Details of 1956 Airplane Crash Grand Canyon

1956 Airplane Crash over Grand Canyon In April of 2012 a book with a different view of the deadly 1956 air crash over Grand Canyon was published.  Its author, Mike Nelson, had multiple reasons for researching and writing this remarkable document.  Among them was the fact that his uncle had lost his life in that disaster.  The book introduces new facts and eliminates many misconceptions.

Mike Nelson - Author of We Are Going In
Mike Nelson – Author of “We Are Going In”

There are many online articles detailing the incidents that lead to the crash.  If you haven’t read any of them you may want to consider skimming a couple of them so you are familiar with what is available out there.  Then you may want to purchase Mike’s book and compare it to the views of others.

Northern Arizona University, due to being in close proximity to the crash site, has an extensive collection of photographs and information concerning the crash.

Another article goes into great detail and even includes a map and a list of the crew and passengers who died there.  It shows pictures of both aircraft and the flight plans of both planes as well as a map showing where each crashed.

Mike Nelson’s book does not begin as the articles do; stating facts about the airplanes and how their schedules and flight patterns were so close.  It begins with a personal story about his grandfather and the grief he went through after the death of his son, Jack Groshans.  It will draw you in and make you want to learn the details of the day that became a nightmare for him.  You begin to understand why Mike felt he must write this book.

He says,

” Uncle Jack died in an airplane crash.  On June 30, 1956, a United Air Lines DC-7 and a TWA L-1049 Constellation collided in midair over the Grand Canyon.  Uncle Jack was on the DC-7.  All 128 persons aboard the two planes lost their lives.

This book tells their story.  My attempt is to present a purely factual account.  I have reported the truth as I found it, without altering it for convenience, fluidity, cohesiveness, or dramatic effect. The story in this book is true and is more than dramatic enough and involved enough to be in no need of fictionalizing…”

I haven’t read this book, yet but you can bet it will be one that I will buy soon!  I have long been interested in reading about this tragedy and learning the “truth” will be exciting.

Have you read it?  If you have, please comment about it below.

 

58 Responses

  1. Hello, Sandy. I wasn’t able to be sufficiently concise to respond to the pop up chat window. The Smithsonian Channel televised a program about the 1956 collision. I took a 15 minute break (I’m still at work- it’s just past five EST in my location in Chester County, Pennsylvania, and I was looking for additional information about the tragic accident. Half of me wishes I lived in the era of the piston airliners, while the other half realizes that even with more crowded skies, traveling by air is far safer today. Still, there have been two near misses (or as George Carlin thought they should be named, near collisions) in this country in the past couple of weeks. I began reading about air safety when Rod Sterling’s brother Robert published “Loud and Clear.” I also follow developments in railroad and road safety (no three-point seatbelts in Greyhound buses or school buses- what is the matter with us?). Getting back to air safety, I follow with just as much interest the times when heroic efforts on the part of pilots save lives, such as when Capt. Sullenberger safely ditched in the Hudson and when Capt. Ogg was able to save the lives of the passengers and crew on his Statocruiser about four months after the tragedy over the Grand Canyon, and when the flight crew of an airliner that lost all maneuverability (total hydraulic failure?) And managed to crash landed and save some of the passengers by manipulations of engine speed and other items that still worked. If I recall, there were still flight engineers assigned to the larger airliners, and took all three of the crew to save the lives that were saved. Thank you for the reference to the Mike Nelson book. I will check to see if it is available at our County library. Well, I must get back to work. Thank you for publishing the site.

    1. Zack,
      As it turns out there happens to be a Commemoration coming up on June 30th for the Site being named a National Historic Landmark.
      1956 Mid-Air Crash Commemoration

      I am hoping to be at the Commemoration myself.
      Thanks for reliving this piece of history today.
      Karlyn

      1. I was an engineer in Michigan State highway department in 1956. We had one of the first
        computers in US highways departments a Bendix G-15, We sent two people to
        programming school in LA CA. June 30 1956 was the day they were to travel back
        to Lansing Michigan. We had no idea which flight they would take.
        Needless to say we were all very uneasy all day until they got off the airplane
        at Lansing airport. They said that it was just their good fortune to select a flight
        different that the crash flight.

