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Memorial service for victims of plane crash 65 years ago held in South Haven

Decades after they were laid to rest, a marker has been placed at a mass grave in South Haven for the victims of a plane crash. The grave was only discovered a few weeks ago.

Northwest Airlines flight 2501 crashed in Lake Michigan on June 23, 1950. All 58 aboard people died. At the time, it was the deadliest commercial airline crash in U.S. history.

The wreckage and their bodies were never fully recovered. Human remains washed ashore that whole summer, briefly closing the beaches in South Haven. The remains were buried the next summer in an unmarked mass grave.

Mary Ann Frazier is sexton for the Lakeview Cemetery. She was helping her mother with a family history project when an entry for Northwest Airlines 2501 victims caught her eye.

“I was like, ‘Mom, this is interesting!’ So we came out to investigate and we realized that we had a burial plot here,” Frazier said.

“I have 36 acres here that I take care of and it’s just sad to see how many burials that we have in here that are not marked,” Frazier said. Through the discovery, she learned one of her great-great uncles helped recover the crash debris for the U.S. Coast Guard in 1950.

Valerie van Heest wrote Fatal Crossing, a book about the crash.

“The horror of not being able to identify any of the recovered remains was just too much to have to tell the families about,” van Heest said. “No complete body was ever located.”

“I’ve been able to deliver what the families tell me is closure for them. They now know what happened and they know that this accident and their loved ones haven’t been forgotten,” she said.

Van Heest says a “series of errors” led to the accident.

“Any one of them alone would not have brought them plane down. But all of them together, combined with a storm that was raging that night coalesced to bring this plane down,” van Heest said.

A group of about 30 people gathered Wednesday afternoon for a memorial service. Each victim's name was read aloud.

A similar service was held in 2008 in St. Joseph at another grave for remains that were recovered further south in Berrien County.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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