Sixty years ago this week, one of the largest aviation disasters of its time happened in Chicago’s suburbs when a flight from Midway Airport went down minutes after take-off.
Few may remember the tragedy.
It was September 1, 1961. TWA Flight 529 was hopscotching across the country. It had just taken off from Midway Airport and was headed for Las Vegas.
Frank Trout was a 17-year-old volunteer firefighter back then.
Just after 2 a.m., the siren sounded and summoned his squad to a farm field just West of Route 83.
“We were totally unprepared for anything like this,” Trout said. “We went looking for anyone who was alive. Some people were still strapped in their seats.”
All 78 souls aboard died that day. It was, at the time, the deadliest single-plane disaster in US history. And it happened near the height of the U.S. crisis with Cuba.
Witnesses described earth-shaking sounds and confusion.
The days and weeks that followed were equally unsettling as crews combed the field for wreckage, documenting the destruction and death.
“The debris was everywhere,” Trout said. “There was one sailor still had his uniform on. That’s what I remember from that area.”
COVER STORY: One last look at Cook County Jail’s ‘Division I’
Now, decades later, a small but committed group that includes The Clarendon Hills Historical Society has gathered pieces of the plane found over the years and has weaved them together to not only paint a picture of a little-known aviation tragedy but also tell the stories of the five crew members and 73 passengers who perished.
Honoring their memories is why this group has finally, after all these years, gathered enough support to replace a simple cross with a permanent memorial.
A memorial not just to the lives lost, but also the lives changed that day.
The ill-fated TWA flight was one of six U.S. airliner crashes that year that claimed a total of 222 lives.
What brought down that four-propeller TWA constellation? The Civil Aeronautics Board determined that one single steel bolt fell out after take-off, causing the pilots to lose control.