There are many stories hidden in the past, due to old memories or lack of interest. The following story needs to see the light of day. The following is a compilation of articles from KIRO news and other news sources.
Submitted by Lee Corbin
I took it upon myself to share this story even though Lee is not a RNPA member. Though there is a solicitation in this story, reflect on what was and how too honor those that came before us. Your call………
What happened to Flight 293?
BY FELIKS BANEL
Reporting live from Seattle's past
“Because of a lack of evidence the Board is unable to determine the cause of this accident.”
That was the final word from the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) on Northwest Airlines Flight 293.
Flight 293 was a DC-7C charter carrying 101 people that left McChord Air Force Base (now part of JBLM) around 8:30 am on June 3, 1963, 53 years ago this week. The plane was headed for Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska, but it never arrived.
Something apparently went wrong about two-and-a-half hours out of Tacoma. The four-engine propeller plane plunged from 14,000 feet and crashed into the Pacific Ocean 116 miles south-southwest of Annette Island, Alaska. No survivors were ever located. Searchers recovered only minimal human remains and about 1,500 pounds of floating wreckage. Like more recent disappearances over water of jetliners from Europe and Asia, the mystery of what happened to Flight 293 has never been solved.
In the CAB’s Aircraft Accident Report, the Northwest Airlines crew members on Flight 293 were listed as Captain Albert F. Olsen; First Officer Donald R. Wenger; Flight Engineer Kenneth A. Larson; Steward Donald K. Schaap; Stewardess Joan V. Morris; and Stewardess Patricia L. Moran.
In the 53 years since Flight 293 disappeared, little has been written about the crash or about the passengers and crew who were lost, many of whom had connections to the Pacific Northwest. The passengers on the flight were mostly Army and Air Force personnel and their dependents, heading to new assignments in Alaska.
Oddly enough, a similar Northwest Airlines charter flight, also known as Flight 293, had been forced to ditch near Sitka, Alaska in October 1962. All 102 people aboard that plane survived.
Within a period of less than a year, two identical airliners took off from McChord Air Force Base near Tacoma – now JBLM – headed for Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska. Both were military charters operated by Northwest Airlines, and both were known as Flight 293. Each carried active-duty Air Force and Army personnel, along with spouses and children.
One Flight 293 took off on Oct. 22, 1962; the other took off on June 3, 1963. The type of aircraft for both flights was a DC-7C, a four-engine, propeller-driven airliner. Neither reached its destination.
That flight disappeared into the water not far from Ketchikan, Alaska, with 101 passengers and crew on board. Very little debris was found, and no cause for the crash was ever determined. Led by a Maple Valley man named Greg Barrowman, who lost his brother Bruce on the flight, an informal group of family and friends of the June 1963 Flight 293 has kept in touch by phone over the past several years and shared their stories with KIRO Radio. They hope to create a memorial at JBLM and are still seeking answers about what happened to that flight.
Eight months earlier, the Flight 293 of October 1962 also ended dramatically in the waters off Alaska. But, miraculously, all 101 passengers and crew aboard that flight survived.
Steve Pouliot – pronounced “POOL-yacht” – is 60 and lives in Tampa, Florida. He was doing some online research and came across the earlier MyNorthwest stories about the June 1963 crash.
“My dad was on that flight in October , and my dad never talked about that our whole life,” Pouliot told KIRO Radio recently. “He always said, ‘Yeah, we ditched in the ocean on the way to Alaska’ or whatever, and that’s about all I knew about it.”
The younger Pouliot came across an old newspaper clipping 20 years ago, but he says his father Richard Pouliot was never much interested in talking about his experience aboard the October 1962 Flight 293. But that’s changed recently.
“My dad is 87 in a nursing home now, and he lived with me for eight months last year,” Steve Pouliot said. “And he’s starting to tell a story he never told.”
Nowadays, Richard Pouliot and his wife Joanne live in Minneapolis in an assisted living facility. In October 1962, he was 28 years old and was a fighter jet navigator in the Air Force. Both Richard Pouliot and Joanne Pouliot were born and raised in Minnesota, and at that time, their family consisted of four young kids.
The elder Pouliot left Minneapolis on a Sunday, headed to a new assignment in Alaska that meant leaving his family behind for most of a year. For the final northward leg of the trip, Pouliot flew out of McChord Air Force Base just before 9 a.m. on the morning of Monday, Oct. 22 – which, incidentally, was the day after the Seattle World’s Fair had ended.
