FINDING A FLIGHT: Minn. woman investigates 1950 mystery - KMSP-TV

FINDING A FLIGHT: Minn. woman investigates 1950 mystery

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The Malaysian Airline mystery has many people wondering how a whole plane could simply vanish, but one Minnesota woman has spent years searching for a different flight that did just that in 1950.

In 1950, a Northwest Orient flight disappeared before making a stop in Minneapolis. A number of people from Minnesota were on board flight 2501, and Valerie Van Heest made it her mission to find out what happened to it.

Although Van Heest's efforts have been unsuccessful so far, they have not gone unnoticed.

"It disappeared just like dad's plane did," Darlene Larson said.

For Larson, watching the news about the search for the missing Malaysian Airline flight brings back memories of the worst day of her life.

"I remember hearing my mother crying," she recalled.

Northwest Orient flight 2501 disappeared over Lake Michigan on June 23, 1950, and Larson only 5 years old -- one of 7 children -- when her mother told them their father, Leo Wohler, was gone.

"She was trying to help me understand," Larson said.

Of the 58 passengers aboard that plane, more than 20 were from Minnesota. To this day, the wreckage has not been found and only a few body parts were ever recovered.

"For years, I thought that he was wandering around Chicago somewhere with loss of memory and he was suddenly going to get better and come home and things would be normal again," Larson admitted.

Now, Larson says she knows it will be difficult for the families waiting for word to find normalcy again.

"I think what they are going to do is what their imagination leads them to, which could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on what their imagination is like," she said.

As for Van Heest, she wants to replace imagination with explanation for people like Larson. In 2003, she began studying and trying to track down flight 2501.

"It is a mystery that's never been solved," she said.

In 10 years, she has searched some 600 square miles and discovered 14 shipwrecks -- but no plane.

"Even though we've spent 10 years, we're not willing to let it go," she vowed.

Through her research and writing her book, "Fatal Crossing," Van Heest has been able to put some of the puzzle pieces together. For instance, it is now known that the flight 2501 disappeared on a stormy night.

"The pilot made a decision to cross the lake because the company didn't give him the proper weather information," Van Heest says.

Although Larson spent years thinking only about the violent way her father died, she says Van Heest's research helps bring her some closure. In fact, a final resting spot was established in 2006 in Michigan for the remains that were recovered.

"Seeing that beautiful cemetery where all the remains that they did find were at rest -- and now I think of that, and that which gives me peace," Larson said.

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