December 21, 1972: Duluthians return home after surviving Chicago plane crash

On this day in Duluth in 1972, eight survivors of a collision of two airliners at Chicago’s O’Hare National Airport made it safely to Duluth. They had been among 45 passengers aboard North Central Airlines DC-9 bound for Madison and ultimately Duluth. Just as the plane became airborne it clipped the wing of a Delta Air Lines plane. The DC-9 crashed and then exploded into flames, ultimately killing ten people aboard the North Central plane including Helma Alto of Aurora, Minnesota; Beverly Demsey, who was on her way to Duluth to visit family; and Mrs. E. Tunder of Hasle, Norway, who was also headed to the Zenith City. Seventeen others were injured. Most of the accident’s victims were injured or killed not by the crash itself, but by the fire that erupted after an engine exploded on impact. Dick Ojakangas explained to the newspaper that he and his son Greg, along with a woman from Hibbing, were the last three people to get off the plane before it caught fire, having crawled on their hands and knees to safety following the voice of another passenger urging them on. The Ojakangases did not return on the 20th, as both had suffered some smoke inhalation, as did Robert Seim jr. of Rural Superior. Duluthian Julie Holmlund was reported in serious condition, but her injuries were not mentioned. Those who made it to Duluth on the 20th, local residents as well as those visiting for the Christmas holiday, included Charles Appleby, Phyllis Bennett, Craft Dryer, George Caspers, Mike Diamon, James Gallop, Kim Lessard, and Raymond Higgins. Higgins told the Duluth News Tribune that there was no panic on the plane after the crash, and that he and others had helped many get off the plane until the fire became too hot for them to remain.

The same DC-9 that Duluthians were aboard on December 21, 1972 when it was struck by a Delta Airlines plane. (Image: RuthAS)