In the late afternoon of Halloween, 1994, just an hour before children would march from their homes for trick-or-treating, a regional airliner carrying 64 passengers and 4 crew members fell into a soybean field just outside Roselawn, Indiana, leaving no survivors.
Almost two decades later, all that remained of the tragic incident was a makeshift memorial, a carved stone and a collection of white crosses, each lovingly-handmade and bearing the name of a victim. In 2014, the bereaved families collected funds to finance a permanent memorial, each victim’s etched into stone.
The Flight 4184 Memorial sits just off a quiet, rural road. Like most rural farming roads, it is unnamed and sparsely traveled. The memorial sits about 500 yards from the actual crash site, which has returned to use as farmland. However, the scar of the crash is still visible in GPS photos when the field is empty, and will likely be visible for a long time to come, just like the memories and faces of the 68 lost.
Nothing about Flight 4184 seemed unusual, and it was about as short and sweet a flight as you could want: an easy glide from Indianapolis to Chicago. The crew were experienced and competent. The plane, a regional twin-prop airliner, had a good safety record. Until the last two or three minutes of the flight, all was well.
At least as far as the crew and ground control knew.
When the National Transportation Safety Board completed its investigation of Flight 4184, they concluded the below-freezing air temperatures resulted in significant icing on the aileron hinges, which attach the flaps to the wings (forgive my oversimplification). This created more ice than the deicing mechanism could handle. As it changed altitude from 10,000 feet to 8,000 feet, the iced hinges stalled, causing the plane to tumble into an uncontrolled roll.
The pilots fought the first roll successfully. Flight 4184’s extremely low altitude (about 2,000 feet) did not provide enough time for them to recover from the second roll. It struck into the rural soybean field nearly vertical and at 432 mph. The lives of all aboard instantaneously. The impact occurred so quickly that the plane’s fuel misted thinly over hundreds of yards over the rain-soaked soil. It could not ignite. When first responders came upon the scene, it was eerily quiet and cold, a flat, scarred field filled with twisted debris.
Controversy of the handling and cleanup of the crash compounded the tragedy. Horrified family members returned to the site of the crash a year later and discovered remains large enough to be identifiable as human, including a five-inch piece of bone.
Several years later, the airline and the airplane’s manufacturer would be found liable and pay the families of victims a $110 million settlement. The manufacturer improved the deicing capabilities of the aircraft, and airlines limited the airplane’s future exposure to severe icing conditions. Several families would also unite to form the National Air Disaster Alliance/Foundation, a watchdog group for unsafe practices on commercial flights.
No amount of money can replace the loss of lives, just as no small article can convey the tragedy of the incident. For those who want a better understanding of Flight 4184, I suggest taking a trip by Roselawn and honoring the victims’ memories in person.
The dozen times I have passed by or visited the memorial, I have never failed to notice a new bunch of flowers or sentimental token left in remembrance, demonstrating that those 68 lives remain lost…
But they also remain loved.
To learn more: the families of Flight 4184 created and maintain an excellent website dedicated to the tragic incident and its victims, which you can visit HERE.