Wreckchasing and Flagstaff's B-24 (+Pics)

Wreckchasing and Flagstaff's B-24 (+Pics)

This is a discussion on Wreckchasing and Flagstaff's B-24 (+Pics) within the Off Topic & Humor Discussion forums, part of the The Back Porch category; This isn't strictly firearm or CC related, but I DID carry the whole time despite it being an unofficial school outting. A few of the ...

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Thread: Wreckchasing and Flagstaff's B-24 (+Pics)

  1. #1
    Distinguished Member Array SixBravo's Avatar
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    Wreckchasing and Flagstaff's B-24 (+Pics)

    This isn't strictly firearm or CC related, but I DID carry the whole time despite it being an unofficial school outting. A few of the instructors knew because during the course of some climbing, the HK became visible. Though still, nobody said a word.

    I'll give a brief intro: I do this thing called 'Wreckchasing' which is a term for Aviation Archeology. People who do it are into it for a variety of reasons. Many just look for aircraft that have never been found. Others visit known crash sites for a variety of reasons. We aren't glory hunters or scavengers.

    On September 15th, 1944 at 0330 local, a TB-24J crashed into the side of Mt. Humpheys peak roughly 10 miles northwest of Flagstaff. The crash killed all eight on board. It was a night time navigation training flight from Bakersfield, CA, to Kirtland Field in New Mexico. The last check-in was made with contact at Ash Fork, AZ @ approx. 0315 local. Between then and the time of impact, the aircraft drifted fifteen miles off course and hit the side of the peak in the San Francisco Range. The official USAAF crash report lists the cause as "Pilot Error." It also says the aircraft crashed under normal flight conditions - meaning they 'flew straight in.' The official report can be viewed HERE.

    Every few years, a group of students from my school send up a team to the site to map it out and treat as a real accident investigation. This is usually done on the anniversary of the accident. However this year, we went a little late. Temperatures in September at the location can be in the 20's with winds gusting normally around 30-40 knots. November usually has snowfall, temps below zero, and winds gusting upwards of 50 knots. We lucked-out though. The day was beautiful and we set-off from our parking lot at Snowbowl @ 11:30.

    Now if you've never hiked at any altitude above 2 or 3000 feet, then you probably won't know what I'm talking about. But we started our ascent at 9,600'. To say that it's difficult to breathe at that altitude would be a bold understatement. I know people who live and hike around where I live (at around a mile high) who can't handle climbs like this. Now I have experience backpacking at around 9,000' to 10,000'. But this..? It was tough going. Most of us were panting for breath within around 50 yards of leaving the parking lot due to all the cold weather gear we were hauling on our backs (~10-15 pounds per person - nice days don't always stay 'nice' at high altitude).

    The Trail:

    The trip was just over two miles on a trail where we climbed to 10,600'. From there, we left the trail and had to cross a field of whats known as 'scree' - loose rocks that can vary in size from a few inches to several feet across. Also known as "Ankle Eaters". We climbed about 200' up the slide face and took a break before we had to bushwhack to the rest of the site. Here's the view:

    Scree and 10,800':

    During our bushwhacking, we start stumbling onto parts of the wreckage.. The round stuff that rolled downhill after the impact. Or the heavy things people have tried to souvenier-hunt (read: steal) from the site like radial cylinder heads. One of the things we ran into about 300' downhill from the impact zone was the tail-turret. It was mangled and beaten pretty bad - not just due to the impact, but because it rolled so far and hit so many trees on the way down.

    Tail Turret:

    Continuing uphill (no easy task), we arrived at the impact site: A HUGE scree field which extended vertically about 150 yards. There's tons of pictures of the debris field all over the internet so I won't bother posting much of it here. If you've never been to a crash site where people died, I won't bother trying to explain the feeling. It's... unique. Especially when there are still pieces of aircraft everywhere underfoot. All that the USAAF removed were the bodies, remaining parts of the Norden Bombsight, munitions, and .50 cal guns. Even going up there with a large group of people, it wasn't difficult to have a lot of reverence. Here's a few shots that turned out well:

    Right-side rear vertical stabilzer wing:

    Looking Northwest at 11,300':

    Looking West:

    We had to hual tail to get down before sunset when temperatures would plummet. We made short work of the trail and made it down in about an hour and half. At the bottom of the trailhead, it opens to a wide field that is part of the ski resort.

    Leaving the trail:

    Our school's program has done a few things the USAAF didn't do:
    1) Recover the 'rest' of the bombsight.
    2) Correctly establish the impact angle of the aircraft. The program established that the aircraft impacted the scree field with the engines running at nearly 100% throttle (based on striations on the propellors and damage angles compared with factory specs), and the aircraft was in a very hard ("screaming") right hand climbing bank. This is based on damages to certain parts of the aircraft, what's remained of the cockpit and tail sections as well as wingtip damages.
    3) Recover evidence to support our claims.
    4) Return the last missing and remaining ID bracelet of one of the pilots. (That was recovered yesterday) It is being returned to the family via the Army.

    Thought you guys might be interested in some of this considering we have some military buffs on here. The San Francisico Peaks are also home to a B-17 (and crew) as well as a B-18 (and crew). Most of the B-17 has been scavanged and all that remains are the wingroots and gear hydraulics. I don't know the condition of the B-18 site.
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  2. #2
    VIP Member Array simon's Avatar
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    That is a great share SixBravo,real good pics too! Thank You!

