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Knute Rockne Plane Crash Famed Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne and seven other men perished in an airplane crash on March 31, 1931. Rockne, 43, was travelling on business from Kansas City to Los Angeles on TWA Flight 599. The plane had only been airborne a short time when it lost a wing. It crashed on a farm near Bazaar, KS. Apparently the passengers were aware of their fate: It was reported that when Rockne's body was found, he was clutching a rosary. This memorial, erected on the crash site, was maintained for years by the 13-year-old boy who arrived first on the scene. Rockne's funeral cortege was witnessed by an estimated 300,000 people. It is often claimed that Flight 599 went down in or shortly after a thunderstorm. However, meteorological records show that there was no significant convective activity at the time. The accident was actually caused by the composition of the aircraft. Fokker Trimotor aircrafts were manufactured out of wood laminate; in this instance, moisture had leaked into the interior of one wing over a period of time and had weakened the glue bonding the structural members (called struts or spars) that prevented the wing from fluttering in flight. One spar finally failed; the wing developed an uncontrolled flutter and separated from the aircraft. The accident caused numerous changes in the operations of both TWA and the Aeronautics Branch of the US Department of Commerce, forerunner of today's FAA. All US airlines operating at that time were forced to remove Fokker Trimotors from service. The expense of this compounded with the bad publicity associated with Rockne's death almost sank TWA. The intense public interest in the cause of the accident also forced the Department of Commerce to abandon its policy of keeping the results of aircraft accident investigations secret.
Tags: Knute  Rockne  memorial  airplane  crash  football 
Added: 24th February 2011
Views: 8297
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Posted By: Lava1964
Posted by: Carl1957 on 2011-02-25 
That 13 year old boy would be 93 now. I wonder if he is still alive and if he ever published any of his memories of this. That would be interesting reading.
Posted by: Lava1964 on 2011-02-26 
The boy who was first on the scene of the Knute Rockne plane crash was James Easter Heathman, who was one week shy of his fourteenth birthday. He heard heard TWA Flight 599 flying low over his farm. A telephone operator called Heathman's family shortly afterwards to inform them there had been an airplane crash nearby. Heathman, along with his father and his brothers, raced in the family's Model T to the site of the crash, which is located the miles southwest of the town of Bazaar, Kansas. Heathman found the airplane's tail sticking out of the ground, as well as the bodies of the crash victims. They stayed at the scene until the coroner arrived to remove the crash victims. Heathman's son, Tom, later described the event as very traumatic for his father.

Heathman reportedly did not talk about the crash much with his family until the last two decades of his life. However, during his lifetime, Heathman became a dedicated fan of the University of Notre Dame and the life of Knute Rockne. He often led free tours to the crash site and memorial to honor Rockne and the others killed in the crash. Heathman's tours became a must-do pilgrimage for hundreds of University of Notre Dame alumni and football fans over the years. Many who took the tour came to Kansas to hear Heathman's first-hand account of his discovery of Rockne's plane.

Heathman was honored by the University of Notre Dame for his dedication to the school and the memory of Rockne. He received an honorary monogram from Notre Dame in 2006 at a pep rally held at Notre Dame Stadium attended by students and fans. The event honoring Heathman coincided with the 75th anniversary of Rockne's death. He often showed off autographed Notre Dame footballs which were given to him by coaches Lou Holtz and Charlie Weis.

Despite his fame among those dedicated to Notre Dame, Heathman remained modest. In his last interview, which he gave to the Chicago Tribune in December 2007, he stated, 'I'm not a celebrity. I'm just an older farmer.

Heathman died in 2008 at age 90.
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