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Disappearance over Lake Michigan

Lockheed Electra 10A, 1044, was delivered towards the end of 1935 to Westchester Airplane Sale Co., registration NC14981. Over the next several months to airplane traded hands to A. O. Smith Corp., Milwaukee., and J. J. White Tude Co., before finally being sold to South American Gul Oil Co roughly around 1936. Following its service with the Oil Company, NC14981 was sold to Columbian Petroleum and from there to Cubana, a subsidiary of Pan Am where the registration was changed, unfortunately we don't have the full registration, all we know is that it started with NM. It seems the aircraft likely flew for Cubana during the late 1930s and possibly into the early 1940s; following the stint with Cubana the registration was changed back to N14981 and arrived at Massachusetts Air Industries who later sold the Electra to Walter R. Crow, Inc., Walbridge, Ohio.

On December 24, 1952, the Electra, located in Columbus, OH, was loaded up with roughly a ton of automobile steering assemblies that had been consigned to Milwaukee. 32 year old pilot Wilton Lyman, of Toledo, and 24 year old Robert Taylor, of Marion, were to fly the aircraft to Milwaukee to deliver the steering assemblies. After taking on 42 gallons of fuel the Electra took off at 12:12 a.m. with enough fuel to fly for six hours. Just before two o'clock Lyman reported in over Haven, Michigan, asking the CAA in Milwaukee to check in with him at 10 minute intervals as he was to be crossing over the lake. Nearly an hour later Mitchell Field, Milwaukee, received a message from Lyman, who reported that he was now over the outer runway marker at 2,600 feet and asking for landing clearance, which was subsequently granted. That 2:47 a.m. message was the last anyone heard from the plane; a ground and air search was soon underway by the Coast Guard, Air Force and National Guard. A companion plane to the missing aircraft which had taken off roughly the same time, arrived safely at Mitchell Field, refueld, and took off again to aid in the search.

Dr. Russell Kurten, who lived nearby, told the Civil Air Patrol that he had been reading early the morning of the disappearance and had heard an aircraft coming in low and fast over his home heading north, the plane then circled and began heading east much closed to the ground "then the motor apparently stopped." After three days the search was abandoned and the fliers presumed dead. Two days later, however, on December 29th, the search was resumed briefly when a life raft was discovered partially buried in the sand and looked to be in relatively good condition leading investigators to believe that it had been dropped in sometime very recently. It was unknown whether the missing Electra had carried a life raft. Following the disappearance the CAA was attacked by the board chairman of the Corporation Aircraft Owner's Association. The board chairman, Cole H. Morrow of Racine, wanted to know why the CAA had delayed installing radar at Mitchell Field; the airport had radar equipment but had yet to install it - at the time of the reports the equipment had been sitting for three months in crates before a CAA technician started installing everything "on his own." As of December 31, 1952, the radar equipment was still not available at Milwaukee's Mitchell Field. No wreckage of the Lockheed Electra was every found or recovered.


December 21, 1938 postcard showing NC14981 (aviapc.com)

Marshfield News, Wednesday, December 24, 1952

Wisconsin State Journal, Sunday, December 28, 1952

The La Cross Tribune, Monday, December 29, 1952

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