Rule Bomb Caused 34 Plane Deaths Tuesday, Dec 3 2013 

Transcribed from The Milwaukee Sentinel, Milwaukee, WI, July 30, 1960, page 5:

Rule Bomb Caused 34 Plane Deaths

WASHINGTON, July 20 (AP). Final proof that a bomb blasted heavily-insured Julian A. Frank and 33 fellow airline passengers to death was reported Friday by the Civil Aeronautics Board.

But the mystery of the explosion in the sky remained unsolved with nearly a million dollars at stake.

The CAB’s summation of its six-month inquiry into the Jan. 6 crash of a National Airlines plane near Bolivia, N.C., made no attempt to fix responsibility for the explosion.

FBI Silent

Ant the FBI, which has been handed the job of trying to find out who triggered the dynamite bomb that knocked the DC6 airliner from the skies, refused to say how its investigation is going.

Four of the insurance companies with whom Frank took out policies totally $907,500 have contended the 32-year-old New York attorney committed suicide — at the price of 33 other lives. They’ve asked the courts to rule that they don’t have to pay the insurance.

But Frank’s young widow, blond model Janet Wagner Frank, 28, says she’s positive her wealthy husband was either the innocent victim of the explosion or the target of a monstrous mysterious murder plot.

Bomb Near Lawyer

The CAB reports places the bomb explosion in the immediate vicinity of Frank’s seat on the New York-Miami airliner and says he was close to the ripping blast that tore the plane apart.

The lawyer for Frank’s estate, David Marks, said in New York the CAB finding would have no effect on his efforts to collect the insurance for Frank’s widow and two children.

There is a “real possibility” that Frank was murdered, he said.


Bombs Indicated in Two Air Disasters Monday, Dec 2 2013 

Transcribed from The Age, Melbourne, Australia, January 18, 1960, page 4:

Bombs Indicated in Two Air Disasters

NEW YORK, January 17.–F.B.I. agents investigating the New York-Miami airliner crash 11 days ago have reported mysterious circumstances surrounding the Mexican Gulf crash of another airliner operated by the same airline.

In the investigation of the January 6 crash of a National Airlines DC-6B, agents are inquiring into indications that a lawyer, Mr. Julian Frank, might have blown up the plane killing himself and 33 others so his widow could collect nearly 900,000 doll. (about £401,700) in insurance.

The other crash occurred last November 16. All 42 persons aboard a DC-7C died in a crash in the Gulf of Mexico on a flight from Miami to New Orleans.

Very little wreckage and only ten bodies were recovered.

A letter from the F.B.I. disclosed a “theory” yesterday that a long-time criminal listed as killed in the crash may have sent another man to die in his name so that his own wife would collect a large amount of insurance.

The disclosure brought up the possibility that the man, Dr. Robert Spears, a Dallas naturopath, who once allegedly offered to blow up a hospital for 500 doll. (£223) might have sabotaged the plane.


The F.B.I. letter was read at a Civil Aeronautics Board inquiry into the crash in Miami.

It identified Dr. Spears as a man with a criminal record going back to 1917.

The F.B.I. letter quoted the chief investigator, Mr. Julian Blodgett, as advancing the theory that “Dr. Spears might have had someone travel for him to collect a large insurance for the benefit of his young wife.”

In Miami, the F.B.I. refused to comment on the case.

But police have stated that the man Spears may have tricked into boarding the plane in his name could have been William Allen Taylor, missing since the night of the crash.

A salesman, Taylor was known to be an old acquaintance of Dr. Spears.

Nothing in the F.B.I. letter or in the testimony brought out at the Civil Aeronautics Board hearing referred directly to sabotage as the cause of the crash.

A C.A.B. investigator, who asked not to be named, described as “formidable” the amount for which Dr. Spears was insured.

The main wreckage of the DC-7C is under 700 feet of water and experts say it is unlikely the cause of the crash will ever be determined from debris study.

But National Airlines executives in Miami say they now “lean strongly” toward the theory that a bomb caused the crash.–A.A.P.