    2. Thanks for your interest Zack I would be happy to hear from you and I am certain you will find my book fascinating.

      1. To Zack, Karlyn, and any other connected parties,

        The above may be misleading…the website that hosts this forum is not my own, but rather, it belongs to the Families of the 1956 Midair Collision at Grand Canyon.

        My wife wrote the foregoing, and I’m not sure how it ended up here. The impossible mysteries of computers!

        My own website is wearegoingin.com.

        Please feel free to contact me there, or even here, for that matter, and if you do want a copy of the book, you can get one directly from me through my website, if you choose.

        Thanks, Zack

        Sincerely,
        Mike nelson

      2. Mike,

        I have read your book through twice, and I was fascinated by it. I’ve been interested in aviation accidents and their prevention since I read Robert Serling’s “Loud and Clear” in the late 1960s. I have seen two different printings of “We are Going In,” with different covers…as far as I can see, though, the later one is not a updated version. I bought them both anyway!Interestingly enough, my wife and I were married on June 30th, although many years later, in 1984.

        I found it most interesting that you revealed that Capt Shirley’s remains were identifiable, while the rest of the cockpit crew’s bodies were not found. To me, that leads credence to your theory that he was in the cabin at the time of the collision. The maps and pictures were excellent. Were there any books about the recovery of the wreckage in the 1970s? That would be fascinating too. Someday, I plan to visit the Grand Canyon and see the sites that pertain to the accident.

        My deepest sympathy to your family, even after all these years, for the death of your uncle. But I think the changes that accident brought about meant that he and the other victims did not die in vain. Thanks for writing such a good book.

        M

      1. I was also born on June 30,1956., about 12 minutes before this happened if I have the time zones figured right. Never heard about this until I visited the Grand Canyon years ago. Very interesting and such a tragedy.

        Jennifer

    3. I was in a Northwest Orient Airliner flying non stop from Chicago to Seattle and was very, very close to the collision at the time of the fatal collision of these two planes. The NW Orient plane pilot came on the passenger speakers and announced that we were going to divert from our approved flight path and fly over the Grand Canyon. He said that it was against flight rules but that he was going to fly over the Canyon for the passengers to see this great sight. In a very short period of time (maybe one to two minutes) the pilot came back over the speakers and in a shaken voice and he said that we would be resuming our flight to Seattle. He said that two airliners had just collided over the Grand Canyon with the apparent loss of all on board. I remember him naming the two airlines involved. I was flying from my home in the south to catch a military ship bound to Korea. The date, time and location of this tragic accident helps me place myself at a very precise spot in my life. We were at the approximate altitude and very, very close to this incident.

      1. Edward, after reading numerous articles on the Grand Canyon midair collision, I find it fascinating that the pilot knew almost immediately that the TWA/UA accident just happened.
        In 1956 there was no onboard computers or satellites to indicate that an accident had happen.
        Also the crash site hadn’t been discovered until the next day when a Grand Canyon Tour Co. pilot saw the smoke late in the afternoon on June 30th and went back the next morning to investigate and found the remains of the planes.
        Only then it was confirmed.

  2. I have not read the book, but very much want to. My aunt, Alice Emma Meyer, was an off-duty TWA employee flying home to Kansas City on the Constellation.

    1. Hi Timothy,

      I am terribly late in responding to you, and grievously sorry. I didn’t know of your letter until about an hour ago, even though it was posted on the website of the Families’ group to which I belong. (My uncle, Jack Groshans, was one of the victims.)

      I’m very sorry that you lost your aunt. I recognized her name as soon as you “said” it. I remember that she was on the TWA plane, as you said. My uncle was on the United one.

      If you can forgive me for my oversight, you can order a copy of the book I wrote on the accident from my own website, wearegoinin.com.

      I will be happy to correspond with you in any case.

