Into the Abyss: The 1956 Grand Canyon Mid-air Collision

This artist’s impression from LIFE Magazine in 1957 is the most accurate depiction of the collision. (LIFE Magazine)
A 1950s advertisement for TWA. (Mike McComb, Lost Flights)
A 1950s advertisement for United. (Mike McComb, Lost Flights)
A TWA Lockheed Constellation similar to the one involved in the accident. (Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives)
A United Douglas DC-7 similar to the one involved in the accident. (Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives)
The approximate planned routes of the two flights, with waypoints. (Google + own work)
Progress of the flights, part 1 of 2. (Google + own work)
Progress of the flights, part 2of 2. (Google + own work)
The Grand Canyon is awe-inspiring from any angle, whether you’re on the ground or in the air. (Unknown photographer)
A thunderstorm over the Grand Canyon. (National Park Service)
The moment of the collision, as depicted by artist Bill Hunter in 1957. (LIFE Magazine)
An animation of the collision and crash of TWA flight 2, from the “Mayday” TV series. Note that in reality the DC-7 was not banked as steeply as this animation would have you believe.
The continuation of the previous animation depicts the final moments of the United DC-7. However, the plane was actually pointed slightly nose down on impact and certainly was not climbing. (Mayday)
A 3-D rendering of the terrain in the area with the crash sites labeled. For scale, the crash sites are about two kilometers apart. (Google + own work)
A photo of the scene, taken not long after the crash, shows two black smudges, highlighted by the arrows, where the planes impacted the canyon. (LIFE Magazine)
A newspaper headline from two days after the crash — it took that long for the scope of the disaster to become apparent to the press. (Arizona Daily Star)
The wreckage of the Constellation, as it appeared in 1956. (National Park Service)
The tail of the Constellation where it came to rest, away from the main wreckage. (LIFE Magazine)
The crash site of the DC-7 can be seen top center in this image from October 1956. (Mike McComb, Lost Flights)
A helicopter carries away the left wingtip of the DC-7 from where it came to rest, near the TWA wreckage site. (Mike McComb, Lost Flights)
Recovery crews load bodies into a US Army Piasecki H-21 “Flying Banana.” (HistoryNet)
The DC-7 crash site in 1975, 19 years after the disaster. (Mike McComb, Lost Flights)
The TWA crash site as it appeared in 1975. (National Park Service)
Wreckage of the DC-7 was still visible in this crevasse in 2006.
A sign marking the National History Landmark and commemorating the tragedy now stands on the canyon rim near the place where the planes went down. (San Diego Union-Tribune)



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Admiral Cloudberg

Admiral Cloudberg


Analyzer of plane crashes and author of upcoming book (eventually™). Contact me via @Admiral_Cloudberg on Reddit or by email at