The Northwest Flight 2501 mystery continues to stump experts

Author Ed Anderson
The flight took off from La Guardia but disappeared over Lake Michigan near Benton Harbor, MichiganPhoto byWikimedia

Northwest Flight 2501 took off from New York's La Guardia airport at 7:31 pm on June 23, 1950. The flight plan was from New York to Seattle, with a layover in Minneapolis, Minnesota. There were 55 passengers and 3 crew members on board.

Captain Robert C. Lind and First Officer Verne F. Wolfe were the pilots for the flight. Each man had experience in the worst weather that could be imagined. And Lind had flown the Douglas DC-4 on nearly every shift, so he was more than familiar with how it handled.

Everything seemed to be going fine until they reached Michigan. Simple Flying reports that storms began brewing, causing them to go through some turbulence. But it wasn't anything an experienced pilot couldn't handle. Especially, one that had flown this route for many years.

Communication continued between the pilot and flight controllers. It was noted that the plane would need to be refueled before taking off, but there were no distress messages or signals given.

According to Michigan Shipwrecks, Lind had requested an altitude of 4,000 feet above Cleveland. But it was revealed that less than an hour later, ground control requested the pilot descend to an altitude of 3,500 feet because another flight was 5,000 ft above and struggling to maintain it due to turbulence.

Around 11:13 pm, Lind requested an altitude of 2,500 feet over Benton Harbor, Michigan. It took ground control two minutes to deny the request.

That was the last communication with Northwest Flight 2501.
A storm over Lake Michigan is believed to have caused Northwest Flight 2501 to crashPhoto byShadowmeld Photography via Wikimedia

Lost And Not Found

When communication ceased, officials began to worry about the fate of the plane. A plan formed to begin searching for it less than twelve hours after it disappeared. They wanted to allow the storms to pass, so as not to endanger first responders and others in the search party.

According to the FAA report, the search officially commenced on June 24, 1950, at around 11 in the morning. A U.S. Coast Guard vessel was the first to find evidence of a crash. The water was slicked with oil. Following the trail, they found some debris from the plane.

The New York Times reports that more members of the Coast Guard came to the scene. They found luggage, seat cushions, and a fuel tank floating in the water. There were no signs of survivors, and the hope that some would be found was fading rapidly.

Investigators began to wonder what caused the crash. One theory was that the plane could have exploded in the air. This was supported by the type of the debris that was found and the lack of the main compartment. Wandering Educators says that eyewitnesses also claim that have seen flashes of light, which also supports the belief that it was airborne when tragedy struck.

Another theory is that the explosion happened when the plane hit the water. Some of the investigators on the scene pointed out that the oil slicks likely wouldn't have happened if the explosion happened in the air. As for where the main carriage disappeared to, they pointed out that the wind speeds were high because of the storm, according to Discovery.

Despite the debate, many people attribute the tragedy to the storm that played out in the background.
The US Coast Guard launched a search and rescue mission less than 12 hours after Northwest Flight 2501 disappearedPhoto bySMGT Jeff Rohloff, USAF via Combined Military Service Digital Photographic Files

Mystery Remains

Over the years, the search for the remains of Northwest Flight 2501 has continued. Michigan Shipwrecks has taken up the cause, using their sonar system to see if they can find the wreckage in Lake Michigan. There have been some signs that they might be on the right track, but those hopes are usually dashed when the debris that is found turns out to be from another ship or plane that crashed into the water.

Renowned explorer and best-selling author Valerie van Heest has taken up the search for the missing plane. The Detroit Free Press says her hope is to bring closure to the surviving family members of the passengers. She has dedicated a lot of time and resources into helping look for the vessel.

One of the things that she did was to create a model of the weather on June 23, 1950. WZZM reports that they did this by reaching out to the National Weather Service, located in Grand Rapids. After the conversation, meteorologists created a hindcast, a model to show what the storms were like on a certain date.

This helped prove that the crash was related to the weather. However, the hopes that it might lead van Heest or another explorer to the wreckage have not produced the desired results. Yet. There is still a feeling among experts that the plane can be found and answers are forthcoming.

Every summer, shipwreck hunters and other explorers head out to Lake Michigan to see what they can find. Advanced technology and better equipment, along with successful discoveries of other wrecks, are fueling the belief that the wreckage can be found one day.

What do you think happened to Northwest Flight 2501?

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Ed Anderson is a true crime and gossip writer from Detroit, Michigan. Ed is the author of several true crime books, most recently Financing Doubt.

Rochester, MI

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