      Sincerely,
      Mike Nelson

      1. Mike Nelson, what do you know of a story by Paul Harvey (and now the rest of the story) about a married couple that had matching engraved wedding bands that were lost at the crash over the Grand Canyon and turned up years later, one at a pawn shop in California. If you could notify me via my email address, [email protected] it would be greatly appreciated. I knew of the terrible incident, then years later I heard this story by Paul Harvey on the radio. The details are vague, however I found this story so fascinating, I would like to get the facts to the story straight, so that I can relay it correctly, I can’t seem to find anyone that knows about it, I am sure it is in the Paul Harvey archives, somewhere, It is just too interesting, not to be, I am not sure, but perhaps you have not heard the story, then in that case, it is all the more mandatory that you know of it, please get back with me and shed some light. Thank You so much

        1. Kathalyn,

          This is fascinating information. I listened to Paul Harvey a lot over the years but I didn’t hear him tell this story. Thanks for contributing to the conversation.

    2. I am obviously replying years later, but my aunt, Janice Mae Heiser, was also an off-duty TWA flight attendant flying home (“dead-heading”, unfortunate term) to Kansas City on the Constellation. I have not read Mike’s book (though now I will get it), but have visited the mass gravesite in Flagstaff and have rafted down the river and seen the crash sites from below. As I recall from reading the articles my grandparents and mother saved, there were quite a few employees and their families on the planes.

      1. Hi Pam, I recently visited the TWA mass grave here in Flagstaff and noticed a couple photos you left of Ms. Heiser. I’ve been researching this accident since 1990 and I was wondering if you could contact me with more information about your Aunt Janice Heiser?

        Thank you,
        Mike McComb

  3. I would love to get a copy of your book and talk to you about the experience I had in the canyon.

  4. Back in 1981 I worked on a very nice, tutone grey, 1957 Ford Fairlane Tudor Sedan. I was amazed at how nice it was, and the low serial number too..100007, The folks brought it in due to a leaky heater core, and as it turned out, I was probably the only guy around that had a new replacement for this car that also had factory air, which was a rarity… I learned this car, ordered in ’56, was purchased with the settlement money the lady received for her daughter who was on the TWA flight. I have thought often of this dear lady and her loss.

  5. Thanks for writing the book. I plan to order it online. My father was on UAL, and I was 9 years old when the accident happened. A big event in my life! I wish I had realized there was an anniversary at the Canyone last year. I was at the North Rim in July. Best to you.

  6. I lived across the street from the Groshans and my father worked with Jack in the regional purchasing office for Lockheed in Cleveland. I was 8 yrs old and was friends with both Claudia and Carol. I remember their mother Joyce was a very beautiful woman. I remember that weekend. A lot of hushed talk at my house and probably in other homes in the neighborhood. It was a very small block in Parma with over 30 kids under the age of 12. Lots of fun. Lots of boomers.
    My father flew regularly to California and needless to say my mother was a wreck. It happened and then they were gone. I think they were from Chicago and I assume they moved back after the tragedy. Not sure if anyone kept in touch. I think I remember seeing newspaper and magazines in the family box of memories. Every time there is an airplane crash I think about it. Lots of years but big influence on a child.

    1. Hi Susan,

      I’m sorry that it took me so long to reply to you. Even though I’m a member of the Families’ group, I did not realize until half an hour ago that this communication forum even existed on our group website.

      It’s incredible to me that you lived right across the street from My Uncle Jack and Aunt Joyce, and their daughters Carol and Claudia (the Groshans family) when the disaster occurred. I would love to correspond with you, since you knew the girls so well, and you experienced the tragedy from as close as you could have, without living across the street in THEIR house.

      Yes, Aunt Joyce was from Chicago, as was Uncle jack, but after the accident Aunt Joyce and the girls moved to Lake Zurich, Illinois. Aunt Joyce remarried, to a man named Warren Klug, who adopted Carol and Claudia.

      Throughout childhood, I spent many summer weekends and week-long vacations at their beautiful home, which had a very long yard, with huge trees in it. I loved it there. Aunt Joyce still lives there. She’s 93 now, and still beautiful and witty.

      If you like, I can contact them and ask if they’d like to hear from you, I’m sure that they all would.

