About

On February 12, 1963, I was six years old. My parents had gone away on a business trip to Miami, Florida, for my dad’s firm, the Thermo-King Corporation. It was the first time they’d ever traveled together on an airplane-the first time, in fact, that my mother had flown anywhere. It was somewhat last minute. My dad, having no desire to attend yet another annual convention, had canceled the trip but his boss called him and told him he wanted him there: oh, and bring “the wife” so she could act as hostess for other wives in Miami. So, my mother scrambled to find childcare for her six children. She also ran to a local store to get the forms necessary to make out a will and guardianship papers. Many years later, she recalled how “traumatic” it was to do so just days before “departing on that trip.”

Riding Dad’s Shoulders – Copalis Beach, Washington – 1959

I was sent to a neighbor’s home while they were gone and wasn’t happy about it: I was a homebody who just wanted to be with mom. I remember a distraught weekend but then, that Tuesday afternoon, hurrying home from school, happy and eager to see my folks who I knew would be back that day. I remember rounding that last corner at 47th and Woodlawn, eagerly scooting up the remaining quarter block to our house–and then suddenly slowing down. Numerous strange cars were parked in front of our home. Something was up. I remembered climbing the sets of steps to our back door which  opened into a kitchen full of people. I barely made it in before an elderly neighbor reached out, grabbed my wrist, and poured a spoonful of something bitter in my mouth saying, “Here! Take this! It will calm you down!” Given that Mrs. Kennedy scared me even on a good day, I bolted away from her in confusion. I just wanted to find my mom.

I finally located her in the next room. She was quiet. Her eyes were red from crying. And she said to me words I will never forget, “Your Dad’s plane is missing.” She was supposed to have been on that plane with him but, at the last minute, had taken an earlier flight out of Miami to visit her brother in Pittsburgh whom she hadn’t seen in years. The rest of the memories from that day are fleeting.  I remember my older sister hauling me up to the convent of St. Benedict’s Church to ask the nuns for prayers. I remember stopping at a neighbor’s house on the way home to see a friend. While we were there the radio come on with a news bulletin that the plane was missing and we fled in tears. And late that night, after going to sleep in my mom’s bed, I heard the phone ring. She answered it, and soon started crying: it was the Associated Press asking for information about of my dad. That’s how she found out the wreckage had been of Flight 705 had been found. And that there were no survivors.

The impact of 705’s crash profoundly affected members of my family in ways both visible and hidden. It left scars that marked each of us differently; it influenced what I became. Shortly after I was born, my folks had moved out West from South Dakota, leaving all relatives behind. Our ties with my dad’s side of the family had never, for the most part, been strong and after he passed that connection became ever more tenuous. As I entered adulthood I was driven to learn more about him, about the people and places that shaped his life. I became a historian, motivated in large part by how little I knew about my dad.

For decades my profession, my daily work, has documented and preserved stories of people and place. One of the stories I have wanted to gather for over thirty years is that of the people that boarded 705 that February morning in 1963. I wanted to created a place for these stories to land,  a place for others, who went through the tragedy my family did, to connect. Tonight on the forty-eighth anniversary of that sad event I voiced that desire aloud to my eldest daughter, Sarah. And she, Jack Heil’s third grandchild, gave me a way to begin. She helped me harness something that would have been inconceivable in 1963: the power of the Internet to construct a blog.

So, in tribute to all who boarded Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 705 on February 12, 1963, the thoughts and memories of the family and friends they left behind are welcome.


8 Responses to About

  1. Pingback: An air disaster worth remembering: Flight 705 – Ken Kaye's Storm Center – Sun-Sentinel

  2. Dave Teresi says:

    Thank you for the love and effort you have placed into this website to honor the victims and families. I have no personal connection to the crash myself, other than having been an employee of Northwest Orient Airlines. (and not in 1963). I feel a connection to this event and these people none the same. By stating their names and telling their stories, they remain with us. Thank you.

