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1930s & Earlier / 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.