Throughout the 20th century, the increased use of aviation in South Florida has resulted in a significant number of aircraft lost in the vast expanse of what is now Everglades National Park. These incidents, which include the loss of small training craft, private planes, military aircraft, and commercial airliners, tell the tragic side of stories of human interactions with the Everglades. The associated rescue/salvage operations that inevitably follow serve as reminders of the difficulty of navigating the untamed wilderness of this unique place. And the lessons learned from these incidents have led to improved safety in aviation for subsequent generations.
One such incident occurred on the afternoon of February 12, 1963 when Northwest Orient Flight 705 lost radio contact and disappeared from radar only minutes after departing Miami International Airport enroute to Chicago, IL while flying into a storm over Everglades National Park. The resulting search effort included a number of federal, regional, and local agencies who worked throughout the evening to locate any remnants of the aircraft and the 43 people, including 35 passengers and 8 crew, on board. A United States Coast Guard helicopter located the primary crash site 43 miles from Miami and nine miles from the nearest roadway around 7 p.m. that evening.
The resulting investigation was hampered by the difficulty of the terrain and the remoteness of the crash site, that was only accessible by helicopter, swamp buggy, or on foot. After initial reconnaissance, it was determined that the remains of the Boeing 720 were spread out over a 10-mile path stretching from approximately Pay-hay-okee to about 10 miles south of Tamiami Trail. Most of the wreckage and the remains of the passengers and crew were found at the northern end of the debris field. While the flight recorder was located, there was no clear evidence pointing to a definitive cause for the crash. In order to determine the cause of the crash, attempts were made to piece together the surviving remnants of the wreckage on site. Nearly 97% of the aircraft was recovered and reconstructed at a USCG hangar in Opa-locka.
The results of the more than two-year investigation determined that Flight 705 broke apart in mid-flight due to extreme turbulence. The maneuvers of the aircraft to counteract that turbulence resulted in a “longitudinal upset” from which a successful recovery was not made. This accident was somewhat unique in that there was no structural failure or explosion that prompted the disintegration of the aircraft and was considered a first of its kind.The cause was determined to be the result of the impacts of turbulence on the plane itself, coupled with the pilots’ attempts to control the aircraft leading to a sharp dive exceeding the airplane’s operational limitations, after which time it disintegrated in mid-air (Civil Aeronautics Board 1965).
This investigation led to several major changes in the aircraft industry, including improvements in cockpit instrumentation and radar, changes to how pilots penetrate weather, and improvements in how air traffic control identifies and directs planes around storm activity (Kaye 1993). The accident was so significant in understanding aviation safety that in 2013 the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) chose this flight for additional study with modern-day technology for its “Lessons Learned” series.
The loss of Northwest Orient Flight 705 and the 43 people on board on the afternoon of February 12, 1963 stands as the largest loss of life in an aviation accident within the current boundary of Everglades National Park. Along with their families, friends, and co-workers, we mourn the lives lost in this unfortunate accident:
For those looking to connect with more resources and stories about Flight 705, the daughter of passenger John C. Heil, Jr. hosts the website Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 705: https://northwestorient705.com/
Last updated: February 8, 2023