Lockheed Electra 10A 1024 was delivered on May 25, 1935 to Northwest Airlines with registration NC14935. By December of the following year the aircraft had been placed on the airline's scheduled trip No. 1 from Chicago to Seattle with stops in St. Paul and Missoula.
December 18, 1936, NC14935 had delayed departure from Chicago and St. Paul because of adverse head winds and therefore arrived in Missoula at 12:28 A.M. PST. The aircraft had only two people onboard; Pilot Joe Livermore and Co-pilot Arthur A. Haid and 500 pounds of mail. At 12:33 AM PST the Northwest Airlines company dispatcher at Missoula cleared the flight on to Spokane with contact flying. The pilots were told that instrument flying was to be expected over part of the route and arrangements were made with dispatchers in Spokane to authorize instrument flying should the crew find it necessary or preferable. Minutes later Flight 1 returned to Missoula where it climbed through the overcast just southwest of the airport and proceeded towards Spokane.
1:24 AM, Flight 1 reported it was flying the west leg of the Missoula radio range at 15,400 feet, just above the overcast layer, and was receiving a twilight "A" signal. According to the Department of Commerce's report, "The twilight 'A' signal would indicate that the airplane at this time was flying south of the proper instrument course."
Over the next twenty minutes, at 1:34 and 1:44, the Spokane radio station tried unsuccessfully to contact Flight 1; it was considered unalarming as most assumed the crew were occupied with the flight. Just before 2 o'clock NC14935 radioed in the report that they were not receiving range signals, and that the aircraft had started to accumulate ice; Livermore and Haid requested Spokane radio personnel to listen for them over the range station. Spokane responded that that plane could not be heard and that an investigation of the range showed it to be functioning normally. Several minutes went by and at 2:02 Livermore came on the radio reporting to be flying over a large town, indicated to them by a large group of lights and requested Spokane to check their position. Joe Livermore felt they were over the town of Kalispell, Montana (which lies 93 miles north and just west of Missoula), however Spokane replied that the flight was not there.
While officials in Spokane were still trying to locate the flight by calling different towns they though the aircraft might be. The telephone operator in Elk River, Idaho, hearing an airplane circling over head for a period of time and believing there may be difficulty contacted Spokane who immediately identified the aircraft as Flight 1 and at 2:57 radio personnel contact Livermore to let them know they were flying over Elk River, just 25 miles east of Moscow, Idaho.
At 3:00 AM Spokane requested that the crew fly west until they intercepted the south leg of the Spokane range. Eleven minutes later the pilot came on again to report that they were approaching the south leg of the Spokane range and wanted to know what weather they could expect. The weather was given to the crew and Livermore next requested that other range stations should be silenced as the plane was currently receiving interference from other stations. At 3:19 the Electra reported that it was on course on the south leg of the Spokane range and headed north, no further word was ever received from the aircraft.
At some point between 3 and 3:20 Mrs. Betty Young in Butte, Montana, just before heading to bed, turned on her short wave set and began to hear conversation that made her grab a notebook and write. She later pieced everything together as best she could. The Montana Standard printed that report as follows:
"Seventy-speaking. I'm 8,000 feet. Lots of light. Where are we?"
Ten minutes later: "Where are we?"
Spokane: "Checking, 71."
Livermore: "Could I be over Corvallis?"
Spokane: "Going to check west." Livermore: "Could it be Cheney or Newport." Spokane: Got call into Newport. We should be able to see your ship. Can you give any more information what you see?"
Livermore: "What do you think about coming down another thousand? What do you think about putting call into Sand Point?"
(The pilot was evidently suggesting a telephone call to the airport at Sand Point, asking attendants there to watch the skies.)
Spokane: "Have call in. Nothing this side of Sand Point or Davenport. Checking St. Mary's now and all points east."
Spokane then called Missoula and asked the operator there to check stations further east.
Livermore: "Rush it! Hard time to hold our own."
Spokane: "Okay, Joe. Nothing north."
Livermore: "Found out anything?"
Spokane: "Could you give us the main street, the way the lights run and give description?"
The Spokane operator was evidently referring to Livermore's previous message that he could see "lots of light." The town proved to be Elk River.
Livermore: "Repeat, 71."
Missoula then attempted to talk with the lost pilot: "Seventy-one, go ahead." Livermore apparently did not get it.
Seattle: "No report."
Livermore: "Hurry up, hurry up! Leaving now. What have you found out? Losing altitude. There should be towns in a radius of every hundred miles here."
Spokane: "All right, Joe."
Spokane then asked the operator at Spokane Range; "Have you been able to read at all?" (Meaning, had he been able to pick up Livermore's massages. [sic])
Livermore: "Gas fuel 10 minutes. Anything doing yet? (Very shaky voice). Can't stand it much longer; all I can do to keep this in tact."
Spokane: "I checked Missoula and Polson. You don't seem to be there." Livermore: "Call Coolidge Dam." Spokane: "Checking dam." Livermore then asked the location of Spokane Range.
Spokane: "You are over Elk River, Idaho, just east of Moscow, southeast of Spokane."
Livermore: "How long have I been over Elk River?"
