Serving The Meteorite Community Since 2002

Plane Crash At Meteor Crater Revisited

First, a couple of gratuitous pictures of chondrules are offered so that my article is more meteorite relevant.

An interesting set of enclosed chondules within a larger chondrule all of which are barred olivine types. They all share nearly the same optical orientation and are seen here photographed in crossed polars with them rotated just out of extinction. The thin section was made by the author and is from NWA774.


Here is a fine example of a rimless polysomatic chondrule with several sets of parallel olivine bars. Each set having its own optical orientation. Cole Creek was the meteorite source of the wonderful chondrule.


The Plane Crash Revisited

Sometimes authors wonder if anyone really reads what they write. It is wonderful when you heard from a reader that they have enjoyed or learned something from what was written. Only occasionally does a reader contact me but, it is usually interesting when they do. I never stop being amazed by what can happen in our online world. With just a few words in a search engine you can find information on anything. Most of what I write is about meteorites or tektites and probably too often about Meteor Crater. My words are focused at the small world of those interested in meteorites. But the search engines make everything universally available. You never know who may find an article or why they had an interest in it.

Back in February 2003 my article was on the light plane crash in Meteor Crater. I had researched what was available in the FAA database and found out a lot more than I had known before so I shared it in Meteorite Times. On the anniversary of the accident this year I got an email that was to open up the crash story again with a lot more information. The children of the pilot wrote me very nice emails that began about a week of correspondence. They had read the article which they thought was pretty accurate compared to some of the newspaper articles. They shared much more information with me.

So this month I will expand the story of the plane crash with this new information and add the material the family members have been so gracious to contribute.


Most of the time I enjoy the work that I do for a living. But, it is still work and often hard. Not everyone gets to do something for a living mainly just for the love of doing it. But, that would seem to have been the case for Capt. John L. Kidd an American Airlines pilot. Both Jolle Wall his daughter and Dave Kidd his son made a point of mentioning their father’s great love for flying in their emails to me. The owner of a Cessna 182 himself, Captain Kidd would on occasion ferry new planes from the factory in Witchita to the dealership of a friend in Los Angeles. Doing it just because of his enjoyment of flying. That was what he was doing on the fateful day over Meteor Crater. Flying at high altitude for work was replaced with flying close to the earth when he flew for himself. Riding with Captain Kidd was another pilot Gary Chapin who had been waiting to dead-head back to Los Angeles. He was happy to go along. The two men did not know each other prior to this trip.

The plane took off from Winslow after being refueled on August 8, 1964 and since the crater is only a few miles away must have had its trouble begin very soon. The two-seater plane; the smallest of the Cessnas heavy with fuel flew over Meteor Crater. There the hot thin air caused a loss of lift and the plane went into the bowl of the crater. This was not a sightseeing tour. The intent of their dad the children relates was only to fly over the crater. Now caught in the crater Captain Kidd attempts to gather up enough speed to make it out over the rim. But, the heavy plane and thin hot air seem to prevent that. As a personal note from my own time in the crater bottom I would expect it to be difficult to get going very fast in only the half-mile plus diameter near the crater floor. The two men circle in this battle for lift till the accident happens as the plane completely stalls.

Both men were very seriously injured in the crash. Captain Kidd is unconscious and it was as Jolle relates “touch and go” for her dad. What an interesting way to put it since that is also a flying expression. Gary Chapin dragged Captain Kidd from the plane which soon caught fire after the crash despite the fact his own back was broken. Just remarkable in this writer’s opinion. The fire melted the cockpit and central fuselage in moments.

Captain Kidd recovered from his injuries and returned to American Airlines to fly again. Even flying the 747 before the end of his career. He and Gary became close friends after the accident. Captain Kidd passed away in June of 2003 at the age of 90 years. Gary Chapin is still alive. Daughter Jolle was married with a new baby at the time of the accident and did not go to the crash site. However, her brothers Dave and Doug did go to Arizona with their mother. Both boys were high school age at the time. Dave who describes his memories of the crash site as vivid, sent me an old photograph of the wreckage which they investigated a few days after the accident. Seen in the photo is his brother Doug. When compared to my photo of what remains today on the crater floor it shows much of the plane.

I won’t say that this is the final word on the plane crash that I will write. But, it has been a wonderful chance to learn and connect with this historic event. My thanks to Jolle Wall and Dave Kidd for sharing the details of their father’s flight. When I visit the crater again I will have more to think about as I hunt in the morning sun for the glint of light off the small length of fuselage still at the bottom.

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