America's Scariest Trails: Tragedy in the Grand Canyon

When bodies can't be buried, do their spirits ever rest? Hike to the scene of this wreck and find out.
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When bodies can't be buried, do their spirits ever rest? Hike to the scene of this wreck and find out.

At 11:30 a.m. on June 30, 1956, airline officials received a transmission: "Salt Lake, United 718–ah–we're going in." Moments later, United Airlines Flight 718 collided with TWA Flight 2 over the Grand Canyon, sending both planes plummeting earthward. The fiery wreckage struck Chuar and Temple Buttes near the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers, killing all 128 people aboard.

The tragedy sparked the creation of the Federal Aviation Administration, and the small ravine between the two buttes became known as Crash Canyon. It's also the spot where ranger KJ Glover thinks she may have seen the passengers–almost 50 years after the accident. Glover told fellow Grand Canyon ranger and Haunted Hikes author Andrea Lankford that, as she camped between Chuar and Temple Buttes one night, she heard voices outside her tent. Peeking out, she saw more than a dozen people walking up the trail, in city clothes–button-up shirts and long dresses–and talking to each other as if nothing was unusual. Five or six Native Americans followed, speaking in a language she didn't understand. When she climbed out of her tent to look around, they had all vanished. Could the passengers of Flights 2 and 718 be haunting their crash site? Officials identified only 29 of the victims; remains of the others were buried en masse, in four coffins, alongside a memorial in Grand Canyon Pioneer Cemetery.

An eerie coincidence also haunts Crash Canyon. It's located near a sacred Hopi site called a sipapu–a gateway to the underworld, where the Hopi's ancestors emerged long ago and where the dead can come back. "Native Americans are very superstitious about it. Rangers are very superstitious about it," says Lankford. "Helicopter pilots won't look down when they fly over it. There are stories of people who have gotten sick and even struck by lightning in the area."

A skeptic, Lankford didn't think much of the stories at first, but an inexplicable sense of imminent danger has scared her away every time she attempted to reach this sipapu. "I've tried to go there, but I get close, within a quarter of a mile, and I just feel really, really bad. I just turn around," she says. "I don't need to go to that place. I don't think anyone should see it."

Hike it
Connect the Tanner and Beamer Trails, then cross the Colorado. It's for experts only. backpacker.com/hikes/515868