by Jim Tobin

 

The Last Crash
 

Paul gave me a beautiful poster he made for Christmas. It is composed of pictures from one of our vacations to Meteor Crater. A thought came to me as I looked at it. I had never tried to find information about the most recent impact into Meteor Crater. As many of you know a light plane crashed at Meteor Crater and when the Sun is right you can see a reflection off the small piece of fuselage that remains. Well, I had enough information to learn more. I just wondered how well the government databases would be on old airplane accidents.

 

I went to the FAA site and made a few selections. I soon found myself at the accident synopsis database query page. I put in the data I had, which included the serial number of the plane and a rough date range. I made the guess that it would have been listed under Winslow, Arizona as the location. Bingo as they say, there it was.

On any given day in the United States there are many aircraft incidents. On August 8, 1964 there were 21. Only one of these was of interest to me. There it was at the top of the list.

There was no mention of Meteor Crater or anything about unusual terrain . No mention of any strange winds or phenomena that might have held the plane in the bowl of the Crater, preventing it from getting out. That has always been one of the guesses people have made. I donít know really why it crashed, for the pilot certainly had plenty of flying experience. In fact he had 19,000 hours of flight time in airline transport. Perhaps it was that he only had 50 hours flight time in the small Cessna 150 type he crashed that day.

The crash was listed as a stall type accident; with the pilot failing to obtain or maintain flying speed as the cause. The harshest condemnation in the report in my opinion are the three words "unwarranted low flying." But, as anyone who loves Meteor Crater can appreciate, it must have been tempting to get just a little closer to the floor. Oh the joy and rapture to make circles within the interior. I can just imagine the wall enclosing around them as they dipped down inside.

Most of the wreckage was removed, by helicopter. Some went down one of the shafts in the crater center. There was a fire after the impact. I guess that may be one of the similarities with the impact that formed the crater. The plane was listed as destroyed by its impact. So was most of the asteroid.

No one knows the time of day the asteroid hit the flat plain of central Arizona. Nininger described it once as happening at night. I have described it fancifully several different ways. But, we know when the small plane hit the ground. It was 1400 hours.

No one was killed in the crash of the Cessna 150. I am sure that the several megatons of energy released in excavating the crater left many creatures not so lucky. Next time you visit Meteor Crater if the Sun is right you may just see a glint of light on the western floor near the foot of the talus. That is just about all that remains to remind us of this more recent impact that happened there. I have seen the remains close up but, not actually seen them from the museum on the north rim. They are dwarfed by the immensity of the Crater itself. But, looking back at pictures greatly enlarged I can find the plane on some. Next time I go to the crater, I am going to try harder to see the remains from the museum.

Till next time