FREELAND, MI – On a cold, stormy Easter Sunday 60 years ago today, a midair malfunction took the lives of 47 passengers and crew as Capital Airlines Flight 67 crashed short of the runway at Tri-City Airport.
Friday, April 6, marks the 60th anniversary of Michigan’s third-deadliest plane crash at what is now known as MBS International Airport. Though the blame for the crash was first placed on pilot error, the report from the Civil Aeronautics Board – the predecessor to the FAA – was later revised to blame unforeseen icing, poor visibility and a failing stall warning indicator.
At 11:19 p.m., on April 6, 1958, the four-engine Vickers Viscount 745D was on its final approach to the airport from Flint — one leg of its regularly-scheduled journey from New York to Chicago. At an altitude of about 900 feet and about a half-mile from the airport, the plane banked to re-align itself with the runway then abruptly dove into the ground, crashing just 300 feet from the tarmac.
Several witnesses watching the last arrival of the night reported seeing the lights of the plane as it neared the runway, then an explosion as the aircraft struck the ground. A number of secondary explosions followed as the aircraft’s fuel-filled wings erupted in flames. Emergency vehicles were delayed in putting out the fire when their tires became stuck in the rainy, mud-filled corn field where Flight 67 had crashed.
In total, 44 passengers and three crew members died. There were no survivors. According to the CAB report, the plane struck the ground with such force that its engines were found buried as deep as five feet and the nose section was crushed to a quarter of its original size. Emergency workers found the plane’s contents and bodies of passengers strewn across the field, with some still strapped into their seats.
Without the aid of modern black box recorders, the CAB tested what little equipment remained intact, reconstructed the accident and ran tests on identical aircraft in a wind tunnel to determine the cause of the accident. It was determined from similar near-accidents involving the same model that ice buildup on the control surfaces of Flight 67 caused the pilot to lose pitch control of the airplane, resulting in the vertical nose-down crash.
Neighbors and witnesses reported a gruesome scene as bodies were transported to a makeshift morgue at Dow Chemical’s hangar.
In a 2008 Saginaw News article, farmer Ronald F. Krause described the scene as responders brought bodies past his property at the southwest corner of the airport,
“Some of the bodies were badly burned. Others were just mangled,” Krause said. “It was a gruesome sight. I knew they were dead.”
Within five years of the crash, Tri-City Airport installed more modern safety and navigation equipment, including automatic runway lights. In the years since, air travel has become increasingly safe. In 1946, there were about 1,300 fatalities for every 100 million commercial airline passengers. For the period between 1997 and 2006, that figure had dropped to 8.9 deaths per 100 million passengers.
Essexville resident William D. Reid arranged for a marble slab memorial to the crash victims to be placed at Roselawn Memorial Gardens, 950 N. Center Road in Saginaw Township.
Only two aviation accidents claimed more lives in Michigan than Flight 67.
The 1950 dissapearance of Northwest Airlines Flight 2501 over Lake Michigan claimed 58 lives and was the worst commercial airliner accident in the U.S. at the time. Northwest Airlines Flight 255 crashed on takeoff on Aug. 16, 1987 and claimed the lives of 148 of its 149 passengers, becoming the second-worst crash in the U.S. until that point.