Transcribed from The Victoria Advocate, Victoria, Texas, January 7, 1960, pages 1,12:
Airliner Showers Bodies to Earth In Mystery Blast
Explosion Kills 34 In Carolina
Naval Hero Among Victims
BOLIVIA, N.C. (AP) — A National Airlines four-engine plane apparently disintegrated in rain and darkness near here early Wednesday and showered wreckage and 34 bodies over a 20-acre area.
Searchers found 32 bodies, but no survivors, before darkness and foul weather halted he search Wednesday night.
There was no ready explanation fort he cause of the accident, the first fatal airliner crash of the new year. A National Airlines spokesman said there was no indication of foul play.
Chunk of Metal
At Kure Beach, 25 miles east, two housewives found a chunk of metal, about the size of a coffee table, which an airlines spokesman said was “very definitely part of the aluminum skin of an airplane, presumably this one.”
The plane carried 29 passengers and five crew members. Most of the passengers were Northerners bound for Florida vacations.
John L. Morris, a National Airlines vice president, visited the crash scene.
Later he said in a statement: “The plane which went down southwest of Wilmington Wednesday apparently disintegrated in the air from an unknown cause. The plane was in good order and was in the hands of a veteran crew. There was nothing from the pilot prior to the crash that would indicate malfunction.”
Reporters who hurried to the woods and fields where parts of the massive night coach tumbled out of the murky skies abut 2:45 a.m. said there appeared to have been an explosion in flight.
The passenger list included retired Navy Vice Adm. Edward Orrick McDonnell, holder of the Congressional Medal of Honor and other decorations. He commanded aircraft carriers in the Pacific in World War II.
The big plane was one of two substitute flights. Passengers originally had been booked on a jet flight which was canceled because of a broken windshield. The other substitute flight reached Miami without incident.
Several of the dead passengers were harnessed in Mae West life jackets — some of the jackets inflated. Bent against a pine tree was an orange, 25-person capacity life raft, fully inflated. Such rafts inflate automatically when released.
At least three dead men were found strapped in their seats. These seats had been ripped from the plane and were scattered about the piney woods.
The plane, flying nonstop from New York to Miami, was last heard from at 2:31 a.m., when it was just south of Wilmington, a river port city 25 miles northeast of this tiny village. The flight plan called for it to veer to sea near here and fly 550 miles from here to Palm Beach, Fla., over the Atlantic.
Bodies of several passengers had dug into the soft earth, the upper portions remaining above surface. Trees of the area were not clipped, indicating a vertical plunge by the stricken ship.
“We heard an engine going chug-a-chug,” said Richard Randolph, on whose farm the broken sections collapsed. “It sounded like it was cutting in and out. Then it sounded like tin doors and windows ripping off. Then there was a big boom like dynamite.”
Randolph peered out a window and saw a small flame which soon flickered out in the night’s drizzle. He went back to bed.
Shortly after dawn, Randolph’s small son, McArthur, went to the field and discovered the big chunks of plane, bodies, luggage and clothing strewn about.
That climaxed a feverish hunt that the Coast Guard, Navy, and airline had conducted with ships and plane along the South Atlantic coast.
The FBI dispatched its special disaster squad of fingerprint experts to the scene to attempt identification.
The Civil Aeronautics Board sent four investigators to try to determine the cause.
A detachment of 40 Marines from the base at New River flew in by helicopter to help search the area for bodies.
In the woods the searchers discovered a large hole in the mud. Investigators said one of the big engines might have buried itself there.
Capt. Dale Southard, 46, who flew bombers on ferry service in World War II, headed the veteran crew as the DC6B flew out of Idlewild Airport Tuesday at 11:52 p.m. on a flight scheduled to end at Miami at 4:36 a.m. There was rain most of the way to Wilmington. When the plane reported at 2:31 a.m., there was no hint of trouble. The time of the crash was set at 14 minutes later.
Lester L. Edwards, a forest ranger who lives here, said it appeared to him that the plane might have exploded in flight. Doyle Howard, a reporter for the Wilmington News who shared Edwards’ opinion, said metal surrounding the windows had been bent outward.
Less than two months ago, an NAL plane flying from Miami to New Orleans crashed into the Gulf of Mexico, killing 42 persons aboard. Most of the bodies were not recovered.