Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Sabotage: The Downing of Flight 629

The Beet Farm

Throughout the frigid night, police, medical personnel and volunteers worked non-stop. They carefully recorded the location of each body and retrieved luggage ejected from the plane. Hundreds of pieces of twisted metal littered the neatly plowed fields of the Lang farm. Large, jagged chunks of aluminum, double seats and charred wreckage seemed to be everywhere. Bodies of the passengers lay frozen in grotesque silence, their limbs mangled. Huge black craters, where fuel-soaked metal had burned during the night, were located on the north edge of the farm over one mile away from the tail assembly.

Crash victim covered with blanket
Crash victim covered with blanket

United Airline employees arrived in the early morning hours to help with the cleanup. They marched through the site picking up bits of clothing, ladies handbags, dinner trays, shoes and hats. In the distance, they could see flames shooting up from another large crater where one of the plane's engines had landed. In the nearby town of Greeley, off state route 85, a temporary morgue was set up in the state armory. Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph dispatched emergency crews and set up a dozen new telephone lines to the morgue and to hotels in Longmont and Greeley to help with the recovery effort. By mid-morning, curious crowds had gathered in the vicinity. Thousands of people impeded the activities of the emergency crews, forcing sheriff's deputies to rope off the area.

But the grim work continued. A body was recovered atop a haystack. Feet and legs, some with shoes still attached, were located and brought to a common area where the parts could be matched up. Burned, unrecognizable remains were found still strapped in their seats inside the devastated fuselage. Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation were already at the scene and assisting local law enforcement agencies with the identification process. In addition, the Denver office of the FBI volunteered its laboratory facilities and acted as the liaison between all participating agencies. But no one could offer an official explanation as to the cause of the crash. There were simply too many possibilities.

United Airlines, which had lost another passenger aircraft a month before when it crashed into the Wyoming Rockies, sent its top executives to Colorado to offer whatever assistance they could provide. "Determination and responsibility for the accident is beyond the authority of United Airlines alone," said United President W.A. Patterson to reporters. "Federal and local officials are now working at the scene - we will search out every possibility, however remote." But airline veterans noted the thousands of pieces of the DC-6B spread out in a wide area of the sugar beet farm. Their experienced eyes told them that, when an aircraft hits the ground, it does not spread out in such a manner. This impact pattern pointed to only one possibility: flight 629 exploded during flight in mid-air.

Aerial view of wreckage
Aerial view of wreckage

Troops from the 168th Field Artillery of the National Guard out of Longmont were called in to protect the scene.

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