Northwest Airlines passenger plane crashes at Edwall in Lincoln County killing 10 people on January 16, 1951.

  • By Daryl C. McClary
  • Posted 4/09/2014
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 10725
On January 16, 1951, a Northwest Airlines, Martin 2-0-2, passenger plane en route from Minneapolis to Seattle, with several scheduled stops including Spokane, crashes on a farm near Edwall in Lincoln County. Three crew members and seven passengers are killed in the mishap. There are no survivors. The Civil Aeronautics Board will conclude that the probable cause of the accident was the pilot’s sudden loss of control of the airplane for unknown reasons.  

The Martin Executive

The Martin 2-0-2 aircraft, manufactured by the Glen L. Martin Company in Middle River, Maryland, was developed between 1946 and 1947 to replace the outdated Douglas DC-3, then the mainstay of America’s regional airline industry. Called the "Martin Executive," the plane featured a roomy, comfortable interior and a built-in retractable stairway. Other innovations included reversible propellers for easy ground maneuvering, under-wing refueling points, and double wing flaps allowing for shorter takeoffs and landings.

The Martin 2-0-2 was not pressurized, however, and was used only on short-haul domestic routes.  The aircraft was 75 feet, seven inches long, with a wingspan of 93 feet, three inches. It was powered by two Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp radial engines. At a cruising speed of 254 m.p.h., the Martin 2-0-2 had a range of 1,800 miles. It had accommodations for two pilots, one flight attendant, and up to 42 passengers. The Martin Company produced 52 of the Model No. 2-0-2 aircraft, most of which were purchased by Northwest Airlines and Trans World Airlines.

The Fatal Flight

At 12:04 p.m. on Tuesday, January 16, 1951, Northwest Airlines, Martin 2-0-2, passenger airliner, registration No. N93054, departed Geiger Field (now Spokane International Airport) in Spokane en route to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, with stops at Wenatchee and Yakima. The flight, designated NWA 115, originated in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and had made several scheduled stops including Billings, Montana, where the flight crew was changed. Aboard the airliner for the second half of the flight were the pilot, Captain Loyd M. Rickman (1918-1951), second officer Edmund J. Gander (1923-1951), and flight attendant Joann Tabor (1929-1951). Two passengers boarded the airplane in Montana and five in Spokane. 

Before departing Spokane, the aircraft was checked visually by the maintenance crew and Captain Rickman filed an IFR (instrument flight rules) flight plan to cruise at an altitude of 6,000 feet between Spokane and Wenatchee, a distance of 125 nautical miles. At 12:04 p.m., when the plane took off, there was a 1,000 foot ceiling and visibility of one mile, well above weather minimums. 

At 12:07 p.m., the pilot reported to air traffic control at Geiger Field the aircraft had reached cruising altitude. At 12:12 p.m., air traffic control reported that Pangborn Field at Wenatchee was now below VFR (visual flight rules) weather minimums for landing.  Captain Rickman immediately requested clearance for McAllister Field at Yakima where the weather was still above VFR weather minimums. Less than one minute later, the pilot broadcast a brief emergency message saying the plane was in trouble and going down. 

The Crash

The Martin 2-0-2 crashed in a field of wheat stubble on a farm near Edwall in Lincoln County, approximately 20 nautical miles west of Geiger Field. Loring E. Bundy (1922-1990) and his wife, Beverly Ann, were just sitting down for lunch with their two young children when they heard aircraft engines followed by a loud explosion. Bundy told his wife to telephone Fairchild Air Force Base and report the crash while he went outside to investigate. 

The wind was blowing hard and snow was falling as Bundy approached the smoldering wreckage.  The plane had struck the ground approximately 100 yards from the farmhouse and disintegrated.  “I could see there was nothing I could do. There wasn’t even much fire, except for a few little scattered bonfires. Then I ran up onto a hill nearby to see if anyone had bailed out. Then I came back because the sight made me sick” ("Horror, Death Scene Described").

Recovery 

First to arrive at the crash site was Washington State Patrol Sergeant William Todd followed by volunteer firefighters from Edwall. Sergeant Todd immediately notified Lincoln County Coroner Fred Campbell of the situation. Within the hour, ambulances and search-and-rescue units from Fairchild Air Force Base arrived at the Bundy farm along with Wilson Gillis, the Civil Aeronautics Administration flight safety inspector from Felts Field in Spokane.

