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Sandia Mountains, NM TWA Airliner Crashes, Feb 1955

Martin 404.JPG Sandia Mountain NM Memorial.jpg Sandia Mountain NM Part of wreckage.jpg NEW MEXICO PLANE CRASH 2-19-1955.jpg



One of New Mexico's biggest air and ground searches was expected to swing into its second day at dawn today in an effort to locate a vanished TWA airliner carrying 16 persons.
The twin-engined Martin 404 took off at 7 a.m. Saturday from the Albuquerque airport for a 29-minute hop to Santa Fe. Three minutes later Pilot I. R. SPONG of Prairie Village, Kas., radioed that the plane was off the ground and on its way.
Then there was silence.
Five New Mexico residents were aboard the plane. They are HOMER D. BRAY, 817 Grandview SE; MISS LOIS DEAN, 907 Richmond SE; the Rev. EARL F. DAVIS, 501A Quincy NE; WORTH H. NICHOLL, Elks Club, and DR. ROBERT BALK, Socorro.
Search Unsuccessful.
Saturday's rumor-filled but unsuccessful search by ground and air, hampered to the north by viloent snowstorms, was to be resumed at dawn today with some 50 planes and perhaps as many as a thousand ground searchers taking part.
Despite bitter cold, many searchers maintained vigil throughout the night, watching for fires or flares that might indicate the presence somewhere in the mountainous, broken area of survivors of a forced landing.
Just before midnight OLIVER PADILLA of Santa Fe reported to state police that he spotted what appeared to be a distress signal as he topped the crest of La Bajada Hill on US-85. Police had not found anything early today.
Albuquerque's Fire Chief ART WESTERFELD long after dark radioed that in a jeep he had seen one fire that looked as if it might be the kind sought, flaring on lonely Rowe Mesa between Las Vegas and Santa Fe. Search crews were going in to investigate.
State Police headquarters in Santa Fe said a second fire was seen near the isolated community of Palma, near Clines Corners of US-85 due south of Rowe. A car was dispatched to the scene, but was stopped before reaching it by a flat tire and snow.
Could see No Fires.
Officers said a civil air patrol plane flew over Rowe Mesa and could see no fires, such as WESTERFELD reported. Four scheduled planes, flying over the mesa and not participating in the search, said they had seen no fires.
Headquarters said ground crews into the vast tabletop mesa would await morning when it's possible the plane could be pinpointed from the air.
WESTERFELD said he and BOB WILLIAMS of the Albuquerque Civil Defense Unit climbed the Ortiz mountains between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and just at sunset "spotted two fires through field glasses. They appeared were in canyons at the edge of the mesa."
"It may not be them," he said, "but it's a good hunch. We went around by the area but we never did locate the fires after we left that peak."
Earlier, reports were heard that a plane had been seen and heard that a plane had been seen and heard near Santo Domingo Pueblo; near Jemez Pueblo; over Madrid; over Montezuma; over Las Vegas range stations, and at other points. All the reports were checked out as fully as weather conditions permitted. None bore fruit.
Boy Hears Crash.
About 8:30 p.m. HENRY GONZALES, JR., 12, son of a couple living in the Cienega area near Turquoise Trading Post about 15 miles toward Albuquerque from Santa Fe, told his aunt in Albuquerque of having heard a low-flying plane and then a crash in the Cienega Mountains near his home, early Saturday.
MRS. A. GUTIERREZ, the aunt, of 1213 Farelas SW, told the Journal that her nephew had not known a plane was down until he arrived in Albuquerque to visit her Saturday evening. State Police said they would check out the report.
Major A. H. PERRY of the Civil Air Patrol said some 50 members of the CAP, formed into 25 two-man teams, spent the night out in the field Saturday, braving temperatures ranging well below zero to keep a watch for fires or other signs of the downed plane.
Some planes ranged over the rugged country well into the night, but most were grounded until morning.

Continued on Page 2.


