparent track movement, there is remarkably little obvious damage to the tracks at all.

That is why I am absolutely convinced that whatever the large object was on the railroad tracks, it was not an engine. Even railway engineers of the time would know that an engine was a significant part of the crash sequence and that it would not be moved without the specific instructions of one of the air crash investigators. A large piece of wing alloy skin flapping in the breeze would be another matter and probably treated far more casually. Shifting that off the lines and down the embankment would seem a sensible idea for those entrusted with clearing and examining the tracks.
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Old 17th Nov 2017, 15:42
  #154 (permalink)  
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There's certainly room for disagreement here, and I understand what you're saying. I discuss the physics of the impact at some length, but not being an engineer it's no more than an attempt to get my head around it.

I wouldn't expect propeller strikes to detach the engine on an Electra or any other plane. I've put up an image of the damage when an Electra prop makes a substantial ground strike at https://ibb.co/knWn8R. There is no visible damage to the engine or nacelle. I'm not suggesting that prop four hit the tracks and that this was sufficient to tear off the engine. The prop strikes across the tracks were from prop three.

I contend that the plane was at about a 35 degree bank and the wing hit the track just inboard of engine four. So engine four wasn't skittering along the tracks, it was stopped pretty much dead by a direct impact with the embankment. It then bounced more or less vertically off the sloped embankment, and landed on the rails.

The best reason for saying the large object imaged on the tracks was the engine is precisely what you pointed out earlier. A bunch of guys could pick up a mass of aluminum and move it out of the way. If they had done so, that mass would have been what the papers ran instead of the ten or twenty pound chunk that they showed as the first impact debris. The reports note that the wing was reduced to small fragments at the embankment. In the various pictures there are bits of metal all over the area.

As I say elsewhere, the question is not to determine the odds of a torn off engine landing on the track. The question is, given a large object lying on the track, what are the odds it's engine four? If it's not, then it's an amazingly large piece of wing considering the shreds that the rest of the wing was reduced to in that area.

Whether it was an engine or other debris, I'm confident the railway workers had permission to move whatever they moved. As I wrote in the engine puzzle chapter, it sounds like there was miscommunication among the investigators, but I'm pretty sure the rail staff got what they thought was an authoritative ok from someone.
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Old 17th Nov 2017, 18:39
  #155 (permalink)  
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Holy Toledo. My sister just sent me the contents of a NWA folder at the Minnesota Historical Society that cordwainer suggested.

The most important single document is a letter from Don Nyrop dated Dec 21 '62, discussing the CAB report that was released Dec 13. Nyrop says the report was "issued prior to the availability of all of the scientific data and tests necessary to establish a probable cause for the accident. The Board has been notified that there are at least 22 specific errors in the report it released on December 13. In our opinion, the Civil Aeronautics Board's findings are based on incomplete data, an unfinished analysis, and on conjecture."

Nyrop's letter was under a cover note that said it was clearly not intended for public consumption, but could be used as the basis for private responses.

I said elsewhere that it felt like the Lockheed engineers thought the CAB guys were a bunch of fools. Turns out NWA thought so too.

Holy Toledo.
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Old 22nd Nov 2017, 15:17
  #156 (permalink)  
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My goodness, brought that thread to a screeching halt didn't I?

I have said that the CAB investigators seem to have been held in low regard by Lockheed and Northwest. Evidence for Northwest's view is documented in Don Nyrop's letter. Evidence for Lockheed's view comes from the flight path map. I owe Lockheed a word of appreciation here.

When a reader first suggested I look at turn and bank calculations, I started by overlaying the CAB map with circles to measure the turn radius at different points. I said that not all who drew the map would have been thinking of my reverse-engineering their work. When the CAB report said that Lockheed held the inner curve to be the only possible path, it didn't dawn on me until much later what that signified.

To say that this was the only possible path is a remarkably assured statement. It does not sound like Lockheed was simply more discerning in its choice of witnesses to believe, which might have resulted in a statement of heightened confidence but certainly not one of such bald certainty. And no other means of recording the flight path is mentioned in any report.

The only reasonable explanation for Lockheed's statement is that the team calculated the path. I have no direct evidence, but I will assert this. With slipsticks and pencils they ran iterations just as I did with an Excel spreadsheet, and they kept on until they had derived a path that ended at the impact point.

When they had finished the path calculation, they said they had found the only possible one. When I ran the Excel routine I came close to the same path. When I flew the simulator I came up within a wingspan of the same path. Lockheed knew it was the only path not because witnesses agreed but because they ran the math.

This means that Lockheed knew the plane hit at much less than a vertical bank. The Lockheed team would have known how debris was distributed, and if I am correct that engine four was left at the tracks then Lockheed knew the plane hit at no more than 35 degrees.

The inner curve on the map was not something drawn by a draftsman with a French curve, nudging and tweaking while a bunch of guys looked over his shoulder until they had a consensus. It is the plot of their turn and bank calculations. The CAB's giant looping flight path range, trowelled on top of Lockheed's calculations, must have been like a slap in the face.

