Mobile, AL DC6 plane crash, Feb 1953
Lightning May Have Caused DC6 Crash
The Big Spring Daily Herald, Big Spring, TX 15 Feb 1953

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) - A waterspout or a bolt of lightning may have knocked a National Airlines DC6 out of the sky into the Gulf of Mexico 44 miles southeast of here Saturday.

These were two of the theories being raised as civil aeronautics and airline investigators sought an explanation today for the crash that killed possibly all the plane's 46 passengers and crewmen.

A sea-air search for 29 missing was resumed at daybreak after darkness brought a halt last night.

Relatives and friends resumed the grim, slow task of indentifying the mangled bodies of 17 dead brought here by the Coast Guard cutter Blackthorn yesterday.

Seven of the dead passengers were identified by Coroner Thomas B. Henderson:
J. W. Womer, 3015 Meute Dr., Wichita, Kan.
Mrs. M. D. Graham, Port Neches, Tex.
F. A. Thomas, 4423 Manning Lane, Dallas, Tex.
R. B. Friedman, Miami.
Mrs. Alfred C. Bergamn, St. Petersburg, Fla.
Mrs. J. W. Womer, 3015 Meuto Dr., Wichita, Kan. (tentative).
Mrs. F. Solomon, Miami Beach, Fla. (tentative).

Mobile weatherman Bill Tilson suggested the possiblility the plane could have hit a waterspout generated by changing weather conditions in the upper gulf.

Coroner Thomas B. Henderson said some of the bodies were burned without any further evidence of a general fire or explosion and this suggested the possibility the craft may have been struck by lightning.

Capt. E. J. Kershaw, vice president in charge of operations of National, suggested that the plane could have encountered localized "tornado conditions" in flight.

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn on 18-25 February 1953, she searched
for survivors of National Airlines Flight 470. Between May and June 1953
Blackthorn recovered the wreckage of the National Airlines plane

"Mobile weatherman Bill Tilson suggested the possiblility the plane could have hit a waterspout generated by changing weather conditions in the upper gulf.

Coroner Thomas B. Henderson said some of the bodies were burned without any further evidence of a general fire or explosion and this suggested the possibility the craft may have been struck by lightning."

At 16:49, Flight 470 reported passing over NA-2 check point at 16:45 at 14,500 feet, and estimated being over NA-1 at 17:10. It also reported, "Thunderstorms all quadrants". Pensacola radio received and acknowledged this message, and advised that "severe turbulence" had been reported by a DC-6 crew that had landed ahead of Flight 470.

FROM A SPECIAL REPORT BY ABC NEWS: On average, each commercial airplane gets struck by lightning once a year. "We'd like to believe today that lightning cannot take down an airplane," said Andy Plumer, chief engineer at Lightning Technologies in Pittsfield, Mass. "But in the past, it has happened." From the 1940s to the 1960s, Plumer said, "there were plane crashes, there were fuel tank explosions, there were effects on electronic systems and that happened more frequently than we care to remember." The NASA Storm Hazards project flew into nearly 1,500 thunderstorms and experienced more than 700 lightning strikes. To protect commercial aircraft from lightning strikes -- particularly as the technology changed -- they needed to know where lightning would strike airplanes, how often, and how much electric current it carried. In the process, Fisher discovered something shocking. "Almost all lightning strikes to aircraft are triggered by the aircraft's presence." The next generation of aircraft will be made of carbon reinforced plastics, which, while lighter and stronger, do not conduct electricity as well as metal. To keep planes safe from lightning, engineers have to develop new methods to diffuse that destructive force. In one case, adding a layer of copper mesh to the hull of an aircraft can protect it from lightning. The copper mesh is "very thin, very lightweight," said Plumer, "but it provides an amazing amount of lightning protection." Thanks in large part to these efforts, no commercial airline has crashed in the United States because of a lightning strike since 1963.


"This is the grim aftermath of a transport plane crash in the Gulf of Mexico which took the lives of 46 persons.

Rescue vessels collect belongings of passengers and crewmembers salvaged from the sea.