      Take care Susan, and I’ll hope to hear from you.

      Sincerely,
      Mike Nelson

      1. This is the first account of the crash I’ve read. I was only eleven years old at the time. I was on the car traveling from northern Wisconsin back to Chigago after attending my sister’s wedding. We heard about the crash on the car radio. It was very disturbing. When we got home, relatives were huddled around the radio in obvious disttess. My mother asked what is wrong. We were told “Freddy was on that plane.” He was my cousin, the same age as me. We were closer than brothers. I can’t believe how painful it is to relive these feelings. I will get the book. Tim Devine

  7. Mike,

    I just finished reading your book. I could sense your emotion on each and every page. Thank you for the painstaking research and devotion to bring the information to us. I’m sure your Uncle Jack would have been appreciative ad proud of your accomplishment.

    Michael Carter

    1. Dear Michael,

      Thank you truly for the compliment and the kind sentiments about my Uncle Jack, and I’m very pleased that you enjoyed my book.

      Only about 40 minutes ago did i realize that this website had a forum for communication; I’m very sorry that it took me so long to discover that and to respond. I’m a member of the families’ group whose website this is, and I’m astounded that i didn’t know of this section!

      Sincerely
      Mike Nelson

  8. Mike, my name is Kris Campbell. My grandfather Russell Huber was on the United flight. This past week, for the first time I saw the cemetery Shrine of the Ages and the plaque at Desert View. Do you know of any ceremony for the 6th anniversary? Thanks for any information.

    Kris Campbell Phoenix Arizona

    1. Dear Kris,

      I realized for the first time only an hour ago, that this forum for communication even existed on our Families’ group website.

      I know the name Russell Charles Huber, and I would like to say that I’m very sorry that you lost him.

      I lost my uncle, Jack Groshans, in the disaster. He was on the United plane, along with your grandfather.

      Yes, there was a 60th Anniversary Ceremony on June 30th of this year. I’m so sorry that I didn’t know of your email beforehand, so that I could have told you. I sincerely hope that you found out through other means. Were you there? I was. Possibly we met.

      Please feel free to write again. I will be happy to correspond with you.

      Sincerely,
      Mike Nelson

  9. my wifes father, raymond milburn jr. worked with his uncle carl snyder at chrysler up to the point of carl’s death. it did change his life. we will read the book.

    1. Hi Gary—I am your wife’s cousin (the daughter of Ray Jr’s younger brother). I’d love to hear more about this time and her dad’s recollections he may have shared. Since it’s been almost 3 years since you posted, I’m not sure if you’ll ever see this, though, but I hope you do.

    2. Gary, Carl Snyder would be my cousin. Last year I visited his grave (memorial) at White Chapel Cemetery Troy MI. Carl bought my grandfather Vane Miller Herman with him from York PA.

  10. Being discharged June 30 1956 . Myself and four buddies went to the San Francisco airport to await our
    flight. My buddies decided to go to L.A. for an earlier flight to be home 4 hours early. After arriving home
    I discovered they were on one of those flights that collided over the Canyon. I decided not to go and take
    my flight from San Francisco.

  11. I have also just discovered this forum. I would like to say that I went to grammar school with Monica Payne. I remember reading her name in the newspaper, and that of her entire family. If there are any relatives of the Payne’s, I would like to say that I have always remembered Monica’s name; she has never been forgotten. As a child, this was my first loss of someone I knew, and it was traumatic. She will always be remembered. Thank you for your book, which I plan to read.

  12. A young man and his twin sister were in some of my classes at Sun Valley Junior High in Sun Valley California. They were traveling to the East Coast to be in a piano recital and were on one of the aircraft. I went out to retrieve the evening paper and when I opened it there was their picture and listed as victims of this crash. I remember a deep feeling of grief when I saw their pictures. I have tried to recall their names and I can picture what they looked like but just cannot recall the names. If anyone can help me with that recal I would greatly appreciate it.

  13. I found you when I was researching info to include in my autobiography. My husband and I had just become acquainted with the Groshans when Jack was taken. Maybe some of what I’ve written about that period would be of interest, if not value.

