A doomed airplane doesn’t reveal itself before takeoff. On the quiet afternoon of June 7, 1934, a United Airlines passenger plane rose from the runway at Felts Field at 3:22 p.m. and headed for Seattle with a stop in Wenatchee on the way. Shortly out of Wenatchee, a storm rose up, hiding the Cascade Mountains in a layer of thick clouds.
On board the Boeing 247 airliner were pilot Capt. Ben Z. Redfield, co-pilot Dwight A. Hansen and Marian Bennett, the lone flight attendant. All were stationed and living in Spokane. Paul C. Beezley, an executive of the Washington Asphalt Co. in Seattle, and Mildred A. Johannesen of Spokane were on board when the plane left Felts Field. The airliner landed at 4:35 p.m. at Fancher Field in Wenatchee and picked up four other passengers: Helen Curran, a cashier for the Great Western Life Assurance Co. in Seattle; Robert C. Clark, a Washington State Liquor Board inspector from Tacoma; and Daisy A. Moony and Mercedes Boyd, who were school teachers from Winthrop in Okanogan County.
Stewardess Bennett was a trained registered nurse, which was required of flight attendants in those days.
As the plane flew over the crest of the Cascade Mountains to Seattle, the weather deteriorated. The low clouds hampered visibility on the west side of the mountains, requiring the pilots to carefully navigate over the landscape on their way to the destination.
Through a break in the clouds, Hansen suddenly saw the plane was headed toward a hillside and told the captain to “pull up.” Redfield throttled forward and attempted to gain altitude, but it was too late. The Boeing 247 bellied into the fir trees at a 45-degree upward angle and slid to the ground, tail first. The nose of the aircraft was crushed and the wings torn away, but the cabin was intact.
After the crash, Hansen reported, “The next thing I remember, I was lying on the ground on the outside of the ship. I saw Ben (the captain) holding one of his arms standing on the wing. He was asking if any of the passengers were hurt. We made a quick inspection and found the cabin intact. All but one of the passengers were able to get out alone.”
Redfield had a compound arm fracture with the bone plainly visible. The crew quickly decided someone needed to go down the mountain for help. Hansen decided Redfield couldn’t make it through the thick underbrush with his arm in that condition.
Hansen later said, “I knew I had better start to the nearest town before it got dark. While the stewardess and Ben looked after the passengers, I disconnected the airplane compass and left.”
The captain, stewardess and the passengers stayed under the wing all night. Due to the aviation gasoline dripping around them, they decided not to light a fire although it was cold and rain fell during the night. Bennett gave the passengers emergency meals, blankets and tended injuries as best she could. Hansen left the group and headed west.
Hansen said, “I don’t know how long I walked or how many creeks I waded across, but it seemed an awfully long time. I kept dropping the compass on the ground, and had to stop and look for it.
“My head felt like a buzzsaw, and the underbrush hurt, as I had to make my own trail.”
Later at a Seattle hospital, Hansen was determined to have a skull fracture, a broken nose, shock, numerous cuts, bruises and the loss of several teeth.
The Seattle Times reported, “First word of the mishap reached Seattle about 8 o’clock last night when co-pilot Dwight Hansen of Spokane, badly injured, staggered out of the wilderness and obtained a rescue party at Selleck.” Hansen had come to some railroad tracks and found a telephone call box. He contacted the rail station in the small town of Selleck on the railroad spur line.
At approximately 8:30 p.m., several experienced woodsmen set out from Selleck on a gasoline-powered railroad speeder car to rescue Hansen and find the downed airliner. By the time the search party reached Hansen, about 3 miles from Selleck, it was too dark and dangerous to find their way through the tangle of logging debris and underbrush, so they bivouacked for the night.
Hansen, in pain and suffering from shock, was sent to Selleck on the railroad speeder and then transported by ambulance to Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle.
By 6 a.m. Friday, June 8, a large search party headed by Walter Gustke, superintendent of the Pacific States Lumber Co., had assembled at the spur line and set out on foot to find the aircraft and rescue the survivors. They were accompanied by a group of airline officials and newspaper reporters. Hansen had marked his trail with pieces of cloth torn from clothing found scattered about the crash site. At approximately 10 a.m., the search party located the wreckage on the slope of a heavily forested hillside at an altitude of 3,300 feet in Seattle’s Cedar River watershed, four nautical miles southwest of Cedar Lake (now Chester Morse Lake).
All the passengers were transported to Seattle hospitals and treated for their injuries.
Bob Ellis was dispatched by United Airlines as a member of the search party. He was the lead mechanic for the airlines in Seattle. Ellis assisted in the removal of the remaining United Airlines crew from the crash scene.
On the following Monday, June 11, Ellis and officials from the Boeing Airplane Co. returned to the wreckage to determine how much of the airliner could be salvaged. Although much of the plane was still intact, it was located in an inaccessible area of the Snoqualmie National Forest, and the logistics as well as the cost of removal were prohibitive. Much of the aircraft was damaged beyond repair. Ultimately, the experts determined the two radial engines, flight instruments and fittings were all that could be salvaged off the mountain.
But something else was salvaged. The United Airlines flight attendant Marian Bennett became acquainted with United Airlines’ lead mechanic Bob Ellis during the rescue operation. Their acquaintance went from “Friendly Skies” to “Loving Skies.” The two were married a few months after the crash.
Ellis was promoted to United Airlines manager at Spokane, where his new wife was stationed.
References include Historylink.org, the Associated Press and the Seattle Times. Darin Z. Krogh was employed by United Airlines in Spokane for several years after, not before, the 1934 crash.
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