The airliner, presumably caught in a cyclone, plummeted into the water a short distance from the Alabama coast. It was located in 90 feet of water.

Eleven bodies were recovered as they floated free of the plane. The transport was on a flight from Tampa to New Orleans over the Gulf when disaster struck.

41 passengers and 5 crewmembers perished as the plane disintegrated, struck the water with terrific force and tragic results".

NEWSREEL TRANSCRIPT & PHOTO SOURCE: In the age before televison, people saw the news every week in their neighborhood movie theater, in the newsreels which were shown with every feature film. These short news films were produced by the Big Five Hollywood studios and typically contained six or seven stories, each of which were usually one or two minutes in length, and covered politics, sports, fashions and whatever other major news story might be of interest to the movie audience and would encourage them to keep them coming back every week. The newsreel which covered the crash of National Flight 470 ylelded the photos which follow here. The scenes were captured from a DVD made by History Professor Steven Schoenherr of the University of San Diego. An invaluable collection of these visual historical documents were painstakingly reproduced from reference cassettes at the National Archives in College Park MD from the Universal Newsreel gift collection made to the federal government in 1970 of 30 million feet of film from 1929-67. In living black-and-white, they offer a fascinating and unique view of an era when motion pictures defined our culture.

IT'S INTERESTING TO NOTE that neither the airline name nor the flight number were mentioned in the newsreel, whose announcer described the aircraft as a "transport plane", a term more suggestive of a military flight, instead of identifying the aircraft as a "passenger" plane or "commercial airline flight".

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn arrives and personnel begin offloading the first eleven bodies recovered from the Gulf of Mexico.
Coast Guard personnel load body bags onto wheeled stretchers and into one of six hearse's dispatched to the dock to await the Blackthorn's heartbreaking cargo.

Bits of plane wreckage, assorted baggage and personal effects which floated to the surface and was recovered
by the Blackthorn is transferred from the cutter's deck and stacked on the dock to await review by crash investigators.



Silence from the Gulf
Time Magazine
Monday, Feb. 23, 1953

Both the U.S. Weather Bureau and National Airlines weather information service expected stormy weather in the Gulf of Mexico as National's Flight 470 left Miami for Tampa and New Orleans at 3:16 E.S.T. one afternoon last week. There was a low-pressure area over the Gulf, a cold front was moving out from Texas, and small-craft warnings were flying along the coast. But the weather was expected to remain well within the "limits of operating conditions" for the four-engined DC-6. Its captain, Ernest A. Springer, was a 44-year-old veteran of airline operation. National had safely flown the tri-city route 9,978 times.

The big plane made a routine landing at Tampa and took off again at 4:40 with 41 passengers—many of them holiday travelers bound for the Mardi Gras. It was due in New Orleans at 5:45 C.S.T., but Flight 470 was never completed. Captain Springer's last radio report, at 5:12, gave no hint of danger. After that, attempts to get in touch with the plane were answered only by a silence—silence and the howl of sudden heavy winds which battered the shore line hard enough to tear off roofs at Grand Isle, La.

During the night an operator at Mobile's Radio Station WKRG picked up what he thought was an S O S message, possibly from a hand-cranked "Gibson Girl" transmitter of the type used on life rafts. As a great sea-air search got underway the next morning, one of the 20-odd planes which took part sighted what seemed to be a raft, with six people clinging to it. But they were never seen again. A 20-ft. sea was running, and it seemed doubtful that survivors could cling to a raft for long.

Less than 30 miles off the Alabama coast, the searchers found bits & pieces of wreckage. The DC-6 was down in 100 feet of water; during the day seventeen bodies floated to the surface and were recovered. There seemed to be no doubt that all 46 people aboard had perished.