Theory Holds Disaster Accident, Not Bombing Sunday, Dec 1 2013 

Transcribed from the Ottawa Citizen, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, January 21, 1960, page 34:

Theory Holds Disaster Accident, Not Bombing

By Jerry Bennett
Newspaper Enterprise Assn. Writer

WASHINGTON — There is mounting evidence that the crash of a National Airlines plane on January 6 was not caused by a bomb.

This turn in the disaster investigation stems from a review of evidence undisclosed until now.

The new theory, if proven, would absolve alleged bomber Julian Frank of responsibility for the crash which took his life and that of 33 others aboard the Miami-bound plane.

This theory holds that escaping air in the pressurized cabin blew the New York lawyer through either a broken window or a hole in the plane’s side. Thus, Frank’s body landed on a North Carolina beach before inrushing air or other mechanical damage tore the plane apart 20 miles away.

Here is the support for this theory, based on evidence found by investigators:

  1. A hole was found in a piece of the plane’s fuselage that landed near Frank’s body. The metal was from the rest room area. The hole was not caused by an explosion, but it was big enough to release enough pressure to blast out the entire rest room wall and kill anyone nearby.
  2. Also found near Frank’s body were fragments from the plane’s windows. This would indicate that one or more of the windows was blown out at about the same time. Frank being inside the rest room or sitting beside a window when the damage occurred would account for his body being so far from the others.
  3. If there had been a bomb, powder or chemical burns would have been found either on Frank’s body or parts of the wreckage. None has been found.
  4. The outward burst of an explosion inside a flight cabin would bend metal fragments torn from the fuselage. This didn’t happen in the Jan. 6 disaster.
  5. Much has been said about a blue cloth bag with a missing bottom found near Franks’ body. It has been alleged that Frank hid the bomb inside it. The trouble with this theory is that a bomb powerful enough to damage a plane would have done more to a bag than just blow out its bottom.
  6. Frank didn’t have a blue bag. His was gray.
  7. The fact that both Frank’s legs were missing from his body has been presented as evidence that he exploded a bomb. But experts say that the impact a body makes when striking the ground from a high altitude is strong enough to tear away limbs. Other bodies were found with severed arms and legs.

In either event, the theory holds[sic] been used to boost the bomb theory is that bits of metal imbedded in Frank’s body did not come from the doomed plane. This announcement was made before the fragments had been fully analyzed. Results of the lab tests have not yet been disclosed.

Additional evidence includes the findings of life jackets on some of the passengers and an inflated life raft. Also, it is known that one of the engines was on fire. Whether it burned before or after the plane fell apart is not known.

Based on this new evidence, here is one expert’s theory of what might have caused the crash:

The plane was flying over the ocean near the Carolina coast when the engine caught fire. Passengers began strapping on their life jackets.

Frank is known to have been desperately afraid of flying. Upon seeing the engine in flames, he might have panicked and broken a window. Or a piece of metal from the burning engine could have broken a window or struck the fuselage, weakening it to the extent that a blowout occurred.

In either event, the theory holds that the pilot turned abruptly inland and began his descent. Either air rushing into the plane or other material damage could have made the plane disintegrate.

Whether this theory becomes fact hinges upon final reassembly and study of the wreckage, underway at Wilmington, N.C.

34 Lose Lives in Airliner Crash Saturday, Nov 30 2013 

Transcribed from the Reading Eagle, Reading, PA, January 6, 1960, pages 1,39:

34 Lose Lives in Airliner Crash

New York-to-Miami Plane Demolished in North Carolina


Craft was Carrying 29 Vacationists, Crew of 5


Bolivia, N.C., Jan. 6 (AP) — A National Airlines night coach flying non-stop from New York to Miami crashed with 34 persons aboard before dawn today in swampy woodlands near here.

“There will not be any survivors,” said Deputy Sheriff H. G. Ratcliff.

Seventeen bodies had been recovered late this morning.

Reporters on the scene said the big plane appeared to have exploded in the air and debris and bodies were scattered over an area of 20 acres.

Substitute Flight

The four-engined ship, making one of two substitute flights carrying vacation-bound passengers originally booked on a cancelled jet flight, struck earth 2 1/2 miles southwest of Bolivia, a hamlet 25 miles southwest of Wilmington.

