Photos by Neil Mishalov
On 1 July 2006, I did a 6.89 mile hike in the Sierra Nevada
A few years ago I read about a B-17C bomber that crashed in the El Dorado National Forest of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California. At that time I was unable to determine exactly where the plane crashed. After doing some research on the Internet during April 2006, I was confident that I finally knew the latitude and longitude of the crash site. All that remained was waiting for the snow to melt at 6,200 feet of elevation, and hiking into the site. That turned out to be easier said than done!
I had marked the latitude and longitude of the crash site on my Garmin 60Cx GPS receiver, and I left home for the crash site at 6:15 a.m. After passing through PLACERVILLE, also known as Hangtown during the California Gold Rush, I exited Highway 50 and continued north on Ice House Road for about 17 miles, gaining about 2,000 feet of elevation. After a few unsuccessful attempts to locate the trail head of a trail that I had previously chosen to be the starting point for the hike, I finally parked the car at a less desirable location. I realized that I would have to do some cross-country scrambling, because there wasn't a trail that went in the direction of the crash site from the less desirable trail head. If I didn't have the GPS receiver with me, I would have cancelled the hike for lack of verifiable and positive routing instructions.
Finally, at 10:15 a.m. I took off heading north, up hill, towards the crash site. About 3/4 of a mile into the scramble, I reached an unnamed trail and continued on that trail, heading northeast. After hiking about 1.5 miles on the trail, the trail continued to head northeast, away from the crash site, which was now directly north of my location. So I got off the trail and scrambled uphill towards the plane crash site. The terrain was steep and difficult to traverse; there were many dead trees strewn over the ground. In addition, in the areas which were clear of trees, I had to push through bunches of chest-high manzanita brush. I left home thinking that the hike was going to be relatively easy; so I was wearing hiking shorts, and now my lower legs were rapidly becoming bruised by the hard and unforgiving Manzanita branches.
Then there was a steep rocky downhill, and according to the GPS receiver, I knew I was close to the crash site. As I looked for parts of the plane I noticed what appeared to be metal. Yes, I had reached the crash site. There before me were the remnants of the B-17C tail section. I continued downhill and crossed a creek, looking for additional parts of the plane. The heavy tree cover did not make it easy to see very far, and the numerous dead trees littering the ground made forward motion slow and difficult. Then I saw more metal; it was the entire right wing laying upside down on the ground. I continued to look for the left wing and fuselage, but was unable to locate any additional plane debris.
Feeling fatigued, I reluctantly decided that it was time to head back to the car. The GPS receiver provided invaluable assistance by helping me locate the vehicle. I arrived at the car at 3:15 p.m. An excellent expedition was concluded.
On 31 October 1941, a B-17C bomber, also know as a "Flying Fortress," took off from Fort Douglas Army Air Base, its home base near Salt Lake City, Utah, on a routine flight to an Army Air Force service depot in California to change the No. 3 engine. The bomber's flight plan would take the plane from Fort Douglas Army Air Base to Mather Army Air Base near Sacramento, California.
Due to bad winter weather conditions over the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California, the crew of 9 men laid over in Reno, Nevada for two days. Then, after the weather cleared somewhat, they departed for Mather Army Air Base during the morning of 2 November 1941 on what would be the last flight of the B-17C bomber.
Flying west, the aircraft passed over Lake Tahoe, and entered into overcast sky. The pilot, 1st Lieutenant Leo M. H. Walker, continued on to Mather Army Air Base. Then, the No.1 engine supercharger began to have problems maintaining pressure. The pilot put the B-17C in a climb towards 14,000 feet. The copilot, 2nd Lieutenant John R. Mode, adjusted the No. 1 engine supercharger control to add additional pressure to the engine, and the flight continued westward.
After a while longer, the flight control indicators ceased working correctly; 1st Lieutenant Leo M. H. Walker, the pilot, decided to head back to Reno. As the pilot attempted to gain additional attitude, he realized that he was having serious trouble controlling the airplane. At that time the pilot ordered the crew to put on their parachutes, and be ready to bail out of the aircraft. Shortly thereafter, 1st Lieutenant Walker lost control of the aircraft. He futilely attempted to regain control, but the B-17C rolled over onto its back, and then plummeted into a spin towards earth.
The flight crew starting bailing out of the airplane. One crewman, Corporal Sterling Isom, was thrown through a Plexiglas gunner's turret into the air. Another crewman, Private Alden H. Stookey, was thrown out of a rupture in the fuselage, as the plane began to disintegrate. Several other crewmen managed to escape when the tail section of the plane was sheared off because of the excessive stresses on the plane's frame due to the rapid, out of control, descent. When the flight crew opened their escape hatch, the flight engineer, Staff Sergeant Eugene M. Clemens, was thrown from the plane. 2nd Lieutenant Mode drifted earthward in his parachute, witnessing debris from the aircraft falling around him. Of the nine-man crew, eight survived. 1st Lieutenant Leo M. H. Walker, the plane's pilot failed to escape; he went down with the plane.
Topographic Map of the Area with a GPS Tracked Route Superimposed
Hike data gathered with a GARMIN 60Cx GPS Receiver
Topographic mapping program for Macintosh OSX by NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
Images and Text Copyright © Neil Mishalov
COPYRIGHT NOTICE and HIKING DISCLAIMER
Click on an image to see the full size picture
|The tail section. My first view of the B-17C||Tail section debris||Part of the tail section|
|Part of the tail section||Located near the tail section||Located near the tail section|
|Located near the tail section||Located near the tail section||Although the crash site is isolated and difficult to access, it appears that people, over the last 60 odd years, have been taking components from the aircraft. This sign was nailed to a tree near some debris|
|My first view of the right wing section||The right wing, which is laying upside down||The front side of the right wing|
|Both engines have been removed||At the tip of the right wing, looking at the complete wing section||The Army Air Force insignia is still visible on the wing|
|The outer engine mount location; viewed from the back of the wing||The inner engine mount location. Note that part of the exhaust pipe is visible. In addition, the round hole is the right wing wheel well||Inside the engine mount|
|Looking at the wing tip in the distance|
B-17 photos taken 14 May 2004, at Moffett Air Field, California GO HERE
Additional digital photos GO HERE
This page created on 3 July 2006. All photographs copyright 2006, by NEIL MISHALOV