Status: Final
Date: 14 FEB 1953
Time: 17:10
Type: Douglas DC-6
Operator: National Airlines
Registration: N90893
C/n / msn: 43057/73
First flight: 1947
Total airframe hrs: 15994
Engines: 4 Pratt & Whitney R-2800-CB16
Crew: Fatalities: 5 / Occupants: 5
Passengers: Fatalities: 41 / Occupants: 41
Total: Fatalities: 46 / Occupants: 46
Airplane damage: Written off
Airplane fate: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location: 35 km (21.9 mls) off Mobile, AL, USA [Gulf of Mexico] (Atlantic Ocean)
Phase: En route (ENR)
Nature: Domestic Scheduled Passenger
Departure airport: Miami International Airport with one stop at Tampa International Airport, FL (TPA/KTPA), United States of America
Destination airport: New Orleans, LA United States of America
Flightnumber: 470
Flight 470 originated at Miami, for New Orleans, with one stop scheduled at Tampa.
From Miami the VFR flight was uneventful, with departure at 14:15, with the Tampa landing at 15:15. The flight took off from Tampa at 15:43 for an IFR flight across the Gulf of Mexico to New Orleans. Cruising altitude was FL145. At 16:49, Flight 470 reported passing over NA-2 check point at 16:45 at 14,500 feet, and estimated being over NA-1 at 17:10. It also reported, "Thunderstorms all quadrants..." Pensacola radio received and acknowledged this message, and advised the flight of "severe turbulence" between NA-1 and New Orleans as reported by a DC-6 crew that had landed ahead of Flight 470. At 16:54, the flight advised Pensacola that it was reducing power because of turbulence and five minutes later requested Air Route Traffic Control clearance to descend from 14,500 feet to 4,500 feet. This was granted within a minute or so. At 17:03, the Flight advised Pensacola of passing through 10,000 feet, and at 17:12, advised that it had reached 4,500 feet at 17:10. Pensacola repeated this message back to the flight and gave it the 16:48 New Orleans special weather: measured 800 feet overcast, visibility 10 miles, wind north-northeast 25 mph, with gusts to 34, the altimeter 29.61; barometer unsteady. The flight acknowledged and there were no further radio contacts. The aircraft had apparently crashed in the Gulf of Mexico. Some wreckage and bodies were found the next day, but the majority of the wreckage was found on May 20.

PROBABLE CAUSE: "The loss of control followed by the in-flight failure and separation of portions of the airframe structure while the aircraft was traversing an intense frontal-wave type storm of extremely severe turbulence, the severity and location of which the pilot had not been fully informed."
» CAB File No. 1-0013
» ICAO Accident Digest Circular 39-AN/34 (36-49)

Summary: The aircraft crashed into the Gulf of Mexico off Mobile, Alabama. The aircraft broke up in the turbulence of a "frontal wave" storm after failure of the left wing. The loss of control followed by the in-flight failure and separation of portions of the airframe structure while the aircraft was traversing an intense frontal-wave type storm of extremely severe turbulence, the severity and location of which the pilot had not been fully informed.

Misc. Litigation Findings:
On February 14, 1953, National Airlines Flight 470, en route from Tampa to New Orleans, met with winds of hurricane velocity and crashed in the Gulf of Mexico near the Alabama shore. None of the 46 on board survived the crash. It was unclear where the accident occurred; whether within the territorial jurisdiction of Alabama, in which case the Alabama Wrongful Death Act, 7 Alabama Code 123, was applicable and the district court had jurisdiction because of diversity of citizenship, or on the high seas beyond the jurisdiction of Alabama, in which case the Federal Death on the High Seas Act, 46 U.S.C.A. 761-767, applied and jurisdiction lay in admiralty.1 Claims under both statutes were joined and after a hearing in which the evidence was limited to the situs of the accident, Judge Levet, reaching the same result as had the jury which he termed 'advisory,' correctly found that the accident occurred on the high seas more than one marine league from the Alabama shore. The court, therefore, dismissed the Alabama wrongful death action and proceeded in admiralty under the Death on the High Seas Act to try the issue of damages, National having admitted its liability for the accident.

ADDED 05/05/09

Additional passenger name/details have become available over time:
From the website GenDisasters: Events That Touched Our Ancestors Lives come these passenger names:

Martha Irene Besselieu (Stegall) from Miami Shores, FL
Nancy Nelson Huidekoper Rathborne, from Harvey Louisiana

I have original (yellowed and fragile) newspaper articles packed away, images of which are displayed above, and I continue to add additional details about this incident as they become available.