TWA crash site, Sandia Mountain

In May, 1957 my buddy, Phillip Shero and I climbed down to the TWA crash site from Sandia Crest. The climb to and from the wreckage took most of the day. We remained at the site for approximately an hour or less. the scene was very disturbing, standing amoung the wreckage. A piece of clothing still fluttered in the breeze, caught on a burned snag high on the face of the cliff. A man's shoe lay amoung the wreckage, the shoe laces torn / broken evenly down the middle of the tongue of he shoe. I have a couple of photos taken at the site, showing the tail section and another of my friend, Phillip who was with me that day.



If you would like me to post some of the photos you have taken of this site, you could email them to me and I would be glad to add them.
thank you

TWA crash Albuquerque 1955

I was part of the volunteer "rescue" team that came in from the rim road and down to the crash site. I was in the Air force stationed at Kirtland AFB at the time. It's been over fifty years now and some memories have dimmed considerably, yet others are vivid as if it was just yesterday. Unlike some of the news reporting we get now days, the account related in the news stories above are amazingly accurate in detail so any of my account would be redundant. I will say it was a horrible crash, as described above. The only body that was in tact at all was the Flight Attendant and her body was in the lavatory at the extreme rear of the tail section which as I recall was hanging over the edge of the pinnacle. It made for fairly hazardous recovery. There could have been no physical suffering, Thank God!

TWA crash

Hello sir, I am a flight instructor and college student who is very intersted in the history of this crash. Is there any way I could obtain a copy of the pictures you took on your hike back in 1957? I have searched all over the web for pictures taken shortly after the crash and I can not seem to find any. I have hiked to the site many times and always think about what it must have been like, but if I could see some early pictures that would be very intersting to me!

If I can see your photos I pormise that I would not share or publish them anywhere. I would also be more than happy to pay you for your time and effort if I could obtain a copy of them. Thanks! Justin Cox.

TWA crash near Albuquerque,1955

I grew up in Albuquerque and remember this event. I recall that several large search lights were set up off of Juan Tabo road[the only road into that area in 1955] to aid some of the search party who got caught on very steep terrain after sunset. I have been to this sight several times. I had part of a cylinder head for many years. The wreckage was scattered over a very large area. I don't think I ever saw it all. The wreckage was removed from the west side of Sandia Mountain when the tramway was built. It would have been easy to see by those riding the tramway. I recall that the CAB found some problem with a gyro for the navigation instruments.

TWA crash in Sandias

I grew up in Albuquerque and remember this event. Large searchlights were set up off of Juan Tabo road to aid some of the searchers who got caught after sundown on the steep,rocky terrain. I have been to the sight several times, but I have never seen all of the wreckage due to the terrain. I recall that the CAB finally determined that a faulty gyro was the probable cause of this crash. Sandia crest was covered by clouds down to about 7500 feet. Those hiking to the crash from the west side should use caution as there are many large rocks that can become dislodged. The crash sight can be reached much easier from the crest starting near the Kiawanis shelter south of the towers.

Sandia Mountains Plane Crash Site

Mr. Beitler,

Would it be possible for you to post any of the available photos that you may have acquired over the years that would show where the plane actually came to rest after the crash?

Thank you,

Cedric Jones

Letter recovered from 1955 TWA crash in Sandia Mountains

I inherited a partially burned letter recovered from the Sandia Mountains TWA crash. Does anyone know if the plane was carrying mail and if it is of any monetary value as a collectible? Supposedly very few items were recovered and were being bought by collectors after the crash.

TWA Crash

I searched for this plane many times in my youth with a good friend of mine. We did eventually find this crash. I have the original Martin Spar tag for the airplane with its data very much complete. It was recovered many years ago by me. My buddy has the TWA ID fuselage tag that I gave him. I also have the TSB report here in my file locker. It is a very interesting crash to see. For obvious reasons a bulk of the material is still on the mountain even today.



Where is the TWA crash site relative to, say the top of the tram. I'd like to hike UP to it if possible.

Thank you,


article | by Dr. Radut