The other substitute plane, an Electra turbo-prop plane, reached Miami safely with 76 passengers and crew members.

The plane that crashed carried 29 passengers and a crew of five.

Its passengers included retired Navy Vice Adm. Edward Orrick McDonnell, who held a Congressional Medal of Honor and numerous other decorations for World War II service. He commanded an aircraft carrier in the Pacific.

Most of the passengers were easterners, bound for vacations at Florida’s sunny resorts.

Rainy Weather

The plane had been flying through rainy weather.

The watch on the wrist of a crew member found in the cockpit was stopped at 2:45 a.m., indicating that the crash occurred some 14 minutes after the pilot reported in by radio. He indicated no trouble at that time.

The possibility that passengers were aware of the trouble before the crash was seen in the fact that a number of the victims were clad in Mae West life preservers. The life preservers on some had been inflated.

A piece of the wing and most of the ripped fuselage fell in a field, while the cockpit struck in woods 50 yards away.

The plane crashed on the small farm of Richard Randolph. His wife, Letzie, was awakened by the noise and she awakened her husband.

“We heard an engine going chug-a-chug,” he said, “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 arose and looked out the window. He could see nothing but a small flame which soon went out. He returned to bed.

Early this morning, their small son, McArthur, went to the field to see what happened and found the plane. The Negro farmer drove to Bolivia, the nearest phone, and an operator connected him with the New Hanover Airport at Wilmington. He then waited in Bolivia until highway patrolmen arrived about 7:30 a.m. and guided them to the scene.

Emergency and rescue vehicles rushed to the scene. A light rain fell as rescuers searched for bodies.

A number of bodies lay among scattered luggage and pieces of the ship.

Lester L. Edwards, a forest ranger, said it appeared to him that the plane might have exploded in flight. This opinion was shared also by Doyle Howard, a reporter on the scene from the Wilmington News.

The FBI sent its special disaster squad to the scene. This was requested by Charles Sharp, National’s vice president. The squad of three fingerprint experts has identified more than 80 per cent of the victims of airliner crashes it has investigated.

The plane was manned by a veteran crew. Capt. Dale Southard, 46, the pilot, flew bombers for a ferry service during World War II. He was born in Nebo, Mo. R. L. Hentzel, 32, co-pilot, came with NAL in 1954 after five years in the Air Force. He was a Cleveland, Ohio, native. R. R. Halleckson, 35, flight engineer, joined the company in May 1953. During World War II he served on B29 bombers. He was born in St. Paul, Minn.

A NAL plane, less than two months ago, crashed into the Gulf of MExico, killing 42 persons aboard. It was on a flight from Miami to New Orleans. Most of the bodies and wreckage remains unrecovered.

34 Dead in U.S. Plane Crash Friday, Nov 29 2013 

Transcribed from The Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, January 7, 1960, page 1:

34 Dead in U.S. Plane Crash

NEW YORK, Jan. 6 (A.A.P.). — A four-engined National Airlines DC6B on a flight from New York to Miami crashed about 25 miles south-west of Wilmington, North Carolina, early today.

The plane carried 29 passengers and a crew of five and it is thought all were killed.

The pilot had given no indication of any trouble.

So far only seven bodies have been found.

First inspection of the wreckage suggested that the plane had exploded in the air.

A reporter said the largest part of the plane he saw was a wing and half of the fuselage “all ripped to pieces.”

The crash was the second in less than two months for National Airlines. Forty-two persons died when a National flight from Miami to New Orleans went down in the Gulf of Mexico on November 16.

Cruel Twist of Fate Deals Death to 34 Thursday, Nov 28 2013 

Transcribed from The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, WA, January 7, 1960, page 16:

Cruel Twist of Fate Deals Death to 34

NEW YORK, Jan. 6. (AP) — Sheer chance, a grim twist to the wheel of fate, put 34 persons aboard a National Airlines night coach that crashed today in North Carolina.

The 29 passengers on the ill-fated New York to Miami flight originally were booked on a Boeing 707 flight from Idlewild. But the jet liner was taken out of service at the last minute because of a broken windshield.

