DISASTER: I'm Going Down!

The blizzard beat with glass-rattling fury on the steamy windows of Franklin Doughty 's comfortable South Minneapolis home. In the living room, Insurance Man Doughty reluctantly left a television basketball game, tramped upstairs to tell ten-year-old Janet and tousled Tommy, 8, to turn off Fibber McGee and Molly and quiet down. It was almost 9 o'clock, said Doughty, and high time for sleep.

At 8:59 p.m., Northwest Airlines' Flight 307— out of Washington with ten passengers aboard — was cleared for instrument letdown to Minneapolis' Wold-Chamberlain airport. Pilot Don Jones, 42, and dependable "old man" of the line, hunched forward...