Additional information or photos which should be added to his page, may be submitted for inclusion here.
In the subject line of your email please reference Flight 470

The Butterfly Effect

  *The term "butterfly effect" is related to the work of Edward Lorenz, and is based in Chaos Theory and sensitive dependence upon initial conditions. The idea that one butterfly could eventually have a far-reaching ripple effect on subsequent historic events seems first to have appeared in The Sound of Thunder, a short story about time travel by Ray Bradbury, published in 1952, although Lorenz made the term popular.

In 1961, Lorenz was using a numerical computer model to rerun a weather prediction, when, as a shortcut on a number in the sequence, he entered the decimal .506 instead of entering the full .506127 the computer would hold. The result was a completely different weather scenario. Lorenz published his findings in a 1963 paper for the New York Academy of Sciences noting that "One meteorologist remarked that if the theory were correct, one flap of a seagull's wings could change the course of weather forever." Later speeches and papers by Lorenz used the more poetic butterfly.

The phrase The Butterfly Effect refers to the idea that a butterfly's wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that may ultimately alter the path of a tornado or delay, accelerate or even prevent the occurrence of a tornado in a certain location. The flapping wing represents a small change in the initial condition of the system, which causes a chain of events leading to large-scale alterations of events. Had the butterfly not flapped its wings, the trajectory of the system might have been vastly different. While the butterfly does not cause the tornado, the flap of its wings is an essential part of the initial conditions resulting in a tornado.

It is a thought-provoking plot in fiction when presenting scenarios involving time travel and "what if" scenarios, where one storyline diverges at the moment of a seemingly minor event, resulting in two significantly different outcomes.



What IF.....

There is a theory, that something as seemingly insignificant as the flutter of a butterfly's wings can change the course of history.

This is the event which changed the course of my own family's history.

What IF I could go back in time and somehow prevent a simple airline reservation from being changed, thereby preventing this from happening to my family, would I?

The sobering fact is this;
If it had not happened, My father would not have married the woman who became my stepmother.
If it had not happened, My much loved youngest brother who became a firefighter and EMT and helped save so many lives could not have been born.
If it had not happened, Perhaps I would not have married so young.
If it had not happened, I might not have followed the same career path.
If it had not happened, It's unlikely that I would have traveled to the same places or met the same people or married the men I did, to find myself where I am in life today.
If it had not happened, None of my children, none of my grandchildren, none of the friends and family who are so dear to me, would be with me today.
If it had not happened, I would not be here to compile the pages which, at long last, might offer solace and a chance for closure, for me, and for others who lost their loved ones on Flight 470.

The Butterfly Effect.

It was not my decision to make. It was hers.

By making that decision, she led me to all of you.

And this is how it happened:

The published passenger list noted only that a Mrs. E. Loomis of Miami had been aboard the ill-fated flight.

Of all the newspaper articles which were published, just one contained a glimpse, a mere three sentences which briefly touched upon the human side of the story.

"The foredeck of the cutter Blackthorn was littered with wreckage from the plane which plunged into the Gulf Saturday afternoon with 46 passengers and crewmen.
The sodden debris was piled onto the dock for inspection by civil aeronautics authorities.
Among the lot were 33 shoes, one of them a gold mesh evening slipper, apparently never danced in."

One of the things which was never reported was that when the authorities gave up their official search for Flight 470, my father, Earle Prentice Loomis, along with families and friends of some of the other missing passengers, ("Bebe" Reboso was one of those who joined my father), hired shrimp boats to continue to drag grappling hooks in their search for the remainder of the plane.

It is largely because of their efforts that the wreckage was finally located and the fuselage recovered by the Blackthorn a full four months after the plane went down.

My mother was actually booked on the earlier flight, which arrived safely, but she called and changed her reservation to Flight 470, in order to finish making a suit she planned to wear.

The Butterfly Effect*; One seemingly insignificant change in plans and the world, as we know it, is altered forever.