Seventy-six of the passengers, on a first-come-first-serve basis, were transferred to an Electra turboprop plane which flew them safely to Miami.

Bound for Vacations

The ill-starred 29 were put aboard the DC-6B four-engine propeller plane that crashed. Most of them were from the east, bound for Florida for vacation, fun or on business. Many were heads of families, and nearly a score of children were orphaned in the crash.

Among those killed was retired navy Vice Adm. Edward C. McDonnell, 68. He won the medal of honor — the nation’s highest military decoration — for heroism at Vera Cruz in 1914. He was a flier in World War I and commanded escort aircraft carriers in the Pacific in World War II. After retiring in 1946, McDonnell became a partner in the Wall Street investment banking firm of Hornblower & Weeks.

The plane apparently disintegrated in rain and darkness near Bolivia, N. C., and showered wreckage and bodies over a 20-acre area.

Searchers found 32 bodies, but no survivors, before darkness and foul weather halted the search tonight.

There was no ready explanation for the cause of the accident, the first fatal air liner crash of the new year. A National Airlines spokesman said there was no indication of foul play.

Find Metal

At Kure beach, 25 miles east, two housewives found a chunk of metal, about the size of a coffee table, which an air lines spokesman said was “very definitely part of the aluminum skin of an airplane, presumably this one.”

John L. Morris, a National Airlines vice president, visited the crash scene. Later he said in a statement:

“The plane 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.”

FBI Probes Theory That Bomb Brought Air Crash Wednesday, Nov 27 2013 

Transcribed from The Times-News, Hendersonville, NC, January 15, 1960, pages 1,4:

FBI Probes Theory That Bomb Brought Air Crash

Aim Suspicion At Insured Passenger

By Ronald H. Nessen

WASHINGTON, Jan. 15. (UPI) — Government agents conducted a mammoth investigation today to determine whether a bomb caused last week’s National Airliner crash which killed all 34 persons aboard.

Part of the inquiry centered on a passenger who was covered by about a million dollars worth of recently-acquired insurance.

FBI and Civil Aeronautics Board investigators were trying to discover whether a man-made explosion blew the New York-to-Miami flight from the sky near Bolivia, N.C., Jan. 6.

WILMINGTON, Jan. 15. (UPI) — A federal agent investigating the crash of a National Airlines plane reported today that two men went through the wreckage looking for personal effects of Julian Frank.

NEW YORK, Jan. 15 — (UPI) — Julian Andrew Frank, suspected of killing himself and 33 other airliner passengers with a suicide bomb, was under investigation for a series of alleged swindles which may total over a million dollars, it was revealed here today.

It was reported today that:

St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo., attorneys had complained to the New York district attorney against Frank last month in an alleged charity fund drive swindle.

The FBI is investigating complaints that a “phantom” firm set up by Frank had collected large fees for mortgage dealings and then failed to complete transactions.

After hearing testimony from the CAB’s safety director, Chairman A. S. Mike Monroney (D-Okla) of the Senate aviation subcommittee said Thursday “every bit of evidence so far” indicated a bomb exploded in the plane’s washroom. Monroney said “it seems clear” to him that a bomb caused the crash.

CAB Safety Director Oscar Bakke told the subcommittee that a preliminary investigation brought out some “unusual circumstances” which caused the agency to look into the possibility of an explosion. He said he was not prepared to state that a bomb caused the crash.

Bakke said the CAB inquiry centered on heavily-insured Julian Andrew Frank, 32, a Westport, Conn., lawyer who boarded the plane with a 20-pound blue cloth flight bag. Frank’s body was found some 18 to 21 miles from the scene of the main wreckage. The flight bag was nearby, its bottom torn out.

Bakke said Frank’s body was more severely mutilated than those of other passengers and was impregnated with small bits of steel, wire, wood and paint. He said both legs were blown off.

An official said government investigators were seeking every scrap of evidence concerning the DC-6B plane, the passengers and their luggage. He said the agents would try to reconstruct the plane from the wreckage.

The official said investigators would explore thoroughly the background of each passenger and would question relatives and neighbors.