There were 95 passengers and seven civilian crew members from Northwest Airlines on board Flight 293 that October. Along with his own gear, Richard Pouliot was traveling with a bag of classified documents – which was just part of the job when you fly for the Air Force – and which he supervised while the bag was stowed safely in the luggage compartment of the airliner.
Takeoff from McChord was routine, with the prop plane gradually climbing thousands of feet into the cloudy autumn skies above the Pacific Northwest and heading north. The DC-7C had been in the air for about three hours and had just climbed to 20,000 feet when a voice on the intercom said that there was a problem.
“I don’t remember the exact words, but they told us we had a runaway propeller and we kind of knew what that was,” Richard Pouliot told KIRO Radio. “It was on the left inboard engine, and they said that the propeller really winds up and it gets quite hot and it can either tear off, and hopefully tear off free and get out of there without doing anything, or it could chop into the good engine on the left, which means we only had two on the right side, or it could chop into the fuselage, which means your controls to the rear are all taken care of.”
In this case, the phrase “all taken care of” – in the words of a seasoned civilian flyer and longtime military aviator – mean completely wiped out. Investigators later blamed a malfunctioning supercharger for the failed engine and “overspeeding,” or dangerously out of control, propeller.
With no rear controls “you kind of fly like a rock,” Pouliot said. With this imminent threat from the runaway propeller – spinning out of control and getting dangerously hot – the pilot of the airliner took fast action.
The plane “immediately started to descend, to get right down close to the water, … I’d say maybe 500 feet, something like that,” Pouliot said.
At this point, the plane was north of Annette Island, and reaching the nearest airport would have required flying over mountains. The decision was made by the pilots to fly only over the water to reach an airport farther away.
The pilots radioed for help, and the steward and two stewardesses aboard prepped the passengers for a water landing. They gave everyone “Mae West” life vests and told them how to brace for impact. They moved passengers out of the danger zone where the propeller might tear through the cabin. This meant that Richard Pouliot – sitting near the back of the plane — had another passenger sitting on the floor between his feet.
For the next 45 minutes or so, the plane headed north over the water toward the airport at Gustavus, near Glacier Bay.
They didn’t make it.
“The prop never did tear off, but the engine just completely burst into flames,” Pouliot said. “And the movement through the air brings those flames back over the wing, and the wing is where the fuel tanks are. Anyway, soon as we caught fire, why, we were down there close enough to the water that [the pilot] just pulled the throttles back, I think made about a 45-degree turn to the left, and set it down.”
The landing consisted of two thumps – initial contact with the choppy water, and then one more impact.
“We did have one heck of a big jolt,” Pouliot said. “And then the airplane actually bounced and we had a second big jolt and then came to a stop.”
Remarkably, within five minutes, even as water began filling the cabin, the 95 passengers and seven crewmembers had all evacuated and climbed into five inflatable life rafts.
On board the raft he’d jumped into from the rear door of the plane, Richard Pouliot was just sitting back, relaxing, and counting his blessings.
First, he found a dye packet in the raft and dumped it in the water to mark the crash site in case there was to be a search for the classified documents. Then, he had to find the knife in the raft’s emergency kit so he could reach over and cut a rope from the raft that a crew member had tied to one of the airliner’s seats – so the raft wouldn’t float away during evacuation.
“I reached down and cut that rope that was tying us to the airplane so we could get the heck away from it,” Pouliot said.
How did it feel for this seasoned Air Force aviator to get through that low-altitude flight, the water landing, and rapid evacuation?
“If I can use a colloquial old fighter-type analogy,” Pouliot said, hesitatingly slight but then chuckling, “your butt-end sucks up a little seat cushion.”
The evacuation, Pouliot said, was actually smooth and fairly uncomplicated. And he credits the skill of the pilot for executing a safe landing, and the crew for being well-prepared.
“Everybody resigned themselves to following instructions, … crew members were by the other doors, and you had an exit over the wing,” Pouliot said. “The last ones out of there were actually standing in a couple feet of water on top of the wing, and they were able to float the raft right up over the wing so they could step in.”
As the entire cohort of 102 passengers and crew were sitting in the rafts in moderate swells in the chilly water – this was about 23 minutes after the plane touched down, and about 18 minutes after everyone had evacuated – the DC-7C had gotten pretty low in the water. Then it pulled a bit of a “Titanic” move.
The aircraft was “sitting there with just the dome of the top of the fuselage and the tail showing,” Pouliot said. “All of a sudden, the nose goes down, the tail comes way straight up out of the water, and then plane went straight down.”