When Dad arrived, the coroner who was in charge of identifying the bodies noticed that my father was wearing a Masonic ring, He took Dad, a brother Mason, aside and told him that he would prefer that Dad not go in to view the bodies in an attempt to find my mother, because it was something that would haunt him for the rest of his life. He had Dad describe my mother to him instead, and subsequently advised that my mother, formerly a first runner up in the Miss Florida pageant, was not amongst those whose bodies were recovered. I eventually learned that a small, empty manicure kit with her initials EWL embossed in the leather had floated to the surface and been found by searchers. That was the only item of hers that was ever found. To the best of my knowledge no other bodies, beyond the original 17, were ever recovered. At one point I recall seeing photographs taken inside a hangar, of the aircraft reconstruction using the pieces of the plane which were eventually recovered, but I was unable to find those photographs amidst my father's effects after he passed away in 1992. Cynthia Loomis Gurin, Stuart, FL.

Evelyn Morrison Wheeler Loomis, 39, of Miami Shores, Florida was aboard Flight 470, traveling from Miami to New Orleans to visit her grandmother.
She was survived by her husband and two young children, a daughter, age 6 and a son, age 3.

Collector of Tears and Mommy Make The Feather Dance!
Is a story within a story.
It is dedicated to the memory of the passengers and crew of Flight 470.


After relating my connection to Flight 470 to my stepson for a high school writing project he is working on, I searched the web to see If I could find any information on the flight. It was then that I stumbled upon your web site on Flight 470, and read of your connection to the flight. In reading your story, I was chilled to the bone to hear how your mother had changed from an earlier flight to the ill-fated Flight 470. I was chilled because my mother's decision to change flights resulted in her taking the earlier flight, and thus surviving and giving birth to me four years later. Back when I was about 12, I found a letter that my mom had written to the FAA (or some federal agency, I don't quite recall) concerning a flight she was on from Tampa to New Orleans on 14 Feb 1953. In the letter she described how they flew though extreme turbulence and how the passengers on the plane thought they would not make it. In fact, the flight was so rough that it led to her having a miscarriage shortly thereafter. When I asked her about the letter, she told me the following story. My mom and dad had flown from New Orleans to Tampa to visit my father's sister. My dad had to fly back early for work while my mom stayed for a few more days.

On the morning of her scheduled flight, she described feeling very uneasy. She felt that she had to get home right away, and insisted, over family objections. on changing her flight from Flight 470 to the flight preceding it. She did not explain it as a feeling of doom if she took Flight 470, but rather as an overwhelming sense that she needed to take an earlier flight so she could get home as soon as possible. As it was, her flight was so rough that at the time she feared her choice was going to prove fatal.

Instead, it proved to be a decision that saved her life, and let to the births of my sister, me, and my younger brother. My mom had not told me the story until I had found the letter she wrote. When I asked her about it, she was somewhat reluctant to tell the story. I believe it was because she felt some sense of guilt at having escaped the fate of the passengers on Flight 470. I remember feeling stunned at how close I had come to not being born. As you say, it is amazing how such seemingly small decisions can have such far reaching consequences. Fate can be both kind and cruel. I don't know how to feel about two moms who made two simple but different choices that proved to be so fateful. I am so happy and grateful for the choice that my mom made, and so sad for the choice your mom made. But you are right, their choices led us to where we are today. In my case, it led to my very existence. In your case, it sounds like it has led to much for which you are grateful, in spite of your great loss. I wish you all the best, and thank you for honoring the memory of your mother, and all the other passengers on Flight 470. Sincerely, Rick Florez

REPLY: Thank you most sincerely for your letter, Rick. My father told me that he had felt a strong sense of unease when he looked at the plane my mother had just boarded. My own mother seemed to know as well that something was going to happen. She instructed my grandmother, before she boarded the flight, that if something were to happen to her she didn't want a funeral held, and she took my father aside to say, with more than casual gravity, "Take care of my childen....I love them so". I'm so glad your mother made the decision she did, Rick, and I thank you for taking the time to share your story family's story with me.