Honoring plane crash victims

Memorial in the works for those lost in 1950 Minnehaha Parkway plane crash

If you pay close attention to the homes along the Minnehaha Creek in Southwest, you’ll find one along the 1000 block of the parkway that looks slightly out of place. It’s a 1950s-style rambler that contrasts with the surrounding houses built in the 1920s.

It hasn’t always been that way. Diane Doughty Madsen called a three-level house on that land her home until the night of March 7, 1950.

A blizzard rocked Minneapolis that evening. A Northwest Airlines Martin 202 carrying 10 passengers and three crew members clipped a flagpole at Fort Snelling, lost its wing and eventually crashed into the home while Madsen, then 15, watched a Minneapolis Lakers game with her parents in the first-level sun room.

While Madsen and her parents escaped with minor injuries, the crash devastated the family. Her sister Janet, 10, and brother Tommy, 8, were sleeping in their upstairs bedrooms and were killed in the crash. So were all 13 people on the plane, including five Minnesotans.

The incident is largely forgotten in Minneapolis. But a neighbor of the crash site, Mark Kaplan, is on a mission to erect a memorial to honor those who perished. Madsen, the only remaining survivor of the crash, couldn’t be more pleased.

“For him to put in all this time and effort — I just think it’s so wonderful,” said Madsen, who is now 76 and lives in Elk River.

Kaplan lives across the parkway from crash site. For years, he knew of a crash in the area, but often found himself wondering exactly how it all happened.

The former Minneapolis City Council member has spent the past several months tracking down witnesses and family members of the victims.

Kaplan had his own brush with a plane crash, which he said inspired him to learn more about the Minneapolis crash. When he was 10, Kaplan was a passenger on Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 710 bound for Miami. He, however, got off at the flight’s stop in Chicago.

The 63 passengers and crew who left Chicago on March 17, 1960, died after the plane broke in half and crashed in Indiana. Several of Kaplan’s family friends died on that flight.

Kaplan hopes to construct some kind of a memorial for the Minneapolis crash and hold a dedication with those involved. He said the memorial could be a historical marker or pavers engraved with the names of those who died.

“Something to provide more closure than there was, because there was no grief counseling going on back then,” he said.

The only counseling Madsen got back in 1950 was a brief talk with her minister at Lake Harriet United Methodist Church.

That’s not much, considering that in a matter of seconds she lost her little brother and little sister. She lost every one of her possessions. And her dog, which had been sitting on her lap at the time of the crash, jumped up and ran straight into the flames, never to be seen again.

“I think back to that, and that was really hard,” Madsen said. “I just kind of had to deal with it myself, because I didn’t have anybody to talk to.”

Madsen said that in the 61 years since the crash, the most she has ever talked about it was with Kaplan when he visited her home this winter.

Kaplan had to do plenty of digging to find Madsen. He searched through microfilm from the newspapers that covered the crash. He tracked down Madsen’s high school yearbook, then signed up for classmates.com and luckily found her on the website.

“I figured this was a mystery I was going to follow all the way through,” he said.

Madsen was a student at Washburn High School at the time of the crash. That evening, she had attended the school’s basketball game before returning home. Her father, Frank, was just putting her brother and sister to bed upstairs. He settled into the sunroom with Diane and Diane’s mother, Marie.

Madsen has very little recollection of what happened that night. She remembers hearing a crash and then jumping from the window headfirst, her parents right behind her.

According to Minneapolis Star reports the next day, Frank Doughty had tried to hoist a ladder on the side of the home to get to his kids, but it was a futile effort.

Floyd Roman remembers a hopeless feeling that night.

Roman and his partner Bob LeMettry were the first two police officers to respond to the crash. The Minneapolis police dispatcher asked the two Richfield officers for their help, because the city cars were all busy.

So Roman and LeMettry, with chains on their tires to crawl through the snow, rushed over to the scene.

When they got there, they could see the tail of the plane sticking out from top of the home and Minneapolis firefighters reeling out their hoses.

All the cops could do, Roman said, was keep the crowds back so that the firefighters could try to put out the flames. But it was no use. The fire was so hot that the plane eventually melted into the home. Minneapolis Star photos show a pile of rubble the next day and no sign of a plane.

“You just stand there and watch and think, ‘The stewardess, the pilot, the passengers, the people in the house — they’re all in there, and there’s not a thing you can do,’” said Roman, now 88 and still living in Richfield.

The plane had been scheduled to stop in Rochester, but it was sent to Minneapolis because of the storm.

It was not the last time Roman responded to a plane crash. In his 21 years on the Richfield Police Department, Roman said he responded to seven plane crashes between 1947 and 1968.

Though the Federal Aviation Administration only keeps crash data as far back as 1962, the Metropolitan Airports Commission kept an unofficial list of crashes back then.

The list, which matches up with various news accounts and history websites, shows a volatile couple decades of aviation in which dozens died in crashes near the airport.

Kaplan knows that the clock is ticking on getting the memorial built. Those alive for the crash are getting older, so he wants to have the dedication this fall. Once the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board approves his idea, Kaplan intends to set up a fund with the People for Parks organization at peopleforparks.net.

Follow Nick Halter on Twitter @NHalterJournals or contact him at nhalter@mnpubs.com.


Those who died in the 1950 plane crash near Minnehaha Creek:

Janet Doughty, Minneapolis, in home

Tommy Doughty, Minneapolis, in home

Capt. Donald Jones, the pilot, Richfield

William McGinn, South St. Paul, the co-pilot

Mary Alice Kennedy, the stewardess, St. Paul

Robert M. Lohn, Minneapolis.

B. Eberhardt, a parts executive for the Ford Motor Co., who boarded the plane at Detroit, bound for Fargo, N. D.

Emery F. Oliver, manager of the J. C. Penney store at Madison, Wis.

Helen Hott, Holmesville, Ohio,

Joseph V. Breitwiser, 65, dean of the graduate school at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks

Matilda de Beck, 62, Arlington, Va.

Raymond Nolder, Tarentun, Pa.

W. Lampert, New York City

C. H. Pafford, boarded at Madison.

R. C. Buhmann, Chicago.