Monday, March 14, 2011

Lost Bomber

From Kristen Smith:

B18 bomber engine

In January 1942, just weeks after the Pearl Harbor attack, a B18 bomber crew were on anti-submarine patrol over the north Atlantic. Flying out of Chicopee, Mass., they planned to be as far north as Newfoundland, where enemy submarines were suspected to lurk. The weather was not on their side and quickly turned nasty when a storm came up the coast. Blown inland, the inexperienced crew (they were B24 experts, a different beast altogether) were soon hopelessly lost. Some say the men, who had never worked together before, had trouble calculating their drift. Visibility was nil. Whatever the problem, it became apparent only when the plane brushed treetops that they were anywhere near a mountain. By that time it was too late and the pilot’s evasive maneuvers failed. They crashed spectacularly into Mt. Waternomee, waking up the towns below.

The hub

A rescue team was rounded up and within an hour they were headed up the steep, deeply snowed-in mountain in North Woodstock, NH. I can only imagine the intense stress they were under, not only from the trepidation about what they would find, but because of the utter chaos of the forest after the hurricane of 1938. Trees down everywhere, the trail obscured, deep snow drifts, camouflaged chasms just waiting for someone to fall in. No GPS or cell phones. No Gore-Tex or fleece either. Amazingly, they found five of the seven-man crew alive.

After more than 60 years, the site is and isn’t what you’d expect. You’d expect there to be almost nothing visible, but there is, due to the fact that volunteers annually clear debris from the extant wreckage. You’d also expect there to be more wreckage than there is. What with the Army carting off the cockpit and ordinance and others carting off the fuselage and tail section for a museum, there isn’t a lot of recognizable stuff on the ground. What’s left is almost unrecognizable. Most of the site looks like this:

Wrecked

Fifty years after the crash, in 1992, a memorial plaque was erected and an American flag flies from a nearby sapling. It’s pretty startling to come across this on the trail. On the whole it’s a very steep and rocky climb and then the next time you raise your head, there it is. Mangled hunks and twisted metal spread over a couple of acres. I can’t believe anyone lived, but they did.

Photographs from the day of the crash can be seen here, and a more detailed account of the crash, the crew and the rescue is here.

I have more photos here.

4 comments:

  1. Kris -- these pictures are really great, and I'm fascinated by the site and the story!

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  2. Excellent pictures and story. Thanks, Kristen!

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  3. you're welcome guys. Glad you liked it.

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  4. Another great article Kris. When can I expect a guided tour?

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