Spokane: "The last hour."
Livermore: "How far to the range? ... Pendleton is how far?"
Spokane: "Comes in on 80 on your dial. Fly west, except Pendleton range." Livermore: "Okay. Has Pendleton North Lake or is it shorter to Spokane? Leaving Spokane Range, give us conditions."
(Spokane then complied with his last request, giving elevation and ceiling.)
Livermore: (After lapse of several minutes) "North now; on course at present."
Nothing more was heard from the crew of Flight 1. An hour of the last reported message, at 4:19 AM, M. T. Olmstead, of the forest service station at Calder, reported to having seen a transport plane flying low and in distress. The area reported by Olmstead is 30-40 miles north of Elk River. Olmstead reported:
"I was awakened by the sound of a plane circling. I went outside and saw the ship. I hurried over to get a car to circle a small field, but before I could get the car lights on, the plane disappeared up the river. I did not hear it return, but others say they did. They said the ship flew up the river until it met the Milwaukee train headed for Spokane. Then it turned and followed the train."
Over the course of the next several days search planes flew over the area in search of any sign of the wrecked plane. On December 22, 1936, part of the aircraft was spotted on top of Cemetery Ridge by Lieut. Byron Cooper, pilot, and Sgt. Richard Hylent of the 116th observation squadron, Washington, national guard. The pair reported the wings to be about 200 feet down hill from the fuselage. Unfortunately, a storm blew in that night delaying an attempts at reaching the aircraft and piled more snow on top of the wreck.
Four days later, December 26, the wrecked Northwest Airlines plane was finally discovered by four trappers. "The wreckage was covered with snow and only portions of the fuselage were sticking out," Fred Cunningham, one of the trappers, told a reporter. The wreck was sitting in three to four feet of snow. The scene of the accident revealed that the aircraft had flown into the mountainside in approximately level flight and had caught fire shortly after impact. The bodies of Livermore and Haid were thrown clear of the wreck upon impact. The time of crash was set at 3:23 AM, Livermore's watch had been torn from his wrist on impact and had stopped at that time. Out of the 16 pouches of mail that were carried onboard only seven survived the crash; searchers also discovered a baby's robe which many speculated Haid had been bringing home to his daughter, born only several days before the accident.
An investigation into the accident followed which revealed several things. First, the ceiling at Spokane was well above the minimums for an instrument approach and remained so; there were icing conditions, however, all the evidence gathered indicated that the top of the overcast was not higher than 12,000 feet and therefore the flight could be completed above it. There were lots of errors discovered with the crew's navigational decisions; they flew the wrong side (to the south) of the radio range course, whether by accident or by intention of the pilot to fly straight to Spokane via dead reckoning will never be known. As a result of this the flight was soon off course; failure to correctly identify Elk River from the air worsened the situation. No reason was found as to why, once their location had been given to them, the aircraft flew north out of Elk River instead of flying west as they were directed; it might have been an error in their instruments. Witness testimony from those who heard and saw the plane points to the conclusion that Flight 1, after being told they were over Elk River, tried to complete the flight under the overcast.
"It is the opinion of the Accident Board that the probable cause of this accident was faulty navigation in not following the radio range course upon leaving Missoula and failing to ascend to a safe altitude over the course pursued from Elk River."
Joe Livermore, 34, pilot on Flight 1, was born on March 10, 1902, in Skagit, WA. In the late 1920s and very early 1930s he flew mail for Varney Air Lines and went on to fly with United Airlines from 1929 to 1933 and was stationed in Boise. He was one of several pilots on the Boise-Paco, WA., hop and occasionally flew the Boise-Salt Lake flight. In 1933 Joe was transferred to Spokane when United added twin-engine aircraft to the fleet (possibly the Boeing 247). The following year he transferred to Northwest Airlines. (information from oaklandairfield.org)
Arthur A. Haid, 28, co-pilot on Flight 1, was born in St. Louis; after graduating high school in 1926 Arthur attended Knox College, completing his course in 1930. A year or so later Haid enlisted in the Army Air Corps where he was instructed at Kelly Field, Texas and commissioned as a Lieutenant. He flew in the air mail service but he, along with many other aviators at the time, was mustered out when the United States government discontinued flying the mail in army aircraft. He was later reinstated but resigned to enter the field of commercial aviation. He married in April 1934 and it seems it was around this same time that he went to work for Northwest Airlines. While at Northwest Haid worked as a transport pilot flying between Missoula and Seattle, where he lived. (The St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Wed. December 23, 1936)
While we may never understand why accidents such as these happened we continue to remember and honor these early aviators.
Pilot Joe Livermore, The Spokesman Review, Sat. Dec. 19, 1936
Co-pilot Arthur Haid (vintageimagephotos from eBay)
NC14935 sits in the middle, Boeing Field, Seattle, May 1936 (courtesy of northwestairlineshistory.org)
A photo of the wreck The Spokane Chronicle, Wed Dec. 30, 1936
The Idaho Daily Stateman, Thu Dec. 31, 1936
Aerial photos of the wreck site, The Spokane Chronicle, Sat, Dec. 26, 1936