DISASTERS: Why This Failure . . .

Southeastward at 18,000 ft. over southern Indiana one afternoon last week bored a Northwest Airlines propjet Lockheed Electra bearing passengers from snowy Minneapolis and Chicago to Miami. At about 3 o'clock, Pilot Ed Laparle, 57, checked on the radio with Indianapolis Control Center, signed off with an all's well. Fifteen minutes later, a farmer in the Ohio River town of Tell City, Ind. heard "popping sounds, like shotgun shells or a little louder." Looking up, he saw the Electra break in two pieces, the right wing looping off in one direction, the...

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