United Airlines Flight 553
|Date||December 8, 1972|
|Location||Chicago, Illinois, United States|
|Description||A plane crash which ended the life of the wife of E. Howard Hunt, suspected by some to have been an assassination.|
The December 1972 plane was being flown by Captain Wendell Lewis Whitehouse, a highly experienced pilot, with approximately 18,000 flight hours to his credit, including 2,435 hours in the Boeing 737 cockpit. However, the pilot's rate of descent was too great and its airspeed too slow and it stalled. His error alone caused the plane to crash 3km short of the runway as it made its final approach to Chicago Midway International Airport. It came down in a residential district, striking first trees and the roofs, killing 40 of the 55 passengers, the 3 crew members and 2 people on the ground.
Among the passengers killed was Dorothy Hunt, the wife of E. Howard Hunt, Watergate conspirator with connections to the JFK Assassination. James McCord alleged that Hunt supplied the Watergate defendants with money for legal expenses. In his book The Yankee and Cowboy War: Conspiracies from Dallas to Watergate, writer Carl Oglesby described flight 553 as "the Watergate plane crash".
Sherman Skolnick, a Chicago-based private investigator, has alleged that the aircraft had been sabotaged by the CIA. Nixon's special counsel Chuck Colson stated in a 1974 interview with TIME Magazine that he shared this view. However, the same article speculated that Colson was accusing the CIA of the broad Watergate conspiracy in a desperate attempt to stave off President Richard Nixon's impeachment in the scandal, and that he may have "lost touch with reality" as he faced a prison sentence. Skolnick believes that Dorothy Hunt was carrying documents that linked Richard Nixon to the JFK assassination.
The plane's Flight Data Recorder became inoperative approximately 14 minutes before the crash.
The day after the crash, White House aide Egil Krogh was appointed Undersecretary of Transportation, giving him direct control over the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) - the two agencies that would be in charge of investigating the crash. The chairman of the NTSB[Who?] later told the House Government Activities Subcommittee that he had sent a letter to the FBI which stated that over fifty agents came into the crash zone. The FBI denied everything until William Ruckelshaus became temporary FBI Director when they finally admitted that their agents were on the scene.
- Oglesby, Carl, chapter 7
- Oglesby, Carl, chapter 7. "Skolnick was instantaneous in charging that the crash of United flight 533 was the result of sabotage and that there was a big Watergate connection."
- ."Colson's Weird Scenario" July 8, 1974, TIME Magazine. Accessed September 10, 2009. "I don't say this to my people. They'd think I'm nuts. I think they [the CIA] killed Dorothy Hunt."
- "Colson's Weird Scenario" July 8, 1974, TIME Magazine. Accessed January 26, 2007.