United Air Lines Trip 23
DateOctober 10, 1933 (1933-10-10)
SummaryDeliberate on-board explosion
SiteNear Chesterton, Indiana, US
41°34′12″N 86°59′18″W / 41.57000°N 86.98833°W / 41.57000; -86.98833
Aircraft typeBoeing 247D
OperatorUnited Air Lines
Flight originNewark, New Jersey, US
1st stopoverCleveland, Ohio, US
Last stopoverChicago, Illinois, US
DestinationOakland, California, US

On October 10, 1933, United Air Lines Trip 23, a Boeing 247 airliner operated by United Air Lines[a] and registered as NC13304[1] crashed near Chesterton, Indiana, United States. The transcontinental flight carried three crew and four passengers and originated in Newark, New Jersey, with its final destination in Oakland, California. It had already landed in Cleveland, and was headed to its next stop in Chicago when it exploded en route. All aboard died in the crash, which was caused by an on-board explosive device. Eyewitnesses on the ground reported hearing an explosion shortly after 9 pm and seeing the aircraft in flames at an altitude around 1,000 feet (300 m). A second explosion followed after the aircraft crashed. The crash scene was adjacent to a gravel road about 5 miles (8 km) outside of Chesterton, centered in a wooded area on the Jackson Township farm of James Smiley.[2][3]

Investigators combed through the debris and were confronted with unusual evidence; the toilet and baggage compartment had been smashed into fragments. Shards of metal riddled the inside of the toilet door, while the other side of the door was free of the metal fragments. The tail section had been severed just aft of the toilet and was found mostly intact almost a mile away from the main wreckage.[4]

The Federal Bureau of Investigation declassified 324 documents related to the investigation on November 16, 2017.[3] It is notable for being the first proven act of air sabotage in the history of commercial aviation.[5]


United States Bureau of Investigation investigator Melvin Purvis said, "Our investigation convinced me that the tragedy resulted from an explosion somewhere in the region of the baggage compartment in the rear of the aircraft. Everything in front of the compartment was blown forward, everything behind blown backward, and things at the side outward." He also noted that the gasoline tanks "were crushed in, showing [that] there was no explosion in them."[6]


Dr. Carl Davis of the Porter County coroner's office[7] and experts from the Crime Detection Laboratory at Northwestern University[4][8] examined evidence from the crash and concluded that it was caused by a bomb, with nitroglycerin as the probable explosive. One of the passengers was seen carrying a brown package onto the aircraft in Newark, but investigators found the package amidst the wreckage and ruled it out as the source of the explosion.[4] Investigators found a rifle in the wreckage, but they determined that a passenger carried it aboard as luggage, as he was en route to a shoot at Chicago's North Shore Gun Club.[4][7] No suspect was ever identified in this incident and it remains unsolved.[9]

Pilot Captain Terrant, his co-pilot, stewardess Alice Scribner, and all four passengers were killed. Scribner was the first United stewardess to be killed in an aircraft crash.[9]

See also


  1. ^ In 1933, United Airlines was known as United Air Lines. The company name changed in 1974.


  1. ^ "FAA Registry (NC13304)". Federal Aviation Administration.
  2. ^ "Seven Killed in Crash of Giant Transport Plane" (PDF). The Citizen-Advertiser. Auburn, NY. AP. 11 October 1933. p. 12.
  3. ^ a b "1933 Crash of United Airlines Trip 23 Boeing 247 NC13304 Part 01 of 01". Federal Bureau of Investigation. Retrieved October 23, 2021.
  4. ^ a b c d "Aeronautics: Death on No. 23". TIME. 23 October 1933. Archived from the original on February 4, 2013.
  5. ^ "Accident details". planecrashinfo.com.
  6. ^ "Plane wreck laid to nitroglycerine". The New York Times. October 15, 1933. p. 31.
  7. ^ a b "Suspects Bomb Wrecked Plane" (PDF). Prescott Evening Courier. AP. 12 October 1933. p. 3.[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ "Wreck of air liner laid to a bomb". The New York Times. 14 October 1933. p. 5.
  9. ^ a b van der Linden, F. Robert (November 1991). The Boeing 247: the first modern airliner (Google Books preview). Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press. p. 83. ISBN 0-295-97094-4.