Mystery in mid-air

Yesterday’s truly remarkable North Carolina-related plane crash reminded me of some negatives from the Morton collection depicting the January 6, 1960 crash of National Airlines Flight 2511 near Bolivia, NC (outside Wilmington).

Both US Airways 1549 and NAL 2511 were headed out of New York City (1549 bound for Charlotte, 2511 for Miami), but their outcomes were decidedly different. While (thankfully) all 155 US Airways passengers and crew survived, on 1/6/1960, all 34 on board were lost. And the culprit was not a bird but a bomb.

Wreckage of National Airlines Flight 2511, which exploded and crashed January 1, 1960 in Bolivia, NC

The story of NAL Flight 2511 is gripping and remains unresolved. The cause of the crash was a dynamite bomb, originally believed to have been detonated by a passenger named Julian Frank in a murder-suicide. (Frank was being investigated for fraud and embezzlement and had bought valuable life insurance policies prior to the crash).

Reassembling the wreckage of National Airlines Flight 2511, which exploded and crashed January 6, 1960 in Bolivia, NC

Other evidence, however, brought Frank’s guilt into question. Remarkable similarities to the crash of NAL Flight 967 a few months prior led some to suspect that the two incidents were connected. No one was charged in either case.

Reassembling the wreckage of NAL Flight 2511, which exploded and crashed January 6, 1960 in Bolivia, NC

The full Civil Aeronautics Board Accident Report for NAL Flight 2511 is available online (click on “Historical Aircraft Accident Reports” to find it)—but be warned, some details (like some of Morton’s photographs not included in this post) are not for the squeamish.

5 thoughts on “Mystery in mid-air

  1. There is a photograph of the crash site, similar to picture #1, on the front page of the “Greensboro Daily News” for January 7, 1960; and there is a photograph of the plane reconstruction, similar to picture #3, on the front page of the “Greensboro Daily News” for January 18, 1960.

    While both pictures are credited to the Associated Press, I would not be surprised to learn that Hugh Morton took them both and made them available to the AP.

  2. about the photo of the plane crash: The Associated Press called Hugh to supply them with pictures of the crash. Hugh didn’t know how they (A.P) found out so fast, but he was first on the scene followed immediately by the US Postal Inspector (Wm. M. Stanley of Wilmington) whose job was to salvage the air mail that had been aboard. Thhe bomb was detonated when the plane was over water, but the pilot was able to fly the plane till it was over land – near Orton Plantation, as I recall.

  3. Because of the swampy terrain where this
    plane went down , the best recovery group
    were marines. I was with a contingent bused
    over from Camp LeJeune to search for bodies
    and wreckage. Tough wading in some parts but
    very thorough.

  4. I was with Delta Co. 1st Bn 8th Marines from Camp Lejune NC 2nd Marine Div.I also did policing of the wreckage, and bodies. Captain Joy was the C.O. I will never forget that day. We left the base early that morning, and where there all day,and some of the night. My clothing, and skin looked like I had been in a fight with six tigers. Phone # 304-235-4184.

  5. I was in wilmington at that time I know that other photographers covered the crash for the Star News Linda Mintz and Joe Nesbitt AP used there photo also and were friends of Hugh ,have a nice day . Just a note Linda because the President of the largest Photographers Ass. in US Texas PPA she is a great photograher I know because she is my wife of 57 years I love Wilmington and GOD BLESS all. Bob

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