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The image of a jetliner in Lake Harriet on Google Earth may be an illusion but a real-life passenger airliner almost landed in the lake 66 ago years next month.

That was Northwest Airlines flight 307, which in a blinding snowstorm slammed into three houses on W. Minnehaha Parkway, killing 15 people. It's the city's second-worst disaster on record.

There was some speculation that the pilot was aiming the crippled airliner for the nearby creek bed to avoid what he knew to be a doomed flight slamming into more populated areas.

But area resident Mark Kaplan noted that the lake, just five blocks away, could also have been the pilot's objective. The former city alderman lives virtually across the creek from the crash site, and led the effort to install a commemorative marker that was dedicated in 2011.

The flight from Washington, D.C. clipped a tall flagpole at Fort Snelling National Cemetery near what was

then Wold-Chamberlain Airport. A piece of the damaged wing fell off near the Washburn water tower, probably dooming the flight.

The dead included 10 passengers, three crew members, and two children on the ground, ages 10 and eight, both students at nearby Burroughs school. Three more residents of houses where the plane struck and two firefighters were injured.

The crash, the sixth in Northwest's history, still ranks as the city's worst air disaster. In 1956, six people, including four children, were killed when a Navy jet plowed into six homes near the airport. It followed by about a week the crash of an Air Force jet into a car at the airport that killed two people. Two Navy jets collided the following year in a crash that killed one pilot and injured six residents of northeast Minneapolis.

Three airmen were killed in a 1947 collision of two military planes near the airport in 1947. In 1944, six airmen were killed when their B26 bomber plowed into a vacant lot five blocks from the airport.

The 1950 creek side crash appears to be the second-worst disaster for fatalities in city history. The Washburn "A" mill explosion of 1878 killed 18 workers. The 35W bridge collapse of 2007 killed 13 and injured 145 people. A fire in the Tribune Building downtown in 1889 killed eight, but 28 were rescued.

(Photos: top--Tribune front page the morning after the crash; above right--Workers with portion of fallen wing at Washburn water tower; below--The wreckage destroyed a house overlooking the creek.)