1955 United Airline Crash Landing near Dexter, Iowa


The power of Facebook is amazing for anyone interested in history, especially local history. A Chicagoan has been lured to the small town of Dexter because of a Facebook page called “Memories of Dexter–The Original One Horse Town.”

Brandon Andreasen was looking for information about an emergency plane crash that his grandfather had piloted in January 1955, and he wanted to visit the site.

Tom Fagen, a farm implement dealer in the area, was recommended to Andreasen because Tom is a pilot. He also grew up half a mile from where the plane came to rest, and now lives half a mile in the other direction.

Tom’s wife had even grown up on the farm where the plane hit first, before tearing through fences and across the road to come to a stop in Fred Lenocker’s field. Tom’s inlaws, Hochstetlers, had some old newspaper clippings but hadn’t talked much about it.

Tom loves the history of aircraft and also makes scale models of them. After showing the pilot’s grandson the area of the United Airline Convair crash, he went to work to find out as much about the plane and the accident as he could. Besides making a 1/72 scale model of the broken plane in a snowy corn-stubbled field, he has made a 15-minute video about the entire history of the plane, what happened the day of the crash, and even the people involved with it. Tom Fagen’s video

Seeing a picture of Tom’s diorama certainly brought this story back to me. Sis Gloria and I, ages 8 and 10, had just gotten off the yellow Dexter school bus on Old Creamery Road. We heard a plane just to the east having trouble, then watched as it sputtered and glided south, toward snowy farm fields.

From where he was working in the barn, Dad (a World War II pilot and instructor) could hear that a plane was in trouble. He headed for the house. We couldn’t see where the plane ended up, but soon we all bundled up and drove towards the area it was headed, along with half the neighborhood.

By the time we got there, our bus driver John Herrick had finished his route (including his own son Paul, who’d also witnessed the plane going down), then returned to the plane to see if he could help. The 36 passengers and 3 crew were shaken up but okay, so he drove them all into Dexter, to the bank to warm up, be checked out by Dexter’s doctors Chapler and Osborn, and decide how to get to their destination.


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Recently Tom Fagen even located Jeff Boyle, the son of the first officer on the United Convair that day. After Jeff watched Tom’s video, he said was surprised to learn who the captain was that day.  Earl Andreasen and Thomas Boyle had been friends for years–but they had never talked about the emergency landing near Dexter, at least around Boyle’s son Jeff.

Jeff said when he later learned about it, he asked his dad if he was frightened during those few seconds. No, the two of them (pilot and co-pilot) were so “busy trying to regain some type of control over the plane” that they didn’t have time to feel anything. After the plane came to the stop, he had crawled out through the cockpit window, which was no longer there.

How amazing that all 39 people aboard that plane survived the crash landing. Capt. Andreasen and First Officer Boyle were both given $10,000 bonuses for the successful handling of the crippled plane. Stewardess Johnson was given $2500.

Several local people who helped got gifts: cigarette lighters to doctors Chapler and Osborn, compacts to their nurses, a set of dishes to Lenockers (who served meals to the salvagers), etc.

Tom Fagen’s inlaws, the Hochstetlers, got a United Airlines check for $25 for the three fences the plane tore out. They still have the uncashed check as a souvenir.

The United Convair was disassembled, lifted by crane in pieces into trucks, and hauled to the Dexter train station. There they were loaded on flat cars to ship to the Convair plant in San Diego, for repair. The airliner became a cargo plane, flying another 34 years.

What caused the plane to crash that winter day? Human error. A Civil Aeronautics Board Investigation found that a fastener on the elevator linkage had been removed the night before during a scheduled airframe inspection, and not reinstalled.

Tom Fagen’s diorama of the plane plus other memorabelia of the crash in a display at the Dexter library, 2017.



  1. I had not seen this article till today. My father was Earl and Brandon is my son. Thank you for the nice article.

  2. My late husband, Jack Steidl, was a friend of Earl Andreasan and his wife, Pat (?). (We attended Earl’s funeral in Plainfield, with the missing man formation.) I heard Earl tell the story of the Iowa cornfield landing. I am 72. I remember the photo in the newspaper. I was about 8 at the time. Imagine my delight in meeting the Captain of that flight!
    My recollection of what he said is, once he had no control of the aircraft, he communicated to the Company that fact. While still flying, he began to realize that by applying power and letting up on power, he had some control over flight, up and down like a rollercoaster. He used that knowledge to land the plane in an unobstructed place. Based on what I read here, my recollection is certainly incorrect, that, after the plane stopped, he waived off the empty school bus that stopped and offered to help. The next thing Earl said was he climbed out of the plane and walked through the snow to a nearby farm house and knocked on the door. No one answered. He went in and picked up the telephone to see if the likely party line was in use. It was not. He called the Company, identified himself and said, “We made it after all.”
    I was just reading comments from the British Airways pilots union today, September 16, 2020, about the possible return of the Boeing 737 MAX to service. The union suggested the “yo-yo rollercoaster manoeuvre (British spelling) be included in procedures. I immediately thought of Earl.
    In case people in Earl’s family remember my husband, there is a nice, short feature about him done by the local public TV station in Seattle. Just google Jack Steidl. He quit bugling at age 92, when his lip gave out. He passed away at 98 and is buried on Steidl Road in his hometown of Paris, Illinois, across the street from where he launched his first of many boats.

    • I’m so glad you responded to this! I’ve got to figure out a way to share it with Tom Fagen who showed Earl’s grandson around, made the video about the crash, and last fall gave the program about it.

  3. I remember one additional thing said by Earl. He said when he communicated to the Company during the flight, “We’re not going to make it.” Feel free to give my e-mail to Tom Fagen or Earl’s grandson.

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