Interior designer. Advertiser. Sporting goods salesman. Insurance salesman. Produce salesman. College chemistry teacher/coach.
Those six passengers, plus a pilot and a co-pilot, died in a plane crash near the small town of Bazaar, Kansas, in March, 1931.
Eight other seats on the TWA flight that day sat empty. The passengers and cargo weren’t overweight or unusual. The weather may have played a factor, to be sure, but that’s not what ultimately caused the crash of TWA flight 3.
The final report on the crash determined that one of the wooden wings of the Fokker Tri-motor plane had seen moisture build up in it over time. This caused the glue holding the wing together to separate, causing catastrophic failure.
The investigations that followed the crash caused widespread changes in the aviation industry. Wooden aircraft became quickly obsolete, with metal aircraft replacing them. The first of the DC series of aircraft made its debut within 3 years due to this demand. This call for metal commercial aircraft forced companies like Fokker and Ford, stalwarts of the early successes of passenger air travel after World War 1, to leave the commercial aviation business within a few years.
The crash even changed aircraft crash investigations themselves, here-to-fore having often been closed because of a corporate culture of secrecy. Aviation crash incidents now began a new era of openness and thorough, impartial, rigorous professionalism. The federal government received the power to hold hearings and call witnesses and conduct all necessary inquiry.
Of course, other crashes involving wooden aircraft occurred during that period. In fact, 12 other crashes occurred in the US in that year alone. What caused such interest in this half empty flight that crashed in the middle of the US on that March day? What was it about this one that brought about such sweeping changes to the airline industry?
Look at that passenger list again. Carefully consider each occupation: Interior designer. Advertiser. Sporting goods salesman. Insurance salesman. Produce salesman. College chemistry teacher/ coach.
You probably get now. It’s that last passenger. We don’t think of him as a chemistry teacher, however. Even though he died at the young age of 43, this football coach, in the prime of his career, remains one of the best known people in the United States.
You see, TWA flight 3 that crashed that March day carried none other than Knute Rockne