Lost Birds Aviation Museum - Preserving and Documenting Aviation History


Historical Aircraft Mishap

Remembering the Passengers & Crew of

  TWA Flight 3, Douglas DC-3, NC1946

January 16, 1942


Remembering the tragic accident that took the lives of Actress Carole Lombard and 21 others.

At 7:18 p.m., on January 16, 1942, less than one-half hour after the Los Angeles-bound TWA Flight 3, had taken off from Las Vegas, it crashed on Mount Potosi, 35 miles southwest of town.  Carole Lombard, along with her mother, press agent Otto Winkler, the three crew, one passenger, and 15 servicemen perished on board the Douglas built DC-3.

Photo of what the plane would have looked like. (Mike McComb Collection)

Searchers on horseback toiled over steep, snow-packed trails of the Potosi Range, seeking the spot were Flight 3, with her 22 persons aboard, crashed.  The search party forged its way up the 8,700-foot peak with little hope of finding anything more than charred bodies and twisted wreckage.  At the foot of the mountain, Clark Gable, Carole Lombardís husband, waited in the faint hope that some of those on the plane may have survived. 

Below images of rescue workers recovering the victims.  (AP Photos)

The day before, Lombardís trip on the ill-fated Flight 3 hinged on the flip of a coin. Her press agent wished to make the journey to Los Angeles by train, but Lombard held out for the plane trip, wanting to get home sooner. They finally tossed a coin and Lombard won.

At the time, there had not been a good explanation for the disaster. The pilot, Captain Wayne Williams, left Las Vegas reporting only that he had taken off and that visibility and weather conditions were good.  Flight 3 crashed near the 8,300-foot level of Mount Potosi with flaps retracted, and the plane in level flight.  Something happened inside that cockpit and happened so fast that Williams could not react.  

Below is the flight path Flight 3 took in RED, which lead the crew into the mountain. (CAB report)

The sudden crash of Flight 3 against an icy Nevada mountain was so devastating that it destroyed most of the aircraft and its contents but left enough clues behind that would later baffle FBI and aviation investigators.  The central puzzle: Why, with the radio beam apparently functioning, skilled pilots at the controls, and perfect flying weather, was the plane flying 6.7 miles off its proper course?  Further complicating the dark mystery of the cause of the crash, the FBI investigated the possibility of sabotage. 


Douglas Scroggins with Lost Birds is examining one of the radial engines from TWA Flight 3.  (1993)

One of the main landing gear from TWA Flight 3.  (1993) (Douglas Scroggins Photo)

At this time of the year, the peaks of Mount Potosi are covered with snow, inaccessible and impossible to film. Under the seasonís snowy canvas, wreckage from Flight 3 litters the mountainside, both engines and landing gear still rest among the rocks today.  

Aircraft:   Douglas DC-3, NC1946, serial number 3295

Operator:  Transcontinental Western Airlines (TWA)


FINDINGS INTO THE ACCIDENT:   The flight crew had made a critical error in the compass course heading for this leg of their flight. The crews written flight plan, filed with the airlineís operations department, indicated a course heading of 218į which would fly them directly into the mountain.  

From the CAB report, the contributing factors in to the accident:

  1. 1. The use of an erroneous compass course.
  2. 2. Blackout of most of the beacons in the neighborhood of the accident made necessary by the war emergency.
  3. 3. Failure of the pilot to comply with TWA's directive of July 17, 1941, issued in accordance with a suggestion from the Administrator of Civil Aeronautics requesting pilots to confine their flight movements to the actual on-course signals.  

For more information on the mystery of Flight 3,  you can visit Wilipedia at ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TWA_Flight_3 )


e-mail us if you have any questions.

(c) 1992 - 2017 by Lost Birds / American Museum of Aviation and J. Douglas Scroggins III