Feature photo no. 1
MELTING SWISS GLACIER RELEASES DEBRIS OF A 1946-CRASHED USAAF C-53 SKYTROOPER
In this chapter, you’ll see a series of awesome photos of a C-53 Skytrooper that flew into an Alpine glacier some 75 years ago. All 8 passengers and 4 crew members on board were fortunate to survive the crash that ended in a harrowing slide over the snow-covered ice mass, named the Gauli Glacier in central Switzerland.
In that accident, the rugged C-53 remained remarkably intact, the reason that only a couple of occupants got lightly injured while all others stepped out unscathed. But their nightmare experience was not yet fully over. The position of the aircraft was not exactly known and hard to find in the adverse mountain weather. It took the rescuers six days and nights before they reached the spot and were able to airlift the occupants to the comfort of a hospital/hotel bed.
DEPARTURE FROM VIENNA
On November 18th, 1946, the C-53 Skytrooper with serial 42-68846 took off from Tulln Air Base near Vienna, Austria, bound for Pisa in Northern Italy. The pilots opted for a longer 2-days detour flight to the West over Southern Germany and France to circumvent the prevailing bad weather over the central High Alps.
Photo no. 2
Soon after they flew over Innsbruck in the Western Austrian Alps, the crew encountered adverse weather conditions. While flying over Switzerland (Canton of Bern), they had lost their orientation, and their actual flight path brought them deeper South into the Alps of Central Switzerland. At a speed of 170 mph (280 km/h), the aircraft encountered a violent downdraft (katabatic wind), comparable to a microburst that can ‘push’ even big Airliners into the ground on approach flights.
THE CRASH INTO A GLACIER
The downdraft made the aircraft lose height rapidly in poor visibility. At 2.45 PM, it hit terrain and crash-landed into the Gauli Glacier at an altitude of 3,350 meters, located about 8 miles south of the Swiss Air Force Base Meiringen. The immense luck of hitting a snow-covered near-flat terrain with a slightly sloping hill, keeping the aircraft intact after a long slide, was a God Gift by itself.
Only a few people experienced similar situations of flying into terrain and survived to tell the story afterward to their families and friends!
SEARCH FOR THE CRASHED AIRCRAFT
The crew sent a distress call from the stricken plane that was picked up in Paris and Lyon. They presumed that it had crashed in the French Alps. Two days later, an officer based in the Meiringen airbase’s control tower received a message on his frequency and alerted a new radio bearing, narrowing the search area to the Gauli Glacier.
During a break in the overcast, an aerial spotting of the stricken C-53 was executed by the crew of an RAF Lancaster on the morning of Nov. 22nd, and coincidently, an overhead flying USAAF B-29 Superfortress on its way to Munich was also able to locate the wreckage one day later. Note that right after the war, the European skies were still mainly filled with Military aircraft.
Photo no. 4
SWISS RESCUE TEAM REACHES THE AIRCRAFT
After several low fly-overs made by Swiss aircraft, an Alpine ski-equipped Rescue patrol of Swiss soldiers went up to the glacier and was the first to make physical contact with the stricken aircraft and the 12 occupants who had survived the long days and nights in their deep freezer container aka the C-53 cabin. It took the rescuers 13 hours to get up there, and it was too late to descend that same day. The next day, they took all occupants downhill to the Gauli Alpine Hut at 2,200 m. altitude.
Photo no. 5
Once the accident’s location was known, the US Military started their own Rescue Operation with the rapid deployment of tons of special transports. By train, there arrived the Jeeps, Ambulances, and several Snowcats. The photo nr. 5 depicts US Army personnel with the Jeeps and the track-driven Weasels (made by Studebaker for Arctic Rescue operations).
Unfortunately, the Weasels were of no avail in the typical Swiss environment with deep glacier snow and steep mountain terrain. Those conditions were better handled with the Swiss expertise of Alpine mountain-rescue operations and their special transports.
Photo no. 6
FIESELER STORCH FOR THE RESCUE
The Swiss deployed two ‘Special Operations’ Aircraft for the Rescue Operation. The photo nr. 6 depicts one of the Fieseler Fi-156 Storch (Stork) aircraft of German origin that airlifted the passengers and crew of the crashed C-53.
Of that Reconnaissance/Liaison Light Aircraft, more than 2,900 were built before, during, and after WW II by Fieseler (who also built de V-1 Buzz-Bomb).
Equipped with both skies and wheels, the light aircraft could land on (patches of) snow and in (rough) terrain. The genius of the Fieseler design was in its novel wing design and its ‘long legs.’ The wheel suspension struts are not attached at the lower fuselage frame (as was/is normal practice) but extended to the overhead-mounted wings.
That insect-like appearance allows for an extremely long vertical ‘travel’ of the wheels during landings, making the aircraft a serious contender for the title “Master of the Moguls.”
The aircraft (also built in France, Russia, Rumania until the 1950s) had an excellent STOL-performance due to its lightweight construction and an advanced wing design. It was equipped with flaps like the ones on a modern jet liner and a hinged and slotted set of control surfaces ran along the entire length of the trailing edge.
