Crash of Airliner Blamed on Lightning; 37 Killed Wednesday, Nov 25 2009 

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.


Airliner Bound For Minneapolis Runs Into Cliff Wednesday, Nov 25 2009 

Transcribed from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh, PA, August 30, 1948, p. 1:

Airliner Bound For Minneapolis Runs Into Cliff

NWA Pilot Living Near Scene Believes Lightning Struck Craft, Causing It to Break Up in Air


WINONA, Minn., Aug. 29 (AP)–Thirty-six persons were killed Sunday when a Northwest Airlines passenger plane crashed into a 500-foot Mississippi river bluff during a severe storm.

Walter Haeussinger, Winona police dispatcher, said the 33 passengers and three crew members were dead.

Captain Jack Volkel, a NWA pilot who lives in Winona, and who was one of the first at the scene of the crash, said he thought lightning had struck the plane. He said it appeared the plane had broken up in the air.

The plane, a Martin 2-0-2, had left Chicago at 5:50 p. m. (Pittsburgh time) and was due in Minneapolis at 7:30 p. m.

The crash occurred on Sutters Ridge, between Winona and Fountain City, Wis., on the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi river.

Parts of the wreckage were found in swamplands along the river. A few bits also landed in a ball park at Winona, seven miles south of the crash scene.


Haeussinger, executive editor Gordon Closway and reporter William White of the Winona Republican-Herald were among the first to reach the wreckage.

Closway said he counted 10 dead in the plane. One was a woman still holding a baby in her arms.

The pilot, Captain Robert Johnson of St. Paul, was still in the nose of the ship, Closway said.

“Bodies were scattered over a mile area,” Closway said. “We didn’t find all the bodies, but I don’t see how anyone could have lived through it.”

Closway said it took them nearly two hours to reach the crash scene after they arrived at Fountain City.


The crash is near the Scenic River route of the Burlington railway on one side is the river which is bordered with swamp lands. Then beyond the right-of-way area are the bluffs, many of them with sheer sides.

Mrs. Charles Guenther, a farm woman, said she and her husband witnessed the crash from their automobile while returning to fountain city.

“We were returning home from Winona,” Mrs. Guenther said. “When we saw the plane rolling like a barrel. Some pieces of the plane fell off. It was raining hard but we didn’t think there was much wind.

“Then it crashed into a large wooded area.”

The plane’s crew included Dave Brenner, co-pilot, Minneapolis, and Mary Ungs, stewardess, Minneapolis.