Alaska DC- 4 Crash - 1957
Bob Bogash

Bob Bogash

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Sixty years ago today, an Alaska Airlines DC-4 crashed on a flight bound for Seattle.  The airplane flew into Blyn  Mountain, an Olympic Range foothill peak a few miles southwest of Pt. Townsend.  I had never heard of this accident before, and found it while I was researching  materials for another accident.  Blyn Mtn is a key landmark around Jefferson County Airport, where I keep my airplane, and is  just southwest of Pt. Townsend, .  Local pilots fly past it almost daily, so this certainly piqued my interest.  I can also see it from my living room windows in Hansville.  Here’s the story.

On March 2, 1957, Alaska flight 100 operated as a scheduled non-stop flight from Fairbanks to Seattle-Tacoma with C-54 equipment (DC-4) N90449.  It was a Saturday and the usual large passenger count was fortunately low for the combi cargo/pax flight.  In command was Capt. Larry Currie, 41, of Portland who had 12,033 flying hours including over 8000 on the DC-4.  The Co-pilot was Lyle Edwards, 39, with 10,791 hrs, including over 4500 on the DC-4.  Both had 10 years or more flying with Alaska.


A model of N90449

The daylight flight was planed for 7 hours and 44 minutes and the weather was good.  The flight flew as far as Haines, Alaska under IFR rules at 12,000 ft, when it cancelled and proceeded VFR.  After passing Annette Island and proceeding to Port Hardy, the flight reported level at 1000 ft, a puzzle since enroute terrain extends to 8000 ft and 1000 ft would require a meandering over-water routing down the Strait of Georgia, far from the Amber 1 airway. South of Port Hardy, a ground witness observed the airplane and estimated its altitude as 3000 ft.  Next, the airplane reported 30 miles west of Comox at 1000 ft, but subsequent review of RCAF radar tapes showed it to be 10 miles south at that time, and at 2500 ft.



The last position report was at 1716L when the Capt. reported passing Dungeness, estimating SEA in 18 minutes, at 34 past the hour.  Ground witnesses in the Sequim area reported a low overcast to the south and southeast with cloud bases at an estimated 1000 ft.  Their attention was drawn to the airplane because it was flying exceptionally low - beneath the cloud deck.  The mountains to the south are over 2000 ft and were obscured by clouds.  They observed the airplane enter the clouds, and one person then heard and felt an explosion.



A Coast Guard helicopter began searching an hour after the aircraft was reported missing, but was unable to search due to poor weather (SEA was VFR with clouds scattered to broken at 3500 ft and also at 12,000 ft.,  with low scud forecast in the NW part of the region.



The wreckage was located from the air the following day, but due to poor weather and difficult terrain, investigators didn’t reach the airplane until 4 days later on March 6.  The airplane had struck a steep, heavily forested mountain slope at about 1500 ft, exploded and burned, with all occupants killed.



Investigators were interested in the low altitude, meandering course followed by the airplane, and the curious and erroneous enroute  altitude reports.  They also discovered the required enroute flight log had not been filled in for much of the flight.  Also, the flight had not requested an IFR clearance approaching Seattle, despite entering IMC conditions.

  Blyn Mntn


 Here's Blyn Mtn from the airport

 
    ...and here it is obscured by clouds



In the end, they believed the Pilot, who was very familiar with the area,  had made a navigational mistake, believing he was further to the east, where the terrain between him and Seattle was lower and would permit flight at the lower altitude, even if flying in the clouds.  The area between Sequim and Pt. Townsend consists of land (the Miller Peninsula) surrounded by two inlets from the St. of Juan de Fuca.  They are Sequim Bay to the west (then called Washington Harbor), and Discovery Bay (then called Port Discovery.)

Those of us who fly around that area every day are very familiar with those two bays.  If the pilot was equally familiar, he would have certainly been aware that the prominent landmark Protection Island lies at the mouth of Discovery Bay, and NOT Sequim Bay.


Protection Island and the mouth of Discovery Bay (Port Discovery.)



The CAB ended its Report with the following findings:

It was found that if Flight 100 had been approximately three miles east on a parallel course it would have passed over Port Discovery, the more eastern bay. It was also noted that the terrain over which the flight would have flown on the way to Seattle was much less than 1,000 feet. It was further noted that the terrain between Washington Harbor, the more western bay, and Seattle rose to an altitude of about 2,100 feet, a fact of which Captain Carrie was undoubtedly well aware.
 