    Since we’d been attending Ridgewood Methodist and their pastor married us, we immediately joined and became active in the M&M Sunday School class (was that Mr.s & Mrs.s or Mr.s & Mates? Or did they even know?) Though many of them had been together a few years, they readily accepted these newlyweds and included us in activities outside of church. We were close to the same ages and so it was easy to assimilate. But tragedy struck this group when two planes collided over the Grand Canyon and one of our members was on the United flight. Both planes had been assigned the same elevation and that crash became responsible for several changes and improvements in the airline industry. Jack Groshans left a gorgeous widow, Joyce, and two beautiful daughters, Claudia and Carol, and many, many devastated friends. He’d been in the Los Angeles area to attend a business meeting at Douglas Aircraft, his employer. Probably too upset emotionally, Joyce took a few weeks to plan a memorial service. She may have also been waiting for them to recover Jack’s body which, as I recall, took months. When I approached her in the receiving line and we both lifted our arms to hug, instead of allowing me to offer my condolences, Joyce whispered, “I’m so sorry, Kay, we could have become such good friends.” Was she comforting me when I was there to offer her comfort? Once she decided to return to her family in the Chicago area, several M&Ms got together to deep clean their house preparatory to putting it on the market. I was polishing their coffee table when I realized the model plane sitting there was a replica of the plane on which Jack died.

  14. My two half sisters, Connie and Linda Braughton and my Great Aunt Esther Braughton were on the TWA plane. The girls were just in elementary school. This collision impacted my life in more ways than I can even write.

  15. I just got your book Mike and I’m very interested in all of your research I am an airline captain at the present time for American. Do you have any information on Gloria Gibson Townsend that was on the TWA Flight any family history or information on her marriage and kids

  16. My father-in-law used to tell us a story about this collision. He said a husband took one flight and his wife the other so just in case there was an accident, there would be one parent still alive to care for their children. Have you ever heard this story?

  17. I was only 5 yrs old at time of this disaster and had no relatives nor any one my family knew of involved. I just recall my mother being horrified about this incident and it was the very first disaster I at that age had ever known. It was all over the news back then. I will always recall it happening just because of that. I cannot imagine how it affected the lives of remaining family members of this tragedy. Even my grandfather who lived with us was upset. I remember him saying that none of us should ever fly. The first time my mother ever flew some 10 yrs later she was a little nervous from this 1956 crash. Luckily, it never bothered me.

  18. I was living in Montreal, Quebec, the 11 yr old son of a an American engineer working on the construction of an oil refinery there. One of my father’s associates bore the last name of MacFarlane or similar. The adults called him “Mac”. He left Montreal before my father & others, returning to Fluor Corps So Cal headquarters before being assigned to another project.

    He was killed in the collision, i believe on the TWA Constellation. When my family left Canada a couple of months later my father drove the family car back to L. A. My mother, sisters & I flew back on a United DC-7. I remember that my father said that on his way home he stopped by the memorial near the crash site to see “what kind of monument they gave to old Mac”.

    I can’t read the marker with the list of passenger names on it that’s in the FAA report. Would like to see the lost somewhere on line?

  19. A few minutes ago I posted a comment about my being very, very near this accident in a NW Orient Airline plane flying from Chicago to Seattle. I failed to give my name and contact information. Perhaps this will help in case someone wishes to respond.

  20. My cousin Kenneth Caproni just told me of your book. My dad Donald Keith MacBain was a passenger on the TWA flight we believe that one
    He left behind an wife and twin daughters. I was living in Americus, Georgia at the time. Pregnant with his first grandchild. Because of the weather and my condition I was not allowed to fly, thus I could not attend any events pertaining to the crash

  21. I haven’t read your book but will get it. A stewardess on the United flight was Nancy Kemnitz. She lived across the street from me in Moline Il. We played together and went thru school together. I am now 87 and remember that crash well and how sad her parents were. I dont think her mom lived long after that. She was a beautiful girl and very popular. It was a sad time and she was probably only 24.

