Thursday, November 13, 2014

Bonanza Airlines plane crash marks 50 years

LAS VEGAS -- Just 18 inches higher and 29 people could have lived. It's was 50 years ago a Bonanza Airlines flight into McCarran from Phoenix clipped the very top of a mountain, crashed and killed everyone on board.

The plane crashed on Nov. 15, 1964 in southwest Las Vegas, just south of Southern Highlands.

A half-century later, pieces of twisted metal, human bones and a plaque mark the site. The plane went down in snowstorm with poor visibility.

Dennis Devitte was only 6 years old when he watched rescue crews remove bodies from the wreck.

"I didn't know at the time what they were. I asked my dad what it was and he told me it was just parts of the plane," Devitte said.

Since then, the crash has stuck in his mind.

"McCarran airport back then was much smaller and they had just the north-south runway," Devitte said. "They were descending, coming in, probably just cleared that mountain top. The people were probably just having a good time, coming to Vegas, doing a little gambling, probably going to stay at the El Rancho."

Investigators said the plane missing clearing the mountain by a mere 18 inches.

"Had they been at least 10 feet higher, they everybody would have survived," Daniel Bubb, an aviation historian.

UNLV administrator, pilot and aviation author Daniel Bubb wrote the book "Landing in Las Vegas: Commercial Aviation and the Making of a Tourist City."

He says, to this day, flights still take similar paths into McCarran but at a much higher altitude.

"Yes, I've flown over that mountain," Bubb said. "You don't think about crashes, but it does kind of stick in the corner of your mind."

He says Bonanza Airlines initially blamed the crash on pilot error. Then Jeppesen, the company that made the altitude charts, settled out of court with the families of the passengers and crew.

The whole event was swept under the rug.

"If you start publishing plane crashes on the front pages of the newspapers, people get scared," Bubb said. "I don't know that there was a cover-up but it wouldn't surprise me if some people did not want that incident to hit the front page."

After scouring the archives we found front page articles about the crash.

But go to places like the aviation museum at McCarran International Airport and you won't find much except for maybe an old photo of the plane before the crash.

For the Las Vegas valley, Bonanza flight 114 is often overshadowed by other crashes in Las Vegas like the one Carole Lombard died in 20 years earlier.

During its years of operation, Bonanza Airlines only had that one fatal crash.

Story and Photo Gallery:

NTSB Identification: Unknown
14 CFR Part 121 Scheduled operation of BONANZA AIR LINES INC
Aircraft: FAIRCHILD F-27, registration: N745L
 FILE    DATE          LOCATION          AIRCRAFT DATA       INJURIES       FLIGHT                        PILOT DATA
                                                               F  S M/N     PURPOSE
1-0066  64/11/15   LAS VEGAS NEV       FAIRCHILD F-27      CR-  3  0  0  SCHED DOM PASSG SRV       ATP,FLIGHT INSTR., AGE
        TIME - 2025                    N745L               PX- 26  0  0                            41, 11171 TOTAL HOURS,
                                       DAMAGE-DESTROYED    OT-  0  0  0                            4055 IN TYPE, INSTRUMENT
        TYPE OF ACCIDENT                                         PHASE OF OPERATION

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