  3. Dave Teresi says:

    I started as a flight attendant in 1985. I had occasion to fly with many old-timers (who may indeed been contemporaries of these ladies on the crew,) but plane crashes were never something we discussed, either while in-flight or on layovers.
    One story has always stuck in my mind, however. When we were nearing the completion of training, one of the ladies in charge of the training department came in to our classroom for a pep-talk, and she stressed how Northwest had invested all of this money and effort into a state-of-the-art meteorology department; and how, basically, we were the safest airline flying. She also said, “We have not lost a commercial passenger in over twenty years”. That may seem insane (and, forgive me, insensitive) to a reader of this website. But, I really did believe it, then as well as over the years. I had also heard dozens of times while working there, true or not, that the “aviation ‘community” agreed.
    I later learned, that Northwest Orient had a horrendous streak of bad luck in the early 1960s… in a four-year stretch there were several turbulence-related crashes.
    While Northwest was TRULY not a PR-friendly company ( EVER…), I believe this meteorology legacy did in fact come from 705, and the others. The department remains (in a rebranded incarnation). I believe it may have saved lives over the years, despite the painful costs in the 1960s.

    • T.L. Heil says:

      Dave,

      Thanks for your additional information. The woman who spoke to your class and gave the pep talk was absolutely correct. I interviewed pilots from the Retired Northwest Pilots Association about the fate of Flight 705 and they all reiterated that history of NW Airlines. That because of the crashes in the early 1960s, the airline completely revamped its pilot training and strenuously, severely, changed the way pilots learned to fly. As one of the senior retired pilots told me, “705 was held up in front of all of us….” So, lessons were learned. And that’s good. Somehow that makes loosing my Dad a bit easier.

      Don’t know if you saw the recent study done by the FAA on the Flight 705 accident. There’s a link to it on the blog but here it is again in case you’ve not seen it: http://lessonslearned.faa.gov/ll_main.cfm?TabID=1&LLID=66

      And another link that might interest you: http://www.rnpa.org/

      Thanks for sharing,

      Theresa

  4. Dave Teresi says:

    Theresa, I wonder if I could ask you a question, but am not sure if I can do so without actually having it posted on the blog. If so, if you would please send me an email (I believe you have it).
    Also, I am sure tomorrow will be a rough day for you, you are in my thoughts. Ironic, but these 43 have weighed heavily on my mind since discovering this post. Sending my best thoughts and energies to them, and yourself.

  5. T.L. Heil says:

    A comment from Liz who emailed this to me on June 12, 2016. Not sure why it didn’t post on this site. Here are her words:

    “My sister and I did not expect them home for another day…our Mom and Dad, Bill and Lee Christianson. They had been vacationing in the Bahamas and expected to fly out of Miami February 13 homeward bound to Minneapolis, Minnesota. The storms prompted them to come home a day early, they had loved the flight down to Miami because the jet was such new one, so quiet and peaceful a ride unlike the older noisier jets…

    My sister and I returned home about 3p.m. with a load of groceries, as we anticipated our parents return the next day.

    We were busy most of that day, we had heard a news report of a downed airliner in Florida but did not give that much thought. Our
    parents were not due home for another day.

    Then our memories grow very gray…a doorbell…2 agents at the door
    confirming that we were the Christianson family…stating that there had been a crash…nothing confirmed as to passengers at that time and they would contact us as soon as possible. The telephone call came 1 hour later. And our family became smaller, our hearts were
    thrown into chaos of horror and sadness…not a good mixture, not even one that people are able to comprehend and move on with their lives. For years, decades, forever.

    In their memory:
    my father Bill Christianson loved his job with a passion, his wife Lee
    loved him and her children and grandchildren deeply. They were
    happy, loving and loveable and such remarkable souls …loving and
    kind.

    My mom’s body was not found for 4 days…the caskets were sealed by the FBI and we are left, perhaps wisely, with their smiling faces boarding flight 705 bound for Miami. My sister chose to keep the cremains, I chose not to, for me they were not in those ashes, nor the ashes of the 705 crash site. Yeah, they are missed! We were blessed with their presence for a while on this planet. I am grateful.”

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