With 45 minutes between Flight 293’s first MAYDAY and its ditching in the ocean, it didn’t take long for everyone to be rescued. First on the scene was a 50-foot wooden boat called FEDAIR I. It was owned and operated by the FAA, as a supply boat for the FAA navigation aids facility on nearby Biorka Island. Remarkably, the FEDAIR I – renamed “Biorka” – is still afloat, though now in private hands.
From the FEDAIR I, the passengers and crew transferred shortly after to the Coast Guard Cutter SORREL, which took them to Sitka, about 20 miles away.
Richard Pouliot was given access to a phone right away to report the missing classified documents, and he was also able to call his wife and let her know that he was OK. Later that evening, resting at the hospital in Sitka, the group of Flight 293 passengers watched President Kennedy on TV announcing the presence of Soviet missile bases in Cuba. This was the height of the Cold War, after all, which Pouliot and his military colleagues were all well aware of.
Within a few days, Richard Pouliot and the others finally made it Elmendorf Air Force Base, and he began his new assignment in Alaska. It was about eight months later, when he was back at the base and witnessed a flurry of activity that indicated something unusual had happened. He then learned about the missing Flight 293.
In the years since, Pouliot and his wife have often remarked on the similarities and one very stark difference between the two flights.
“We’ve said that many times I think, right, Jo?” – Pouliot said, addressing his wife who was sitting nearby while he spoke to KIRO Radio – “’Glad you were on the first one and not the second one,’ or something like that?”
Richard Pouliot continued with his Air Force career and retired in 1978. And while the experience as a passenger aboard Flight 293 was clearly not a major defining event in his life – and something he only reluctantly talks about – he says memories of that long-ago October experience have sometimes come up over the years.
He, of course, couldn’t help but see the similarities between his flight and the “Miracle on the Hudson” of 2009, and he acknowledges that his own water landing sometimes comes to mind while traveling by jetliner to visit family in Florida.
“We would fly into Florida to Tampa,” Pouliot said. “And on a direct route, I believe you kind of cut over Tampa Bay there and the Gulf, so it has crossed my mind, yes. And actually, as a matter of fact, it was more comforting to know that the water was there, because if you had to go down, I’d much rather and go into the water then go on land where there was no airport.”
Memories of the ditching came up much earlier, too, when, not long after his assignment in the far north ended, he was asked to crew a fighter plane on a delivery flight to Vietnam, via Hawaii and Guam. That meant crossing a lot of open water.
“You had those thoughts in the back of your mind,” Pouliot said. “But I guess I felt somehow I needed to prove to myself that I could still do it.”
Safety equipment on the fighter jet offered some reassurance.
“If you went out there and ejected [from the plane], you did have in your survival kit a one-man raft,” Pouliot said.
“But it was a big ocean,” Pouliot said. “And yes, it crossed my mind.”
Now, on the eve of the 55th anniversary of the disappearance, a small group of family and friends of some of the 101 people lost on the flight are building new hope to find closure.
On the morning of June 3, 1963, a Northwest Airlines DC-7 — a four-engine propeller airliner — left McChord Air Force Base, which is now part of JBLM. The flight was a military charter with a civilian crew with a total of 101 people aboard, mostly Army and Air Force personnel and their families headed to Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska.
Flight 293 crashes
A little more than two hours after leaving McChord — north of Haida Gwai (or what used to be called Queen Charlotte Island) in the waters off Southeast Alaska near Annette Island — the plane crashed into 8,000 feet of water. Prior to the crash, there were no distress calls, and no one on the ground witnessed the plane striking the water.
There were no survivors and no bodies recovered, and only about 1,500 pounds of floating debris was found floating on the surface. With no wreckage and no witnesses – and since this was in the days before modern cockpit voice and data recorders – the cause of the crash was never determined.
The disappearance of a large passenger aircraft, unfortunately, is not something unfamiliar in 2018. Coincidentally, it was just announced yesterday that the final exhaustive search has been called off for Flight MH370 – the Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 that vanished somewhere between Australia and India more than four years ago.
And, searching for long-lost aircraft is something that still captures imaginations, even decades after planes vanish.
Over Memorial Day Weekend, the New York Times featured a story about the work of a group called Project Recover. The non-profit organization partners with the military to locate and identify wreckage of lost aircraft and help bring closure to families whose relatives were previously considered missing in action.
In the story about Project Recover, the efforts of a family to determine what happened to an uncle who was lost in the Pacific during World War II in a B-24 bomber eventually led to the aircraft’s discovery in the waters of Papua New Guinea. A highlight of the piece is the closure this discovery brought to family members, including a niece who burst into tears at the news, though she had never met her uncle and wasn’t even born yet when he died in 1944.
