Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Sabotage: The Downing of Flight 629

It Blew Up in the Air!

Approximately 10 miles north of Denver and two miles west of the explosion, a Union Pacific freight train cruised toward the city. Floyd Wood, 61, was the conductor on board. He was riding in the caboose taking a cigarette break when he noticed a light in the sky. "It was moonlight out," he later told the Denver Post, "and I looked up in the sky to rest my eyes a minute when I saw the first flicker. I thought it was a meteor!" His nephew, Roland Wood, 43, was on the same train. "We couldn't actually see the plane," he said to reporters, "just the flames from it." Both men witnessed the impact on the ground a few minutes later. "The moonlight was so bright," Floyd Wood told the press, "we could see a big mushroom of oily smoke like an atom bomb and then it burst into a real bright flame."

Outside the city limits of Longmont, a local farmer named Conrad Hopp was in his fields when he heard the loud noise and looked up. "It sounded like a bomb went off," he later told the press, "I ran out and saw a big fire right over the cattle corral. I hollered back to my wife that she'd better call the fire department...then I turned around and it blew up in the air!" Other witnesses watched in horror as aircraft pieces fell from the sky, twisting and turning until they crashed into the distant plains. Most of the other debris landed in a sugar beet farm east of Longmont. Dozens of people called the police department and soon every available ambulance and fire truck raced to the scene.

Scene of crash
Scene of crash

The wreckage was spread over two miles of the flat terrain of Weld County, which abuts the Wyoming border. In a recent interview with this author, farmer Arlo Boda described the site. "Pieces of the plane landed right over there," he said, "there were parts all over these farms." Boda described what he found. "I was plowing out one of these fields in the 1970s and I dug up part of the engine manifold," he said. Later, he turned over the relic to his brother who worked for the federal government.

Tail of aircraft after impact
Tail of aircraft after impact

The entire tail section of the Douglas-built aircraft had separated from the main fuselage and, incredibly, landed erect, almost undamaged. Large jagged pieces were strewn all over farmlands belonging to the Lang family. Bud Lang, 20, was almost directly under the plane when it exploded and later told reporters from the Denver Post it "looked like a shooting star." Another witness, Kenneth Hopp, 22, who lived less than a mile from the site, heard something loud in the sky. "I heard the engines rev up," he said to the Post, "Then I heard a loud pop. I ran out of the house and saw the burning plane. It was nosing toward the ground all on fire, with sparks trailing!" Hopp jumped into his car and sped over to where he saw the plane hit the ground. He was the first person to reach the scene and what he saw would remain with him for the rest of his life.

"Within a matter of seconds," he told Post reporters, "I was there, driving my car part way and walking the rest. I walked around the scene, but I heard nobody calling out and I didn't see anyone." Hopp searched the area for survivors as another neighbor arrived. "We stayed out in the field for a while and covered up the bodies of two men. Each was lying beside a hole about a foot deep made by the impact of their bodies." Soon, emergency crews arrived and began the awful task of sorting through the debris and the corpses.

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