Seattle, WA, Northwest Airlines Flight 2 Crash, April 1956


Northwest Airlines Flight 2, a Boeing Stratocruiser, N74608, was ditched in Puget Sound, 4.7 nautical miles southwest of Seattle-Tacoma Airport April 2, 1956 at 8:10 am pacific time. All occupants sucessfully evacuted the aircraft but 4 of the 32 passengers and one of the crew of 6 drowned.

Flight 2 was scheduled daily between Seattle and New York, NY with intermediate stops at Portland, Or and Chicago, IL. It departed at 8:06 am on an instrument flight plan to Portland, OR. There were 32 passengers and a crew of 6. Capt Robert Reeve Heard, First Officer Gene Paul Johnson, Flight Engineer Carl V Thomsen, Flight Service Attendant David V. Razey, Senior
Stewardess Elinor A Whitacre, and Junior Stewardess Dorothy L. Oetting.

Takeoff was made on runway 20 and the flight climbed to an altitude of 1,000 to 1,200 ft. At this time power was reduced and the wing flaps retracted at an airspeed of 145 knots. Immediately the aircraft commenced severe buffeting. The Capt believed it was becasue the flaps had not retracted on one wing. Power was reduced but this was not effective. Maximum power was soon restored. The flight was cleared to return to Seattle but the Capt decided not to try and turn the aircraft due to control difficulty. He advised that he would proceed straight ahead to McChord Air Force Base.

But the buffeting problem became more severe and the Capt elected to ditch the aircraft into the waters of Puget Sound which he did at 8:10 am. The aircraft sank in about 15 minutes. Those who survived were rescued by surface craft within 15 to 30 minutes.

The aircraft remains were later recovered from the water. It was found that the cause of the accident was due to the engine cowl flaps being left open after takeoff. The cowl flaps were devices that were left open when the aircraft was on the ground in order to admit more cooling air to the engines since the aircraft was not in motion. These were supposed to be closed by the flight engineer prior to takeoff. In examining the wreckage it was discovered that the flaps were fully opened.

Another Stratocruiser was flown by Boeing on a test flight. The cowl flaps were deliberately left open and shortly after takeoff produced the buffeting which dissapeared after the flaps were closed.

As happens so often human error led to a grave disaster.

Compiled by Nathan Piitts