Q: Air travel was THE most dangerous method of travel in 1931. It's now become the SAFEST way to travel. Aviation historians say this transformation came mostly as the result of a single airplane crash in Kansas. Which famous person's death led to a series of airplane improvements and new safety measures in air travel?
A: Knute Rockne, Notre Dame's football coach (who died on TWA Flight 599, along with seven other people)
The death of Notre Dame Football coach Knute Rockne, on March 31, 1931, was mourned worldwide. During the late 1920s and early 1930s, Rockne was more than just a legendary football coach. He was a hero to millions who admired his fighting spirit and his sense of morality. And they looked to him for inspiration during the dark days of the Great Depression. Though he was born in Norway, Rockne was considered an all-American icon.
When the plane he was riding, TWA Flight 599, crashed in the Kansas Flints Hills, killing everyone onboard, the nation was in shock. And the American people wanted answers. How could this happen? Prior to this crash, the U.S. government kept the results of most crash investigations secret. This changed with TWA Flight 599. And, due to worldwide interest in the crash and subsequent investigation, air travel and the aviation industry changed dramatically.
Aviation historian Richard Harris, of Wichita, writes: "As a result of the responses to the 1931 prairie crash, aviation changed -- from rare, expensive, uncomfortable and dangerous -- to safe, comfortable, affordable, and common. And airline travel, worldwide, underwent an explosive growth, to seven times as much passenger traffic within just a half-dozen years of the crash -- while fatal risks dropped to a small fraction of the risk that Rockne and his fellow passengers had faced."
Great tragedy often gives birth to monumental change. The death of this famous coach, the much-loved Knute Rockne, led to major changes in the airline industry, which resulted in safer planes and safer air travel for everyone.