November 16, 1979. The Nevada Airlines Martin 404 (N40438) had been chartered to fly 41 French tourists to the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas, Nevada. Flight 2504 departed at 9:35 AM and after an en-route tour of the canyon landed at the Grand Canyon National Park Airport. After deplaning, the passengers proceeded on their four hour ground tour of Grand Canyon's south rim viewpoints. At 2:40 PM, the passengers returned to the airport and boarded the Martin for their return flight to Las Vegas.
At 2:50 PM, the aircraft departed from Runway 3 with First Officer James "Newt" Swain at the controls. Immediately after raising the landing gear, a loss of power from the left engine was sensed. Captain William Blewett took control of the aircraft from Swain and noticed that the left engine propeller autofeather light was illuminated and the autofeather button depressed.
After passing the end of the runway, the aircraft encountered a downdraft which overcame the single engine climb performance of the aircraft. The airspeed had decreased and the temperature of the right engine cylinder head was rising rapidly toward the maximum limit so Captain Blewett elected to reduce the manifold pressure to avoid a possible engine failure. The inability of the aircraft to climb and the proximity of the rising terrain required the crew to return the right engine to full power and select a forced-landing area. The Martin collided with trees 7,531 feet past the end of Runway 3. The aircraft was destroyed by post-impact fire.
The cause(s) for the unwanted autofeather of the left propeller was never determined.
By all accounts this accident should have resulted in multiple fatalities. Had the circumstances been less favorable, the accident could have been the second worst aviation disaster at Grand Canyon. However, by luck and to the credit of the entire flightcrew, all 44 passengers and crew survived the crash landing, post impact fire, and successful evacuation.
Today the area surrounding the crash site of Nevada Airlines Flight 2504 remains relatively unchanged since 1979. The aircraft came down in one of the very few open areas in the vicinity of the airport. Any other location and the aircraft would have been ripped apart as it descended through the combination of pine trees and rocky terrain.
A defined line of small debris marks a path the aircraft made as it traveled across the clearing, smashing into trees and rocks along the way. A few burned tree trunks remain on-site that still contain embedded aircraft structure. A defined burn area is evident where the aircraft finally came to rest and burned. The area is littered with a small amount of passenger personal effects, aircraft structure and components.
It is always refreshing to research and visit a crash site in which no one was killed. Unfortunately, there are very few of these "happy landings" in this rugged region.
NEVADA AIRLINES, INC.
Not to be confused with the Nevada Airlines of the late 1920s or Hawthorne Nevada Airlines (Mineral County Airlines) of the late 1960s, this airline began operations in the mid-late 1970s. The airline ceased operations during 1981.
A Nevada Airlines travel brochure from 1979 depicting one of the airline's Douglas DC-3s.
The airline operated on-demand charter and scheduled passenger flights from Las Vegas to Tonopah, Carson City, Reno and Grand Canyon, Arizona. The airline utilized Douglas DC-3 aircraft and had one Martin 404 (N40438), a former TWA Airliner from the 1950s.
Nevada Airlines, Inc. Martin 404 (N40438) MSN: 14173 seen here undergoing maintenance at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport. The aircraft was owned by Harry Acor who leased it to Nevada Airlines.
Without a maintenance hangar or facilities, the airline performed much of their aircraft maintenance activities on an open ramp.
This photograph was taken just a few months before the accident.
THE ACCIDENT - NOVEMBER 16, 1979
This aerial photograph illustrates the flight path that Nevada Airlines Flight 2504 flew after takeoff from Grand Canyon Airport.
Unable to climb or even maintain altitude, Captain Blewett made a left turn for the only clearing available thus avoiding hitting a radio tower as well as numerous hotels and restaurants filled with vacationing tourists.
The red line represents the flight path. The yellow circle shows the location of the clearing where the flight came down.
This photo was taken by one of the tourist passengers just a few minutes after Flight 2504 crashed in the field.
The crew, passengers, and responding bystanders were able to evacuate the remaining 41 passengers while the plane burned. (Photo courtesy of Brad Gray)
Two Coconino County Sheriff Deputies surveying the crash scene of the Martin.
The cockpit area sustained a majority of the initial impact damage. As a result, both pilots sustained serious injuries.
Most of the passenger cabin area was completely gutted by the post crash fire.
Flight Attendant Judy Morse received multiple abrasions and sprains in the accident. She was credited for saving many of the passengers from the fire which consumed the aircraft cabin.
THE CRASH SITE - AUGUST 2011
The aircraft crashed about 1.5 miles off the end of Runway 3, in one of the few clearings near the airport.
After striking the tops of two trees, the aircraft slid over 150 meters before coming to a stop.
Prior to locating the burn area, I decided to walk the debris path and began finding pieces of the aircraft's aluminum structure in the clearing.