Alan Cass' Accident Summary sheet for : Medicine Bow Peak DC-4
The following detailed information is compiled by Alan Cass from several sources.
Aircraft Accident Information Sheet
6 October 1955 (Thursday)
7:26 a.m. MST (Average time from 3 watches and the aircraft clock) (CAB Accident Report Investigation - Ron Miller)
Civilian. Douglas DC-4 (Douglas C-54 Military). United Airlines Flight #409.
N30062 (Ser. #18389)
Silver finish with usual United Airlines markings (red, white and blue).
41 deg. 20 33.3 N. and 106 deg. 19 23.0 W. (this site is on the debris field on a rockslide below the actual impact point on the cliff face above the site)(Ron Millers GPS). Melt water from this rockslide drains into a small lake just west of Lookout lake. I unofficially named this little unnamed lake, Lake 409 after the United Flight Number for this flight.
(3) Crew and (63) passengers for a total of 66 killed. There were 2 infants and 19 military personnel on board. Largest loss of life in a commercial aircraft accident to date.
Capt. Clinton C. Cooke, Jr., 34, pilot, from Menlo Park, CA. 12 years of service with UAL.
First Officer Ralph D. Salisbury, Jr., 33, co-pilot, from Palo Alto, CA.
Patricia D. Shuttleworth, 22, stewardess, from Salt Lake City, UT.
United Flight #409 originated in New York City on Wednesday, 5 October 1955 at 7:10 p.m. It stopped at Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago and Omaha before reaching Denver at 5:51 a.m., Thursday morning (1 hour and 11 minutes late due to bad weather along the route). The next stop would be Salt Lake City before flying on to San Francisco. Flight crew changes were made at Chicago and Denver.
No abnormalities in the aircraft were noted by the crews on their arrival at Chicago and Denver. (CAB Accident Report Investigation - Ron Miller)
11 persons boarded the plane in Denver at Stapleton Airport.
The aircraft was refueled with 1,000 gallons of gasoline. (CAB Accident Report Investigation - Ron Miller)
Capt. Cooke was briefed by the United dispatcher regarding the en route weather conditions provided by the U.S. Weather Bureau and company meteorologists forecasts and analysis. He was instructed to fly the normal flight route, cruising at 10,000 feet altitude, VFR (Visual Flight Rules). (CAB Accident Report Investigation - Ron Miller)
Because the DC-4 was unpressurized, the crews rarely flew above 10,000 feet because the high altitude caused discomfort and airsickness problems for the passengers.
Navigation would be via Airways V-4, V-118, V-6 and V-32. The ETA, Salt Lake City was 2 hours, 33 minutes. Their only required reporting point along this route was Rock Springs, Wyoming. (CAB Accident Report Investigation -Ron Miller)
Flight #409 left Denvers Stapleton Field at 6:33 a.m. The gross weight of the aircraft was 64,147 pounds, 653 pounds under the allowable weight of 64,800 pounds. An error of 100 pounds in excess of the allowable rear baggage compartment weight was made in loading. The investigation later noted that this minor error had no bearing on the accident. (CAB Accident Report Investigation - Ron Miller)
After takeoff, Capt. Cooke radioed his time of departure to United and it was the last radio transmission heard from the flight. (CAB Accident Report Investigation - Ron Miller)
At 8:11 a.m., when Flight #409 failed to report at Rock Springs, repeated efforts were made to contact the aircraft. United then reported an emergency to be in effect and a search was started by the Wyoming National Guard, the Civil Air Patrol and United Airlines. (CAB Accident Report Investigation - Ron Miller)
Fresh snow had fallen on the peak Wednesday night prior to the crash. (Combined news sources)
When the plane crashed into cliff on Medicine Bow Peak, Wyoming, 40 miles west of Laramie, the weather was clear except for clouds surrounding the peak. Estimated speed of the aircraft at impact was 240 mph. (Combined news sources)
The first person to spot the wreckage was Capt. Mel Conine, Wyoming National Guard jet pilot. With Conine was Col. E. R. Weed, also with the Wyoming National Guard. They could only get as close as 1,000 yards of the wreckage because of the turbulent winds.
