Malaysia Airlines reminiscent of 1950 disappearance

Northwest Orient Flight 2501. (Undated courtesy photo)

HOLLAND, Mich. (WOOD/CNN) — When Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went off radar on March 8, no one could imagine how a Boeing 777 could simply disappear.

Inside New uncertainty about missing Malaysian plane

But Darlene Larson knows it can happen.

On June 23, 1950, Larson’s father Leo Wohler was among the 53  passengers  and 3 crew members  aboard Northwest Orient Flight 2501 from New York to Minneapolis. The DC-4 had what was considered cutting-edge technology at the time. Still, it vanished over Lake Michigan; the worst commercial aviation disaster in U.S. history at the time. It has never been recovered.

“I was awoken by my mother crying. She did her best to try to tell me what had happened, that my father was gone and would not be coming back,” Larson told CNN.

Larson was 5 years old at the time. Her mother and six siblings were waiting for their father to return from a business trip.

“It’s a hard concept because you don’t have something to hold onto like a funeral, a casket or a grave,” she said.

Valerie Vanheest, an author from Holland, has scoured the bottom of Lake Michigan with the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association, searching for Flight 2501.

“This was a huge tragedy, but nobody knew what happened for many days. Much like the Malaysia Airlines incident going on right now, there was no indication what happened,” Vanheest told 24 Hour News 8. “There were a lot of speculations from a bomb incident, to a hijacking, to the pilots maybe making off with the plane. There were the same kind of speculations.”

Over the last 10 years, Vanheest and other divers have combed 600 square miles and found 14 shipwrecks — but not Flight 2501.

“It’s an eerie thing, just wondering,” Larson said. “Just not knowing what actually happened.”

The stark difference between the two missing planes is that two days after Flight 2501 disappeared, human remains and debris began surfacing on Lake Michigan.

“And that’s where the difference is,” Vanheest said. “The families, although distraught in 1950, they knew their loved ones were gone. They could begin the grieving process. Now with Malaysia Airlines, they can’t begin. We’re still holding out hope. Maybe there was a hijacking, maybe the people are still alive.”

A gravestone in St. Joseph memorializes the passengers of Flight 2501.

A memorial to Northwest Orient Flight 2501 in St. Joseph. (March 15, 2014)
(A memorial to Northwest Orient Flight 2501 in St. Joseph. March 16, 2014)

Vanheest will be back out with divers this spring to continue searching for the missing plane. She says they still have 50 square miles of probable area to cover between South Haven and St. Joseph.

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