Local Collection of Maritime Tragedy

Somewhere west of South Haven and Benton Harbor, about 20 miles from shore, Northwest Airlines flight 2501 disappeared into a stormy Michigan night June 23, 1950. Bound for Minneapolis from New York, flight 2501’s disappearance was one of the worst crashes of the time. Although Coast Guard search parties recovered some debris and body parts, they were unable to locate major wreckage, providing an indication of the crash’s severity. According to the official accident report, divers descended to 150′ in search of wreckage but found nothing, only an estimated 50′ of silt at the lake bottom. To this day, the cause of the accident remains a mystery.

Several years ago a local Lake Michigan shipwreck group – Michigan Shipwreck Research Association – teamed up with author Clive Cussler with the goal of discovering the wreckage of NWA 2501. One of the research association’s founders, Valerie van Heest, a Holland, Michigan, resident and author of Fatal Crossing: The Mysterious Disappearance of NWA Flight 2501 and the Quest for Answers, became intimately acquainted with the stories of the 58 passengers and crew whose lives were lost during the crash.

During one of our sailing trips this summer we stopped in South Haven and spent several hours touring the Michigan Maritime Museum, a neat little museum located on the Black River. We were pleasantly surprised when we discovered that the museum had an exhibit dedicated to NWA 2501 – an exhibit that van Heest personally designed.

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NWA 2501 left behind little evidence, but van Heest has assembled an interesting collection of artifacts, stories, and details about the crash. Her collection – and her book – is a touching tribute to the families whose lives were changed forever that night. It is also just one of the many aspects of Lake Michigan that make this area such an interesting place to live and sail.

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