Researchers explore new theory that could solve mystery of NWA flight 2501

Posted at 9:08 PM, May 28, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-28 22:22:34-04

HOLLAND, Mich.-- A team of researchers in Holland is pursuing a theory of where debris from a decades-old plane crash may be located, which would give answers to families of the 58 victims.

On June 23, 1950, Northwest Airlines flight 2501 was on its way from New York to Spokane with a stop in Minneapolis when it crashed in Lake Michigan during a storm. At the time, it was the worst aviation disaster in United States history. To this day, the exact location of where the plane entered the water has not been determined.

“I know that in instances of tragic loss of life, you need answers," Director of Michigan Shipwreck Research Association (MSRA) Valerie van Heest tells FOX 17.

Sixty-eight years after the crash of flight 2501, van Heest and her team of researchers with MSRA are pursuing a never-before-explored theory of where the plane may have crashed. Oceanographer Greg Busch of Busch Marine has collaborated with the MSRA for this effort.

“All of that pointed us to the southern basin of Lake Michigan. I believe that the pilot changed airways and tried to fly around this storm," van Heest says. “That where plane and storm met, an accident of catastrophic proportions happened.”

Based in Holland, van Heest, her husband Jack van Heest, Greg Busch and Craig Rich are volunteering their time and resources to solving this mystery, searching the southern basin from dawn to dusk. Though they're not looking for large parts of the plane, van Heest says all they need is a debris field to decipher what happened that night.

“The most important thing that we will take away from that is that the pilot was doing his best to fly around the storm," van Heest says. "That would give comfort to the families. That would give comfort to me.”

Throughout her research and writing her book "Fatal Crossing: The Mysterious Disappearance of NWA Flight 2501 and the Quest for Answers" van Heest has stayed in touch with 53 of the 58 families of the victims of flight 2501. She says one particular memory of the wife of Copilot Verne Frank Wolfe stands out to her.

“For wives, spouses of airline employees, they always send a team of people," van Heest says. "So when she saw two people walking up to her house at one in the morning, she knew her husband was gone.”

Though it's a decades-old mystery, the pain from the victim's families lives because as van Heest says, they have been given very few answers about what exactly happened.

“This story is very much like Malaysia Airline 370, gone four years ago, 234 families looking for answers. There’s a crew out there right now looking for that wreckage just like we’re out right now trying to solve a 68-year-old mystery.”

Van Heest says the window of time for being able to successfully locate this debris is very short because their sonar equipment can only operate properly when the water is at a certain temperature range.