The inner curve is like a hand print in cement; it memorializes Lockheed's presence. It is evidence that due care was taken by at least some of the investigators, and it's a permanent record of what the Lockheed team was thinking.
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Old 23rd Nov 2017, 01:10
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Lockheed had all the design parameters and design flight characteristics of the aircraft. While their conclusions may match your findings, you both have a significant stake in trying to prove that neither the aircraft nor the flight crew were inherently at fault. Lockheed would be particularly keen to eliminate any suggestion that the aircraft was inherently unsafe and to a certain extent it would have been ideal from their point of view if mishandling of the emergency by the flight crew was contributory to the crash.

The accident investigators on the other hand were required to consider all possibilities and not just the ones that conveniently fitted a certain conclusion. While they might have to accept the findings of Lockheed's engineers, they would certainly treat that information with suspicion, because of vested interests in the company.

The fault in the aileron rigging was clearly something that needed to be addressed, but it exonerated Lockheed from direct responsibility for the accident.

The most common finding of pilot error could not be attributed to this accident either, because the aircraft became uncontrollable once it left the ground since the ailerons did not function as they were effectively disconnected from the flight controls. It certainly seems that some attempt was made to discredit the pilots by suggestions that the autopilot controls could have been used to control the aircraft. Had the autopilot not been flagged inoperative and the breakers pulled, I have a strong suspicion that this would have been the finding of the investigation. Such a finding would have been grossly unjust given the time constraints the crew had to find a solution to the problem, it is unlikely that such action to regain control would have been considered in the time available.

I am inclined to believe that the aircraft struck the embankment at an angle greater than 35 of bank, possibly as much as 60, but certainly a lot less than wings vertical. The flatter angle of 35 would, I think, have resulted in a less damaging impact with the ground and perhaps the possibilty of some survivors. The damage to the aircraft points towards a much heavier impact with the ground which is why I theorise a steeper angle of bank on impact with the railway embankment. I am aware of course of your arguments for the shallower angle of bank supported by ground and other witness marks.

As to the engine being left on top of the embankment, this would have to have been recorded somewhere in the paperwork. The fact that no statement of any sort record the engine being found there, or moved from there, suggests that whatever was on the embankment, it wasn't the engine.

Because of the solidity and physical inertia of the engine and gearbox, in order for them to be deposited across the railroad tracks without damaging the tracks, the engine would have to have struck the embankment lower down, broken away and lost inertia before bouncing up in the air and landing on the tracks. While there is nothing inherently impossible with this scenario, it would have left hugely obvious marks on the approach side of the embankment and does not fit with the propellor strike marks found across the embankment.

Additionally, there should have been considerably more shrapnel and bits of metal and oil scattered across the tracks, which surely would have been photographed, officially or otherwise. It simply doesn't make sense that the engine ended up lying across the tracks given everything else that has been revealed.
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Old 23rd Nov 2017, 13:10
  #158 (permalink)  
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I wouldn't expect the CAB to take outside advice without qualification. If someone pointed out that the plane was upside down instead of right side up as the CAB said, I'd think they'd at least look at it again.

We have no idea what size hole was left in the embankment; we have no good images of it. There's a hint in this new film, but the quality is too poor to have any confidence in it.

We don't know whether there was paperwork showing engine four came off at the tracks. We have no paperwork. That's why this is a puzzle. There were probably hundreds of pictures, but the files are gone. News photographers may have taken dozens more. News photogs burn through an enormous amount of film. But they discard what's unusable, and I don't have access to their archives.

I've uploaded a chart of my simulator flight overlaid on the CAB map. The red dots show the approximate size of the plane and represent about half second intervals. The map shows that my flight agrees with Lockheed's path within 50 or 75 feet.

https://ibb.co/fKZcF6
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Old 27th Nov 2017, 11:34
  #159 (permalink)  
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Hi Megan, thought you gave up on me.

As I discuss on page 54, I'm trying to relate ground marks to the airplane structure to figure out how it made the final bounce. The bounce seems to have been driven by the main gear and the ground is somewhat soft. The C indicates what looks to me like the right gear dent.
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Old 27th Nov 2017, 19:16
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Not having any luck identifying this piece of debris, so I'll put it out here and see if anyone has an inspiration.

https://ibb.co/c8oKoR

I could imagine a piece of piping going through the holes, and being ripped out when the plane hit. But piping never bears against a hard edge like that in plane construction. It would be cradled in a saddle and strapped down. Maybe the holes are for lightening, and whatever it supported was bolted at what is here the top ends of the legs, and when it ripped apart it gave way at the holes.

Alternatively, since the holes seem to have a distinct concavity toward the right, perhaps this was some kind of guide meant to trap and lead something being inserted. The only possibility that occurs to me is in replacing the fuel scavenge pump, which is roughly the right size. But I don't find that at all convincing.

At any rate this is another example of the size of debris at the tracks. Compare this to the image I published last release:

https://ibb.co/kCQQ7m

The newspaper editor would have selected the most impressive image the photog brought back. So these can be taken to be representative samples, and it matches the reports saying the track debris was in shreds.

The plane had a 67% fuel load. The wing tank would have exploded like a water balloon when it hit the embankment, and the planking would have torn into individual sheets or partial sheets.

By elimination, all I can come up with to explain the large object on the tracks is to say it's engine four.
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