Crash site is 1/2 mile north of Lake Marie near Wyoming State Highway 130.
Five of the passengers were members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir from Salt Lake City, Utah and were returning home from a concert tour of Europe. 379 members of the famous choir and more than 200 friends and relatives left Salt Lake in August. They also took part in the dedication of a new LDS temple in Switzerland. Many members of the choir had already returned to Salt Lake following their last concert in Paris. These ladies remained behind for private tours or to visit with European friends.
One of the searchers (Vance Lucas of Buffalo, Wyoming) climbed to the top of the cliff where he found bits of wreckage, scattered mail, a mans topcoat and part of the planes instrument panel.
A temporary morgue was setup at the University of Wyoming Science camp west of Centennial, Wyoming and 7 miles east of the crash site.
Carbon County Sheriff, John Terrell was the first authority to organize the search and recovery effort. (Rocky Mountain News - 10/7/55)
Later, Sheriff Terrell gave permission to United Airlines to take charge of the recovery effort. J. A. Herlihy, vice president in charge of engineering and maintenance, San Francisco, then led the search and recovery. (Rocky Mountain News - 10/7/55)3
Later, Dick Petty, vice president in charge of flight operations was in charge of search and rescue.
The Red Cross team was headed by Joe Mullins, Vera Campbell and Bill Foster. They provided logistical support and victim family housing in Laramie. (Rocky Mountain News - 10/7/55)
Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) investigators were:
The first two bodies identified were the infants:
It was determined that the plane was 25 miles off its established course when it crashed.
24 bodies were recovered from the crash site on Sunday, October 9th. A total of 36 victims had been recovered by then. 20 sighted bodies remained along with 10 missing.
On Monday, October 10th, it was reported that all of the 66 victims bodies had been removed from the crash site by nightfall. It was also reported that all had also been identified.
Of the 21 servicemen on board, 17 were inductees headed for basic training in Oakland, California. Bodies of the military victims were shipped to Cheyenne.
Two of the victims were from Boulder:
Charles Misner, of Boulder, was in the wrong place at the wrong time. At the Air Force induction center in Denver while undergoing processing earlier in the week, he met two Grand Junction boys and the three struck up an acquaintance. Misner was scheduled to leave Denver for California aboard a 4:30 a.m. flight on Thursday. The other two boys were to leave on the ill-fated 6:30 a.m. flight. Misner went to the transportation officer in Denver and asked to be transferred to the later flight to travel with his two friends. Permission was granted. When the plane was loading in Denver, there wasnt room for all three. Misner got on the plane and the Grand Junction youths were waved off and therefore they missed the flight. (Boulder Daily Camera - 10/7/55)
Additional 9/2009 - Misner's sister Bonnie married a fellow named Sigmunt Williams 2 years later. Sig visited my website and shared this info by email. Bonnie passed away in 2007. Sig is a retired engineer.
An innocent flip of a coin sealed the fate of two couples on the flight. Three executives of the Sylvania Electric Company in Towanda, PA, and their wives were enroute to Salt Lake City. They were to board the plane in Chicago, however, there was room for only two couples so they flipped a coin to see which couple would have to stay behind for a later flight. Mr. & Mrs. Paul Felton lost the coin flipping and lived. The winners of the coin flip were Mr. & Mrs. John B. Merrill and Mr. & Mrs. James E. McGarr, who died. (Boulder Daily Camera -10/7/55)
Young Airman Had Premonition Of His Death CHEBOYGAN, Mich., Oct. 6 (AP)
The mother of a Michigan airman killed Thursday in the crash of an airliner in Wyoming said the youth had a premonition of impending death.Mrs. Richard Ryan of Cheboygan said her 18-year-old son, Lawrence Monk, gave her his Bible early Sunday morning and said, Ill never need it again. Mom, youll never see me again but youll hear about me, the youth told her.
They went to church together Sunday she said.
Monk, en route to Oakland, Calif., enplaned at Willow Run Airport near Detroit.
Monk enlisted in the Air Force June 22. He planned to make it his career, his mother said. This was the first trip home. He arrived Sept. 22 for a 12-day furlough.
Rocky Mountain News - 10/7/55
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Last Modified: 9/5/2009