Bakke said Frank took out accident or life insurance policies from April to December totaling about $889,000 plus two policies totaling 125,000 just before boarding the plane. All were made out to his wife, Janet, a former fashion model.

Crash Clues Sifted, Then: ‘Blast Came From Within’ Monday, Apr 8 2013 

Transcribed from The Miami News, Miami, Florida, March 2, 1960, page 12C:

Crash Clues Sifted, Then: ‘Blast Came From Within’

By Vern Haugland
AP Aviation Writer

How could they tell what caused it?

The men assigned to investigate the plane tragedy that took 34 lives early last Jan. 6 found wreckage scattered across marshlands near Bolivia, N.C.

There were several large pieces of the plane, including most of the cockpit. And there were more than 2,000 bits of debris. Some of the wreckage was missing. Bodies of two of the victims could not be found.

In the days that followed, there was speculation from Capital Hill that a suicide bomb had blown the plane apart in flight. Linked with this speculation was the name of Julian Andrew Frank, 32, a heavily insured New York attorney. But no evidence was disclosed showing Frank either wittingly or unwittingly carried a bomb aboard the DC-6B.

Then on Feb. 23 the chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board, James R. Durfee, made an unprecedented progress report to the Senate Aviation subcommittee. Durfee told the senators, in part:

“… the board’s Bureau of Safety, with the assistance of the FBI and the many other laboratories that assisted us in our evaluations, is now prepared to say that we have found evidence that a dynamite explosion, initiated electrically by a dry cell battery, occurred within the aircraft cabin in the vicinity of the seat occupied by Julian Frank.”

The investigation still is going on. But here, in general, is how the investigators operated:

The experts held their first meeting within hours after they arrived at the scene. It was apparent to them that the National Airlines plane bound nonstop from New York to Miami had come apart in the air.

They considered these four possibilities:

  • An airborne collision.
  • Explosive decompression — or a “blowout” of the plane because of structural fatigue of its walls.
  • Explosive decompression because of puncturing by a propellar blade.
  • An explosive force from within.

Teams were set up to broaden the search. Marine helicopters joined the hunt. Twenty miles from the wreckage they made their find — Some 40 pieces of metal from the plane’s right forward side. It was scattered along Kure Beach — the point at which the Miami-bound airliners begin the over-ocean part of the flight.

Apparently it was over this beach that tragedy hit the plane.

A structure team also was organized. It included CAB engineers and representatives of the airline and the plane’s manufacturer.

A human factors team probed the mystery. A specialist from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology conducted autopsies on five crew members, but reported no significant findings.

A witness group also was set up. There were no eyewitnesses, but 152 persons were questioned in five days.

An operations group checked the history of the plane and the flight. They found that no other aircraft had been in the area at the time. No missiles had been fired.

POSSIBILITY NO. 1 — A collision — could be crossed off.

The investigators set up a full-size wooden model of a DC-6B in a hangar at the Wilmington, N.C., airport. The model was covered with chicken wire. The experts began hanging bits of metal on it.

The wreckage at Kure Beach turned out to include a three-seat unit and large sections of the exterior wall. The sections fit neatly into an eight-foot hole up forward, on the right side, which remained after assemblage of the pieces found near Bolivia.

POSSIBILITY NO. 2 — Metal fatigue — was rules out. The experts said the DC-6B had been provided with a cross-webbed fuselage that would make a hole of such large size extremely unlikely.

Wings and the forward part of the plane had buried themselves deep in the marshland mud. Excavation of the engines was completed on the morning of Jan. 9. None of the propellar blades was missing.

POSSIBILITY NO. 3 — Puncturing by a propellar blade — had been ruled out.

A body was found embedded in mud near Kure Beach. The victim was identified as Frank. Parts of both legs were missing. The limb ends were strangely shredded.

One official said “it was the type of injury that could be caused by an explosion, such as that of a soldier who had stepped on a land mine.”

Later that same day, the CAB teams learned that Frank was under investigation for alleged fraud and that he had more than one million dollars worth of insurance — most of it taken out in the previous year.

