Transcribed from Ellensburg Daily Record, Ellensburg, WA, August 30, 1948, p. 1,2:

Crash of Airliner Blamed on Lightning; 37 Killed

Take Bodies From Wreckage of Northwest Airlines Ship In Ravine Near Winona, Minnesota

 

WINONA, Minn., Aug. 30.–(AP)–A human chain will wind its way down the steep and rocky side of a 150 foot ravine today to bring out the mangled bodies of 26 persons trapped in the wrecked fuselage of a Northwest Airlines plane.

The bodies of 10 others were carried out last night.

The 36 persons died as the storm raked airliner crashed atop a wooded Mississippi river bluff near here late yesterday and toppled into the ravine. None were from the Pacific Northwest.

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.

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.

It left Chicago at 3:50 p. m. 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 p. m. and read, “am descending through heavy overcast.” The plane then was at 7,000 feet and in the vicinity of La Cross, Wis., about 30 miles from the crash scene.

A crash witness told the coroner he saw the plane fall into the ravine on Sutters 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.

The body of Capt. Robert Johnson, 30, St. Paul, the pilot, was still in the smashed nose of the plane.

The crash was the worst in NWA’s history. Thirty persons died when one of the line’s Orient planes smashed into the side of an Alaskan mountain last March 30.

Less than two months ago, NWA was given a National Safety Council award for having flown more than a billion miles without an accident.

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