WATCH exclusive documentary: Diverted: TWA 514

Diverted: TWA 514

You may have never heard about the crash of TWA Flight 514 some 40 years ago in Northern Virginia. But in truth, what came of this air disaster proved to be a critical turning point in aviation safety history. And now ABC7 News brings you the full story of this catastrophic and historic event in "Diverted: TWA 514", a web exclusive.


A scarred ridge line cuts a haunting path through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Northern Virginia. Nearby a humble roadside memorial, untouched for years, is all that reminds passer's by of the horror witnessed here 41 years ago.

"This is one of the most completely destroyed aircraft wreckage I encountered in my 44 years of crash investigating," says former National Transportation Safety Board investigator Dick Rodriguez.

In 1974 TWA Flight 514 slammed into Mount Weather along Loudoun County's rugged western border after being diverted from Reagan National Airport to Dulles International Airport due to foul weather.

"Of course there were plenty bodies but there were no survivors," says former Loudoun County Fire Marshal Oliver Dube.


All 92 people aboard died. Alice Kunz's mother and father were among the victims. "The mountain jumped up and hit the plane was my only hope of any kind of explanation," says Kunz, who now lives in Indiana.

The NTSB ruled the crash occurred because the plane descended too low too soon due to a series of catastrophic human errors and miscommunication between the pilots and air traffic control.

"You felt this was too soon. How could this be happening? And I thought how close they were to the airport. They were almost home," says Ann Burke, whose dear friend US Army Brigadier General Roscoe Cartwright perished in the accident.

On that fateful day there was plenty of blame to go around. National Transportation Safety Board members split in their final ruling. The majority blamed the crew. The minority said the air traffic controller should also shoulder some of the blame. The NTSB also said there were a number of contributing factors to the crash, including the FAA's unwillingness to make certain safety related changes the agency had been aware of for years. The NTSBA was deeply worried that without significant safety improvements within the industry more mistakes would be made and more planes would crash.

Among the sweeping NTSB recommendations accepted by the industry: changing confusing airport approach charts, clearing up contradictory terminology pilots and air traffic controllers used to communicate to each other and insisting that ground proximity warning systems go on all commercial aircraft within a year.

"It wasn't long after this ground proximity warning systems were mandated in airliners. And that's a very important technology. I would put it up with a jet engine or airborne weather radar as one of the most important pieces of technology we have on an airplane to keep us safe, " says commercial airline pilot George Cornwell who flies in and out of Dulles often.

For nearly 3 years ABC7 News has been digging into this disaster to understand the full ramifications of this crash then and now. Rodriguez says, "In total context the safety of the public was enhanced perhaps 100 fold. It was very a significant accident."

In this short documentary you'll see stunning crash site photographs never shared with the public until now. You'll hear powerful stories from victim's family members. "It was devastating. It was really hard. I was losing my mother," says George Speese, who lost two relatives in the crash.

And you'll gain a deeper understanding of just how much safer we are while flying in the skies due to those who sacrificed so much on a remote hillside atop Mount Weather.

Cornwell says, "Any time I'm in mountainous terrain or I read about safety reports I know that they're with me when I'm flying today with myself, my crew and my passengers."


This documentary is dedicated to the 92 people killed in the crash of TWA Flight 514. We would also like to recognize Oliver Dube. After the crash of Flight 514 Dube worked tirelessly for years to transform and modernize fire and emergency services in Loudoun County. Mr. Dube passed away in 2014 at the age of 84, several months after we interviewed him for this story.

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