It is therefore considered probable that Captain Currie mistakenly identified Washington Harbor as Port Discovery and thinking he was three miles east of his actual position entered the overcast at an altitude which he thought was sufficient to clear the ground. The Board is constrained to consider that the laxity and inattention exhibited by the crew throughout the flight, and the fact that the aircraft was flown into instrument conditions without an appropriate clearance, lend substantial credence to this presumption.


They ended the Report with the following Probable Cause:

PROBABLE CAUSE: "Navigational error and poor judgement exhibited by the pilot in entering an overcast in a mountainous area at a dangerously low altitude.”

One item of interest in this investigation involved the on-site examination of the wreckage.  Due to weather and the ruggedness of the terrain, ground parties were unable to reach the site until March 6, four days after the crash.

  "Despite the extensive destruction of the airplane from impact and fire, some parts were found in good condition.  In particular, the co-pilots instrument panel was found relatively undamaged.  However, all of the instruments had been removed prior to the arrival of the official ground parties by persons unknown."

Inaccessible?  Perhaps.  But not to vandals.

60 years ago today, March 2, 1957.





Port Angeles, WA Airplane Crash, Mar 1957
The Daily Chronicle
Centralia Washington

Five Die In Crash Of Plane

PORT ANGELES (AP)

 Investigators sought an explanation Monday for the mystery of how an Alaska airliner carried five persons to death on an Olympic Peninsula mountainside in daylight and good weather.

The Alaska Airlines four-engine DC4 met disaster late Saturday only 18 minutes from its Seattle-Tacoma Airport destination. It was on the home leg of a flight of more than 1,500 miles from Fairbanks.


Another Alaska DC-4 in front of the old terminal at Sea-Tac

Searchers found the charred wreckage Sunday at the 2,000-foot level about 30 miles southeast of here. The bodies of the two passengers and three crew members were brought here.

Ironically, both the passengers were making quick trips to the states to visit their mothers one because the mother is critically ill; the other for a birthday surprise.

MISS CONSTANCE REPPERT, 24, was on a three-week leave for a surprise visit for her mother's birthday at Elkins, W. Va. MISS REPPERT was a recreation director at Army anti-aircraft sites in the Fairbanks area.

LEROY KELLEY, 38, a carpenter at Ladd Air Force Base, was flying south because of the illness of his mother in Texas.

Crew Members Listed.
The crew members were Capt. LARRY CURRIE of Seattle, the pilot; LYLE EDWARDS, Seattle, co-pilot; and ELIZABETH GOODS of Roblin, Manitoba, the stewardess.

Normally the plane would have been carrying a far greater number of passengers, but airline officials said Saturday flights from Alaska to Seattle generally are light.

CURRIE, a native of Portland, had been with the company about 10 years and was described by the airline and friends as one of the best pilots in the business. He leaves a wife and four children.

EDWARDS, who had been with the line about nine years, is survived by his widow and two children.

Plane Crashes Against Slope.
The plane crashed against a timbered slope after the pilot had radioed at 5:16 p. m., that he was flying visual,� which meant it was clear enough for him to fly without instruments.

The Weather Bureau reported, however, there were clouds over the Olympic Peninsula area from 2,000 to 4,000 feet. Conjecture was that the plane flew into a cloud bank to disaster.

An airline spokesman said the plane was very close to its course, if not on it.

The big unknown was why the veteran pilot was flying so low. There was no report from the plane of any trouble.

Bodies Recovered Sunday.
The bodies were recovered Sunday by a party that was landed by helicopter on a road about a mile away from the crash scene. The crash was discovered early Sunday by a Coast Guard helicopter pilot.

The plane had cut a swath through heavy timber before hitting the saddleback.
Two Civil Aeronautics Board investigators flew from Washington, D. C., to join West Coast CAB men in the inquiry into the crash.


 



N90449 became a favorite for model-builders

The Aircraft
 
Douglas C 54-3-DC, N 90449, serial number 27239, was manufactured December 12, 1944. Flying hours on the aircraft totaled 28,835:53. The aircraft was equipped with Pratt and Whitney R-2000-7M2 engines and Hamilton Standard propellers, model 23E50-505, with model 6507A-O blades.




For full Accident Report - click here
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