Transcontinental and Western Air Flight 3 Crashes into a Cliff, Killing 22

Transcontinental and Western Air (TWA) Flight 3 was a twin-engine Douglas DC-3-382 propliner, registration NC1946, operating as a scheduled domestic passenger flight from New York, NY to Burbank, CA via Indianapolis, IN, Saint Louis, MO, Albuquerque, NM and Las Vegas, NV. On January 16, 1942, at 19:20 PST, 15 minutes after takeoff from Las Vegas Airport (now Nellis Air Force Base) bound for Burbank, the aircraft slammed into a sheer cliff on Potosi Mountain, 32 miles southwest of the airport, at an elevation of 7,770 ft above sea level, and was destroyed.

All nineteen passengers on board, including movie star Carole Lombard and her mother, and all three crew members, died in the crash.

With the passenger cabin lights comfortably dimmed, up front in the cockpit, Captain Williams probably had the instrument and cockpit flood lights turned up to set the power for cruise flight. Perhaps Co-pilot Gillette was busy with a navigation chart or trying to confirm their course. Regardless of the reason or task at hand, neither pilot noticed the selected course was sending them into the snow-capped 8,500 foot Potosi Mountain.

The collision with the vertical cliff of Potosi Mountain was devastating and all 22 passengers and crew were killed instantly. When the final report was issued nearly a year later, the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) investigators were never able to determine why the flight flew off course and into mountainous terrain.

All nineteen passengers on board, including movie star Carole Lombard and her mother, and all three crew members, died in the crash.

The Civil Aeronautics Board CAB investigated the accident and determined it was caused by a navigation error by the captain.

Upon arrival in Albuquerque, Lombard and her companions were asked to give up their seats for the continuing flight segment, to make room for 15 U.S. Army Air Corps personnel flying to California. Lombard insisted that because of her War Bonds effort, she too was essential, and convinced the station agent to let her group re-board the flight. Other passengers were removed instead, including violinist Joseph Szigeti.

In twilight the plane reached Las Vegas, took off again at 7:07 p.m. for the last lap. At the controls was 12,000-hour veteran Pilot Wayne C. Williams.
At 7:30 miners in Nevada's mountains, some 30 miles southwest of Las Vegas, heard a terrific explosion, saw a vivid flash near the top of Table Rock Mountain.
Flames shot up from the lonely peak, then faded. Searching parties started out over snow that bogged horses belly-deep. Men toiled up over flinty rock that shredded boots into uselessness, struggled vertically up through some of the most difficult, barren rockland in the U.S.