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Grand Canyon air crash site is new U.S. landmark--but you can't visit

The site of a 1956 plane collision over Arizona's Grand Canyon National Park has been designated a National Historic Landmark. But don't plan on visiting it; you can't.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel last week anointed this as a  national landmark, but the National Park Service has long restricted anyone from hiking to the wreckage that fell in a remote and rugged part of the canyon.

In the crash, a TWA Super Constellation L-1049 and a United Airlines DC-7 collided about 21,000 feet over the Grand Canyon, killing 128 people on board. The places where the two planes crashed into the ground are about 1 1/2 miles apart, but the specific locations have been redacted from the National Park Service's nomination paperwork.

The landmark, officially named the 1956 Grand Canyon TWA-United Airlines Aviation Accident Site, joins 2,540 sites that have been designated nationwide.

What makes it worthy of recognition? The collision spurred an effort to modernize and increase airline safety, leading to the creation of the Federal Aviation Administration and other advances, according to an April 23 announcement by the park service.

And that makes it part of our history and heritage.

This story in The Atlantic reports: "The designation is unusual. For one thing, it may be the first landmark to commemorate something that happened exclusively in the air. 

"'And we've never done an actual crash site,' said Alexandra Lord, branch chief of the National Historic Landmarks Program in Washington. 'In some ways we can argue that the crash itself—which led to the scattering of pieces over a huge debris field—is what's crucial. And it sort of doesn't matter if you think of it as on the air or on the ground.' "

Three other landmarks were designated along with the air accident site. They include:

--The Adlai E. Stevenson II Farm in Mettawa, Ill., which was the home of two-time Democratic candidate for U.S. president and U.N. ambassador.

--The Detroit Industry Murals, Detroit Institute of Arts, which were created by Mexican artist Diego Rivera in the early 1930s.

--George Nakashima Woodworker Complex in Bucks County, Pa., which was built and used by the furniture designer and maker.

"These four new national historic landmarks are as diverse as our American heritage, telling stories of triumph and tragedy, of dedicated public service and artistic beauty," Jewell said in the statement.

Mary.Forgione@latimes.com
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