  3. #3
    Array SIXTO's Avatar
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    Looks very interesting... Makes me wish I had some mountains close by.

    The best thing we find out here is a crashed up old car in the woods.
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    Nice matrrative and nice pics. I bet there were some silences as folks thought about that final approach. Thanks for sharing.
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    Really interesting, and the pictures sure help fill in the story. Thanks!

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  6. #6
    Senior Member Array flagflyfish's Avatar
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    Nice Sixbravo! I've hunted grouse on the peaks, and knew that the crash sites were there, but have never stumbled across them, is there any way to get gps coordinates for the sites? I enjoy nothing more than hiking on the peaks. (armed of course)
    "These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier
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    Thanks for sharing the pics and the narrative...good write-up!...
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    VIP Member Array Sheldon J's Avatar
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    Great story and pictures thanks for sharing!!!
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    VIP Member Array swiftyjuan's Avatar
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    Great job SixBravo. Thanks for the read and the great pictures.
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    VIP Member Array BigEFan's Avatar
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    Excellent read. Thanks for posting!
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  11. #11
    VIP Member Array ccw9mm's Avatar
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    Great experience! I'm sure the family of the airman will appreciate the recovery of the tags.

    As for climbing that high, I've only been up a few times. Walked up the back of Yosemite's Half Dome, to 8800 ft. Seemingly "straight up" (for a walking hike), that was a long, laborious ascent. Peaked over the edge to see a few real climbers doing the face. Went over the top of Mt. Baldy (near Ketchum, ID) one fine spring day. All the way from 5700 to 9100 ft, then back down. That was hard. Brought a day pack filled with water and a few energy bars. Cheated by coming back down the maintenance access roads. Never did it again. Spent a few hours hanging out at the top of Mammoth Mtn, during a ski trip. The summit's at 11000 ft, which is quite different than 9100. Didn't do much more than have snowball fights and run around a bit, but that was tough, even as fit as we all were. Have only been to 12K a couple times, but did not do any hiking or physical activity, other than a quick lunch and photo session, as any activity was obviously taking a toll. The air's getting obviously thin, up there. Did 12mi climb that included a 700 ft section of rock scree near Boulder Creek Lakes, in the Trinity Alps Wilderness of far northern California, and for sheer difficulty, that brief section topped them all, in terms of pain, though it was nowhere near the height of the others (@ just under 7000).

    Ditto on the sentiment that, if you haven't been that high it's hard to understand how tough it is. Can't imagine 14K of Mt. Whitney, or 20K of Mt. McKinley or Kilimanjaro, or a serious mountain. My hat is off to those who can handle it.
    Last edited by ccw9mm; November 18th, 2007 at 08:33 AM.
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  12. #12
    Distinguished Member Array SixBravo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by flagflyfish View Post
    is there any way to get gps coordinates for the sites?
    35 degrees 20' 27.45" N
    111 degrees 41' 45.70" W

    That's what Google Earth lists the coordinates as. I've known GE to be wrong with GPS before and I didn't bring mine up the peak. It's actually possible to see the wreckage from Highway 160. If you look to the peak, you'll see a bunch of white stuff strewn about on a section of the mountain in what looks like just a clearing. The clearing itself is located just below the snow line. The white stuff is the larger sections of the aircraft - wings, stabs, etc.

    Here's a basic map I found of it's location in reference to Snowbowl. The location of the site is circled in blue. The green line is all marked trail. That webshots account has more stuff from a couple trips I have done.

    Damn! sounds like you've got some solid experience!! I'm jealous of a lot of those places. They're ALL on my 'to-do' list for backpacking. And I can actually recall remarking to one of the professors on the trip that 'This sure gives you a better appreciation for those guys who do McKinley or Everest.' haha
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  13. #13
    New Member Array Carol_Beaver's Avatar
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    removal of the bodies

    I am not sure all the bodies from this crash were located and removed. If they were, I would like to know where one in particular wound up. When Hugh H BROWN was buried, it was only his uniform that was buried. If there was a reinternment, Uncle Henry [Hugh's father] never said anything about it and neither did my father.

    I know the family did get his dog tags back in 1984. A gentleman had taken a scout troup with him to the crash site. While there he saw something glint in the sun. It turned out to be Junior's [Hugh H Brown] buttons from his jacket. A little more scratching in the ground and he came up with Junior's dog tags. He didn't really have much to go on except the common name of Martha Mae Brown and an address in Gastonia, NC. He started searching the newpapers for the area and found an obituary for Martha Mae Brown just the week before. She had died on the 40th anniversary of the crash. He contacted the funeral home who told him where the body had been sent. He managed to get hold of Junior's brother and families of the other victims of the crash. He arranged a ceremony, complete with fly-over and presented the dogtags to Bill on the mountain.

    Carol Beaver
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  14. #14
    Array msgt/ret's Avatar
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    Interesting write-up and great pics although they remind me of losing a close friend in a C-130E crash in Spain http://planecrashinfo.com/1984/1984-15.htm or search C-130E 68-10944. Having climbed to the top of Mount Lassen I know what you mean about high altitude, there is a reason FAA required us to be on oxygen at 10,000 feet. I remember when they were searching for Steve Fosset Steve Fossett - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia there were quite a few other wrecks found.
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