  22. Jack Gandy, the captain of TWA Flight 2, and my dad, Norwood G. “Chris” Carper, flew the same Kansas City-LA-Kansas City route. They were friends and my dad, who many initially thought was at the controls that day, flew victims’ families from Kansas City to Flagstaff, AZ for the memorial service.

    I was not aware of your book until this evening. I would like hear your take on the accident.

    Sincerely,

    James C. Carper, Ph.D

  23. I hope no one minds my sketchy memory of the tragedy. I was in first grade and living with my parents in Austin, Texas at the time. The morning of the collision I was home watching television (KTBC) by myself. I don’t remember the programs but I do remember periodic interruptions all morning with an alert message card (I don’t remember the wording). and a male voice asking anyone who has seen the planes or knows where they are to call a specific telephone number. I went outside several times and anxiously scanned the skies but obviously saw nothing. The next morning, again by myself, I watched television coverage of the crash that included schematics, dotted lines and trajectories (no photos or onscene coverage). My experience shows the rudimentary tracking of air traffic at the time. More important, the crash haunts me to this day.

  24. I was 9 years old and home alone. Mysterious serious sounding adults calling our phone asking for my parents
    My sister and grandfather had left that morning to fly to Chicago.
    I never saw them again
    None of us left are the people we would have been.
    I have camped at the foot of Char Butte

    1. Nancy,
      My father Thomas J. Sulpizio was on the United flight returning home to New Jersey. He was 30 years old at the time and I was just 17 months old.
      I have built a database about the United flight 718 passengers for a Grand Canyon Historical Society presentation which I am preparing. I am also working with the Nelson’s on the Patrons of the Grand Canyon 1956 Midair Collision program.
      I am assuming that your sister was Carol Jean Church from San Diego and that your grandfather was Albert Vogt of Evanston, IL.
      Tom Sulpizio, Jr.

  25. My uncle was a passenger on one of the planes M Barry Carlton…he worked for magnovox for the government on planes instrument panels…we visited the commemorative stone in the cemetery at the Grand Canyon marking this tragic accident

  26. I was 12 years old and my best friend’s mother was on that TWA flight. I will always remember it.

  27. My grandfather, Robert Beatty, was killed in this crash. I have just recently started researching this incident. I am about half way through Mike’s book; it is fascinating, intriguing and emotionally captivating. I would love to know about the family/survivors website or any other sites that have information or pictures.

    I never knew my grandfather but feel exceptionally connected to this story and hope to learn as much as I can about it.

  28. Carl Synder V.P. of Chyslers was my grandfathers first cousin they were every close. When Carl moved from York, Pa to Detroit he bought my grandfather along with him to Detroit. I guess I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for Carl. Last year I looked up his Carl’s grave site here in the Detroit, MI area. here is a link to that site. (I know he is not buried here) https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/144476645/carl-jeramiah-snyder

  29. My aunt, Carolyn Ruth Wiley, was one of the eleven TWA employees on Flight 2 taking advantage of a free flight, traveling back to Kansas City following a vacation trip to the West Coast with her sister Sue, who also worked for TWA. Initially, both Carolyn and Sue planned to return prior to June 30th but Carolyn, who had met a young military officer during the trip, decided to stay a few extra days to spend with him. That decision, of course, proved to be a tragically fatal one. On a touching note, my father (Carolyn and Sue’s lone brother) recalls that not too long after the accident, that young military officer traveled across the country to Pennsylvania, to personally express his condolences to Carolyn’s parents (my grandparents) and to inform them of her activities during those final days.

  30. I became taken by the story of these 2 planes from the time I learned of it. The book is an amazing piece of research and storytelling. The image of the them loading next to each other and the passengers peering peering out was so poignant . I hope to make it to Flagstaff sometime.

  31. I wish that the crash site would have been left alone. I tend to think of it as the final resting place for some of the victims. I doubt every last victim was removed. This in no way belittle the Valiant efforts of those who worked tirelessly in the attempt to recover them. It is simply the facts as they are. No one expects the rescuers to put their lives at Xtreme risk to recover those bodies. Nonetheless I look upon the crash sites as a cemetery and as such they should be left alone and treated with respect and dignity.

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