A slot along the leading edge of the wing prevented it from stalling at low speeds. It could take off or land in a little over a hundred feet. Its wings were foldable backward so it could be loaded on a truck for road transport.
MUSSOLINI’S ESCAPE WITH A FIESELER STORCH
The same aircraft was used in 1943 in the most spectacular escape of the fascist leader Mussolini. He was imprisoned at Campo Imperatore Hotel (a ski-resort in Italy’s Gran Sasso massif, high-up in the Apennine Mountains) by the Italian Government when it became clear that Italy was about to lose the war.
The Germans launched their air-raid against the Eagle’s Nest-like Hotel with 10 gliders and 90 soldiers on board, plus a Fieseler. They landed out of the blue next to his prison-hotel, released the ex-dictator, and flew him out from that mountain to his German friends in Vienna.
Mussolini must have had anxious moments as he was shoehorned into the small aircraft, along with his liberator Waffen-SS Obersturmbahnfuhrer Otto Skorzeny. Both men were jam-packed in a single seat in an extremely narrow cabin.
The Storch was surely overloaded with its 2 bulky passengers and one pilot. Worse, only a very short grass-covered mountain trail was lying ahead of them.
They went steeply down the mountain slope before the Fi-156 could get airborne. Mussolini survived this takeoff but was later taken prisoner and executed by partisans in April 1945 just before the end of the War,
Photo no. 7
AFTER A WEEK ON THE GLACIER, ALL SAFE.
The 6-days stay in their Glacier-prison came to a good end for all 8 passengers and 4-man crew of the stricken C-53. The two versatile German aircraft Fieseler Storch planes airlifted all of them from the Gauli Glacier to the Swiss Meiringen Air Force base, only 8 miles away, where photo no. 7 was made.
High ranking US Military and two women were under the passengers, seen here, a bit shaken but relieved with the Happy Ending of their Nightmare. The Dodge Ambulance standing at right took the wounded to the hospital.
Photo no. 8
DISMANTLING OF THE STRICKEN AIRCRAFT
In the summer of 1947, the aircraft’s dismantling started (see photo no. 8). The most precious parts, like engines and (cockpit-) interior, were airlifted from the scene. The bend propellers were left behind, and the partially empty but intact airframe was left behind on the Glacier, becoming a toy for the Glacier’s grinder capacities.
Photo no. 9
CRUSHING FORCES OF THE GLACIER
The shiny airframe of the C-53 is seen here (photo no. 9) intact for the last time in 1947. The elements and the glacier’s crunching power have torn the airframe and wings apart over the years that followed, resulting in the larger parts’ pulverizing to smaller pieces that were deep-frozen inside the glacier.
But with the accelerated melting of glaciers worldwide, the Gauli has been affected by the European summers’ warmer temperatures. In 2012, the shrinking glacier released its first souvenirs from that 1946 aircraft crash.
Photo no. 10
In 2012, the Gauli Glacier revealed its first large part of the crashed C-53. This is the Hamilton Standard Propeller in a shiny state, found with no traces of corrosion (photo no. 10).
That was a real trophy popping up from the freezer box below, and there came soon more to follow from the shrinking glacier, that seems to have entered an accelerating pace of losing its volume and weight. (Photo Skitourguru.com)
Photo no. 11
Large skin panels are now being exposed to the sunlight. Stretched along a longer path of aluminum debris, it has the appearance as if the plane has collided or slammed into the glacier and was ripped apart by the crash. Not so, there was a huge metal grinder at work for over 70 years. (photos courtesy SRF News)
Photo no. 12
Amazingly, in 2008, I visited in the Yukon, Canada, where another USAF C-47 had crashed in very similar bad weather conditions on a search mission. That accident happened in 1950; the C-47 was also caught in a downdraft and hit terrain, a snow-covered hill while minor obstructions were met on the aircraft’s final sliding path.
With the airframe still intact, all occupants stepped out alive and had to wait for days for their rescue. Similar situation, but the big difference makes the glacier: where a huge metal-grinder ate the Gauli wreck, the Yukon wreck is still there as if the crash happened only a year ago.
Never saw such an impressive crash site in my life with such a well-conserved airframe still there, largely intact with only the engines and nose cone removed ( see photo no. 13)
In my book The Dakota Hunter, I describe that awesome experience with photos of the situation and the fascinating story.
For original footage of the Alpine rescue operation, see parts of the film made in 1946;
Photo no. 13
INFORMATION ABOUT MY BOOKS
My first book is about the DC-3/ Dakota/ C-47, titled “The Dakota Hunter.” Read the very positive reviews on the Amazon order-page ( scroll down to reviews), and you can order the book right away if you like (see cover below). See Amazon order page The Dakota Hunter.
My second book has just been released and has 400 photos on 290 pages, a complete photo album of the PBY Catalina that you can buy. It has as title “80 Years, a tribute to the PBY Catalina”. (See cover below). You can order the book now at Amazon Order page / 80 Years, PBY Catalina.
Visit for more Dakota Hunter Blogs and photos: www.dc3dakotahunter.com/ www.catalinabook.com.