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:
60th Anniversary Memorial Ceremony
On February 12, 2023, family members of those lost in the Flight 705 crash gathered for the 60th anniversary at Everglades National Park. The gathering brought together those who had never before met in person, but shared the long-term grief and loss of a loved one. Sisters Theresa and Meg Trebon, daughters of passenger John C. Heil, Jr., designed and brought with them a plaque commemorating the passengers and crew and the brief story of the event. The group convened at Long Pine Key to share stories of their families and loss before moving to Pa-hay-okee Trail for the memorial ceremony. From the observation platform overlooking the expanse of the Everglades sawgrass prairie, the group was able to look out in the direction of the crash site, approximately 10 miles to the northwest. Theresa led the poignant ceremony with several participants sharing a few words.
The remarkable confluence of the memorial ceremony and the meeting, for the first time, of the survivors of those aboard Flight 705 was thanks to a technology that did not exist in 1963. In 2011, a website was begun by Theresa Trebon in preparation for the 40th anniversary of the accident. While the Northwest Orient Flight 705 website presented extensive information about the crash, its main purpose from the beginning was to bring together those impacted by it. Slowly, over the years, people with ties to the 705 story found the website and a virtual community was built—a place for people to go to and remember their loved ones with others that understood. That virtual community was the impetus for the February 12, 2023 memorial at Everglades National Park.
For many of the attendees, both those who attended in person and those was connected via a live posting of the ceremony, a long-sought measure of peace and completion came from the Pa-hay-okee Overlook that day. In the words of those who participated, “it was a palpable and immeasurable gift.”
The families expressed their gratitude to Superintendent Pedro Ramos and park staff for supporting and hosting the 705 Memorial by presenting the park with the memorial plaque to display in the Park’s Headquarters office to remind staff and visitors of this event in the history of Everglades National Park.
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/
L to R: Felix Regueira, [nephew of Ramon Diaz Echevarria], Theresa Heil Trebon [daughter of John C. Heil Jr.], Bruce [brother of Fred and Joan Olson] and Paula Olson, Meg Heil Trebon [daughter of John C. Heil Jr.], Greg and Kris Terp [grandsons of Elizabeth and Wilbur Christianson], and Michele Morgan, Greg’s godmother.
Last updated: February 12, 2024