At one time 60 different laboratory examinations were under way simultaneously — mostly tests of tissues from Frank’s body and metallurgical studies on the plane’s frame.

It was determined that Frank carried a blue cloth flight bag weighing 20 pounds when he boarded the plane. Such a bag — or what was left of it — was found near his body. Bits of blue fabric, steel wire, brass, wood, pain and other matter were found embedded in his body.

The search for more debris went on after the body of the last victim was found Jan. 14 about 1,000 yards from the main impact area near Bolivia.

The experts frankly were looking for explosives, and their failure to find such materials puzzled them.

But at last, tests of the rug fabrics, seat fabrics and general cabin debris began to turn up traces of nitrate — a basic component of dynamite. Also found were small black deposits of manganese dioxide, which is common to dry cell batteries.

Deep probes of Frank’s body turned up the same materials.

Nitrate and manganese dioxide both are highly soluble in water. Heavy rains had lashed the area. The investigators concluded that the wreckage and the body had been washed clean of all surface deposits of the tell-tale materials.

POSSIBILITY NO. 4 — An explosive force from within — was the one to which the evidence pointed.

Then seven weeks after the crash, Durfee made his report that, “We have found evidence that a dynamite explosion — occurred within the aircraft.”

The CAB will hold a public hearing March 22 at Wilmington.

Many questions remain unanswered. Who? Why? Was it a suicide bomb? A murder bomb?

But some of the biggest questions have been answered in what one CAB official calls “one of the most extensive investigations of its kind in 18 years of CAB operations.”

Victims of Crash Placed in School Thursday, Apr 4 2013 

Transcribed from The Lawrence Daily Journal-World, Lawrence, Kansas, January 7, 1960, page 1:

Victims of Crash Placed in School

BOLIVIA, N.C. (AP) — Three rows of shrouded bodies, victims of 1960’s first airliner crash, lay in the Southport High School gymnasium today awaiting identification by relatives and an FBI fingerprint team.

Thirty-four persons were aboard the National Airlines DC6B which apparently disintegrated in the air and cast wreckage and bodies over a 20-acre area early Wednesday. None survived.

Searchers found 32 bodies by nightfall in the plowed fields and marshy piney woods where the New York-to-Miami flight fell.

Darkness and foul weather delayed search for the remaining two victims overnight.

C. Lester Trotter, an assistant director of the FBI, came here from Washington with a 4-man team to help identify the 29 passengers and 5 crew members on the plane.

Relatives also began arriving to identify and claim their dead.

The FBI agents definitely identified 9 of the 32 bodies.

Coroner L. B. Bennett said autopsies would be performed in an effort to determine what caused the deaths.

The plane “apparently disintegrated in the air from an unknown cause,” said John L. Morris, a National Airlines vice president. “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 any malfunction.”

However, the altimeter in the wreckage of the cockpit showed an elevation of 1,500 feet. And instruments indicated the right wing may have been down as if the plane was banking.

It appeared that the crew and passengers may have known the plane was in difficulty. A National Airlines spokesman said, “judging from the fact that some of the victims had on life jackets, it can be presumed that the captain had informed the passengers of an emergency situation and was trying to make an emergency landing.”

Four bodies wore vest-type life jackets and several victims were strapped to their seats with safety belts.

There was also an indication that the pilot might have been seeking a refuge in the murky, rainy night.

A chunk of metal was found at Kure Beach, 25 miles east of the crash scene, or about five minutes away at the plane’s normal cruising speed. The craft’s southbound route would not have crossed both Kure Beach and Bolivia.

“It was very definitely part of the aluminum skin of an airplane, presumably this plane,” said an NAL spokesman about the Kure Beach discovery.

The engineer’s log, found in the 25-foot nose section of the wreckage, bore a notation that the flight had checked with the Wilmington Airport at 2:07 a.m. Twenty-four minutes later the crew reported the flight was south of Wilmington, thus beginning the 550-mile leg over the Atlantic to Florida.

A stopped watch on one of the victims set the time of the crash at 2:45 a.m.

Airliner Showers Bodies to Earth In Mystery Blast Sunday, Mar 17 2013 

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.”

Night Coach

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.

Raft Inflates

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.

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