As the afternoon wore on, the ferocity of the storm increased, hampering recovery efforts. Snowdrifts were rapidly covering what remained of the aircraft and its occupants. But by late afternoon, snow had turned to rain and search teams managed to recover all the bodies; however, identification was impossible. Coroner Campbell had the ambulance crews store the mangled remains in a nearby barn to wait for plows to clear the roads of slush and deep snowdrifts. Later, the victims were removed to the Hazen and Jaeger Funeral Home, 1306 N Monroe Street, in Spokane to await disposition by relatives. 

Investigation and Pilot Reaction

On Wednesday, January 17, 1951, officials from the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB), Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) and Northwest Airlines gathered in Spokane in an effort to determine the cause of the crash. Leon D. Cuddeback (1898-1984), regional supervisor of the CAB Safety Bureau in Seattle, took charge of the investigation.

Usually, the tail section of the aircraft survives a crash relatively intact, but not this time. Bundy’s wheat field was littered with pieces of crushed wreckage and loose debris, the largest being the wheels from the landing gear assembly and engine parts. Over the next several days, salvage teams collected as much of the wreckage as possible and trucked it to an aircraft hanger at Gieger Field for detailed examination. According to CAA Inspector Gillis, it was the most complete destruction of an aircraft that he had ever witnessed in his career.

After extensive study, the CAB reported that the probable cause of the mishap was "a sudden loss of control for reasons unknown." The airliner went into a dive, struck the ground in a nose-down attitude of approximately 45 degrees and disintegrated. The impact obliterated any evidence of a structural or control system failure.

Immediately following the crash of NWA Flight 115, Northwest pilots lost confidence in the Martin 2-0-2s and refused to fly them. Between August 1948 and January 1951 there had been five accidents involving NWA Martin Executives in which 89 persons had been killed. The Air Line Pilots Association mediated the dispute, gaining airline officials a two-month extension to evaluate the situation. Finally, on Tuesday, March 18, 1951, Northwest announced the Martins 2-0-2s were being removed from service and replaced by the Douglas DC-4, an aircraft with proven reliability.  Northwest’s fleet of 20 almost new Martin Executives were sold to other regional, short-haul, air carriers.

Crash Victims

Loyd Moore Rickman, pilot, age 33, Seattle

Edmund John Gander, copilot, age 28, Seattle

Joann Tabor, flight attendant, age 22, Seattle

Charles Frank Wood, Jr., passenger, age 28, Seattle

Robert Russell Mann, passenger, age 48, Tacoma

Curtiss Virgil Edwards, passenger, age 59, Yakima

Ward Hazelton Goodloe, Jr., passenger, age 47, San Francisco

Warren Joseph Craft, passenger, age 53, San Francisco

Cora Sexton Millegan, passenger, age 62, Fairfax, Virginia

Joseph Willard Millegan, passenger, age 62, Fairfax, Virginia 


Sources: "All Aboard Plane Die Instantly in Crash," Spokane Daily Chronicle, January 16, 1951, p. 1; "Investigation of Plane Crash Gets Underway," Ibid., January 17, 1951, p. 1; "Edwall Crash," Ibid., January 23, 1951, p. 1;"Snow Delaying Search for Mail," Ibid., January 23, 1951, p. 3; "Head of Yakima Company Among Victims," The Spokesman-Review, January 17, 1951, p. 1; "Horror, Death Scene Described," Ibid., January 17, 1951, p. 6; "Remains Probed for Crash Clew," Ibid., January 19, 1951, p. 6; "New Martin Transport To Make Debut Here," The Seattle Times, May 23, 1948, p. 12; "Two Pilots, Stewardess, One Passenger Were Residents of Seattle," Ibid., January 16, 1951, p. 1; "No Grounding Planned on Martin Air Liners," Ibid., January 17, 1951, p. 5; "Air Crash Investigation Continues," Ibid., January 18, 1951, p. 43; "Services Scheduled for Pilot, Stewardess Killed in Crash," Ibid., January 19, 1951, p. 30; "Search Suspended for Lost Mail," Ibid., January 25, 1951, p. 20; "N. W. Airlines Will Drop Seven Stops," Ibid., March 13, 1951, p.4; "Pilots Won’t Fly," Ibid., April 23, 1951, p. 9; "N. W. To Resume Wenatchee Flights," Ibid., May 2, 1951, p. 15; "Aviation Safety Database/piston aircraft/Martin 2-0-2,"Aviation Safety Network website accessed January 25, 2013 (http://aviation-safety.net/database).

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both HistoryLink.org and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Major Support for HistoryLink.org Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You