Rare photos of Washington state’s only jetliner crash 

Oct 19, 2022, 10:33 AM | Updated: Nov 7, 2022, 12:41 pm

It was October 19, 1959 when Washington’s first — and, so far, only — jetliner crash happened. After a story about the crash of a Boeing 707 near Oso was posted in May 2014, a Bothell man contacted KIRO Newsradio and offered to share some rare photographs he’d taken of the aftermath. 

The Boeing jetliner that crashed that day was brand-new. It was about to be officially handed over to Dallas-based Braniff Airlines.

It took off from Boeing Field early that autumn Monday afternoon for what was supposed to be a routine training flight. On board were four Braniff employees, a representative from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and three men who worked for Boeing.   

It wasn’t too much later, somewhere in the skies high above Snohomish County, that something went terribly wrong. One of the Braniff pilots, who was learning about the new jet, lost control during the training exercise.

Three of the 707’s four engines were torn from its wings, and the jetliner caught fire. Control was regained, and the Boeing pilot pointed the jet toward Paine Field for an emergency landing. 

But the jetliner was losing altitude fast. Within a few minutes, the 707 crash-landed along the bank of the Stillaguamish River a few miles west of Oso. The forward section of the aircraft was crushed on impact and burst into flames. Four men, including the Boeing and Braniff pilots, died in the cockpit; the four who had moved to the rear and braced for impact survived.

An investigation later determined that the Boeing pilot had intentionally put the plane into something called a “Dutch roll” as part of the training program for the Braniff pilots. But the Dutch roll was too steep, and the Braniff pilot, in his attempt to steady the jet, misapplied the controls and made things worse.

The Boeing pilot had been attempting a crash landing when the plane came down along the river and broke apart.   

Ron Palmer retired after working in manufacturing for Boeing for 40 years. Sitting at the kitchen table of his split-level home on a cul-de-sac in Bothell back in 2014, it was clear that he had been excited about airplanes for as long as he could remember.

One of his earliest memories, Palmer said as his face lighted up, was seeing a formation of Boeing B-29 bombers during World War II from an upstairs window of his childhood home in Edmonds. 

This love of aviation runs in the Palmer family. 

My dad was passionate. He used to run up to Paine Field when the blimps would come in. Maybe that’s where I get it from,” Palmer said, chuckling.I’m an aircraft nut. I always wanted to be a naval aviator, but I never made it.” 

So it makes sense that when he heard about the 707 crash on that October day back in 1959, Ron Palmer just had to go and see for himself. 

“I had my two-year-old son and my wife, and we hopped in the car and went up Highway 99. I was on swing shift at Boeing, and I just had to see it,” Palmer said. And he brought along his camera.

“I was fortunate to walk right up to the river’s edge. It was on a kind of a berm or a dike or something. I stood there and took some pictures with my little camera. I don’t think I was there more than ten minutes.” 

More than half a century later, Palmer vividly recalled the scene. 

“I remember looking up in the trees and you could see where the plane had come down and cut the trees off. The tops were all broken off, maybe 50 or 70 feet high. The pilot did a hell of a job,” saving the lives of half of those aboard, Palmer said. 

The 707 had only recently been introduced, and Boeing’s future was riding on the jetliner’s success. 

“The crash was a big deal because we were in competition with Douglas, who had a great product out there in the DC-8 [jetliner],” Palmer said. “Yeah, it was a big deal.”  

Palmer doesn’t recall a lot of media coverage of the crash at the time. 

“The press kind of cut Boeing some slack at times and just didn’t put it out there too much,” Palmer said. “But it was a big deal for us at Boeing because we lost a product and we wondered, ‘gosh did we do something wrong?’  But no, we didn’t do anything wrong.” 

The photographs Palmer took that day were never shared with anyone back in 1959. 

“I kept ‘em in the house,” Palmer said. “Didn’t talk to anybody about ‘em, you know?  They were just mine. And as the years went by, I thought the pictures were gone. And here several years ago I was going through stuff and I came across ‘em.”  

Palmer told KIRO Newsradio that nobody he had talked to over the years since 1959 remembered the Oso 707 crash, and some doubted whether it really happened. 

But Ron Palmer had proof. 

“Everyone I talk to about it says, ‘no, no that didn’t happen, we never heard about it,’ you know?  Well, it did happen,” he said, as he pointed to the haunting old photos of the remains of a Boeing jet. 

“There it is,” Palmer said. 

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien, read more from him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks here.

MyNorthwest History

"Street Trees of Seattle" author Taha Ebrahimi (RIGHT) bumped into Alec Duxbury, her high school En...

Feliks Banel

Layers of history revealed by ‘Street Trees of Seattle’

This new book is “Street Trees of Seattle: An Illustrated Walking Guide” by writer and artist Taha Ebrahimi.

1 day ago

Image: This is a vintage magazine ad for the type of Cold War air raid siren which stood in a Seatt...

Feliks Banel

Update: Cold War air raid siren remains in private hands

A vintage magazine ad for the type of Cold War air-raid siren which stood in a Seattle park for more than 70 years, and which now belongs to Binford Metals in Kent. (Public domain)

5 days ago

Brakeman Bill...

Feliks Banel

Local TV legend “Brakeman Bill” McLain passes away at age 96

Brakeman Bill McLain, longtime beloved kids' TV show host, has passed away, according to a message from his family posted on social media.

8 days ago

Northacres Park siren...

Feliks Banel

City of Seattle sends Cold War artifact to the dump

A Cold War tower and siren disappeared from its perch in a park in North Seattle last month. People want to know where they went.

8 days ago

Image: "Seattle's Legendary Scarecrow Video," which has been nominated for an Emmy in 2024, is a sh...

KIRO Newsradio staff

Feliks Banel’s ‘Scarecrow Video’ documentary nominated for Emmy Award

The academy's northwest chapter revealed its 2023 Emmy nominations and Feliks Banel is on the list for "Seattle's Legendary Scarecrow Video."

13 days ago

The Seattle Pilots played a single season of Major League Baseball in 1969 before going bankrupt an...

Feliks Banel

History means it’s Seattle vs. Seattle this weekend in Milwaukee

Everybody knows that the Milwaukee Brewers team is really the Seattle Pilots in disguise.

13 days ago

Rare photos of Washington state’s only jetliner crash