The people left behind
In 2017, KIRO Radio first spoke with two people who had personal connections to Flight 293 — people who actually knew and remembered some of those lost 55 years ago — and reached out again in advance of this year’s anniversary.
Susan Francis lives in southern California.
Susan was an only child, and she said late last week that Rayma “Jody” Whipkey was her best friend. Jody had even lived with Susan’s family for a while, and the two were like sisters. In the spring of 1963, they were both 16 years old and living in El Paso, Texas when Jody’s father got transferred to Alaska.
Jody and her family were all lost aboard Flight 293, and Susan was crushed.
Does it get any easier to cope with the loss of her friend 55 years ago?
“You know, it doesn’t ever get to be OK, it just gets to be, after all these years, just commonplace,” Susan Francis said.
“It just happened and there’s nothing you can do about it. But I don’t think of her any less. I’ve moved on with life . . . I’m not swallowed up by this, but Jody was a very significant part of my first 16 years of life,” Francis said.
“And she’s still very much a part of my heart now.”
KIRO Radio also spoke last year with Greg Barrowman of Maple Valley.
Greg Barrowman was just nine years old and living in Renton when his 17-year old brother Bruce Barrowman headed north to Alaska for his first Army posting.
Barrowman said late last week that the loss of his brother hit the family hard, and he feels that loss more keenly around Memorial Day – and the anniversary of Flight 293 that comes just a few days later.
“The reaction in my heart is to grieve for the loss of not only my brother, but all those that paid homage and honor to serve our great country,” Barrowman said.
Many years ago, Barrowman built a private memorial to his brother in his backyard. He’s also reached out several times to elected officials and to the Department of Defense asking for their help to locate and recover whatever might be left of Flight 293.
Searching for Flight 293
It wasn’t long after the anniversary last year that Greg heard from Representative Dave Reichert’s office. Reichert’s staff received a letter in late June 2017 from the Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Operations Division at Fort Knox, Kentucky.
“I was hopeful when I contacted [the Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency] and had various conversations from the Pacific as well as the national organization,” Barrowman said. “[But] I was told that my request didn’t fall within the exact guidelines.”
“While the 58 servicemen [aboard Flight 293] were all on active duty, they didn’t qualify because it was in a Cold War situation, and wasn’t really a legitimate conflict,” Barrowman said.
“Which I would say, in turn, I would disagree,” he said.
The letter from June 2017 told Representative Reichert that the Army wasn’t going to search for the lost plane.
Why is Flight 293 – with living survivors who actually are old enough to recall those who were lost – now seemingly forgotten and largely ignored while efforts to recover World War II aircraft seem to be increasing?
Was it because the plane was a civilian airliner serving as a military charter, and thus it doesn’t generate the same sense of heroism or sacrifice as would a purely military aircraft?
Or, when a service member died while on active duty during the Cold War – a fairly complicated era in American history that lacks decisive battles and iconic battlefields – does it somehow not entitle the survivors to the same kind of searches for closure that other families who lost people in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and more recent conflicts take for granted?
Flight 293 Memorial
Whatever the answer to these questions, Greg Barrowman and Susan Francis have been in contact with each other over the past year to talk about Flight 293 and remember their loved ones. In the past few months, they’ve created a modest organization and a website called Flight 293 Memorial in order to build a community around the loss they share, and to create some kind of hope to find closure for themselves and others.
Barrowman and Francis are convinced that there must be others like them who lost family or friends aboard Flight 293, and they want to connect with as many like-minded people as they can.
The two believe it’s a numbers game. That is, the more names of survivors and stories about the people who were lost that they can gather, the better the families and friends of Flight 293 can make the case for a search to elected officials – in multiple Congressional Districts and to the Defense Department, or even to Project Recover or maybe the closer-to-home underwater exploration initiatives of Paul Allen.
Susan Francis says seeking closure by using modern technology to search for Flight 293 – even in 8,000 feet of water – just makes sense.
“I don’t think I’m the only one in the world who really has a deep sense of loss even though so many years have passed,” Francis said. “And I think the reason to do something like that, to form some kind of community or reach out and communicate with people is because, I just have to say, it is the right thing to do for those that are lost.”
“It’s the right thing to do to honor them,” Francis said.
Greg Barrowman agrees.
“It’s now 55 years later,” Barrowman said. “And here we sit, trying to look back on a discovery that would resolve a lot of questions, as well as give some type of peace of mind.”
Help Spread the Word
If you lost someone aboard Flight 293, please visit Flight 293 Memorial to connect with Greg Barrowman and Susan Francis. Or, if you have access via social media to groups of aviation enthusiasts or to veterans or military family organizations, please share this story and ask others to do the same.