In my last week’s blog ( September 3 , 2015), I wrote about USAF’s horror year 1950, with 6 aircraft lost in 7 weeks, including a B-36 with an Atomic Bomb on board. In terms of loss of life, the worst accident happened in that same winter with a C-54 D Skymaster ( Military version of the DC-4) that disappeared on January 26, 1950 without a trace on a flight from Alaska to Montana with 44 people on board. This mysterious incident triggered one of the largest air searches ever organized by the USAF (some 85 aircraft in total were involved in the following weeks of air search). The C-54 had last sent a message while flying over the Yukon weather station Snag near Whitehorse. Subsequently, the search named Operation Mike focused on that area but on the first day of the search ( January 27) adverse weather conditions were reported with icing conditions and heavy snow fall, that would continue for 3 more days. The chances for finding the lost aircraft or its remains were to be reduced with every new day of snow fall. Nevertheless, the search was to be continued and one of the participating aircraft was this USAF C-47 Serial 45- 1037 (see photos), involved in the rescue operation since almost 2 weeks.
According to the journals ( via my friend Dirk Septer) from the 10 men crew on board ( mixed US and Canadian military), they flew too low over the mountains of the McClintoc range, as later turned out, likely in the hope to detect the hidden/snow covered wreck of the missing C-54 that until that date was maybe overlooked in higher flights over the same area. The drama for the C-47 started without prior notice, as a sudden strong downdraft caught the aircraft in an iron grip and pushed her down with such ferocity that the pilots could not escape from this invisible evil hand. The aircraft was soon hitting terrain, but luckily for them, that was a rather flat slope with packs of fresh snow which must have restrained the impact of the contact with the hostile soil. The snow had also covered those large boulders, rendering them harmless in the slide that followed.
Photo 2. The boulders otherwise would surely have ripped the aircraft apart in no-snow conditions as you see on the photo above. But the plane went down on a white cushion that worked as an airbag and survived the terrain impact almost intact. With all wings and stabilizers still in place, and fuselage in one piece, hallelujah, or boy, were they lucky! After a first bounce, the C-47 came to rest in the snow and it turned out that all 10 crew members had survived the crash, be it with 3 more or less seriously wounded. The accident can best be described as one of the odd Luckiest unannounced Crash landings made in the history of aviation. Note: The pilot was not preparing for a crash landing, this aircraft simply went flat out against the hill side!
Photo 3. This is a most remarkable picture, that shows first of all the shiny state of the aluminium skin. Now 65 years ago, this C-47 went down and there are no traces yet of corrosion, while there is year round plenty of rain, mist, snow and humidity out there in relatively low temperatures ( I was there in late August and my fingers went numb with the cold). But the absence of salt and high temperatures gives the aluminium a near eternal life as it seems. The harsh weather and wind have had no dulling effect on the polished skin while most of the paint is gone.
A second point of attention is the gaping hole in the fuselage, just in front of the main wing’s fairing. This was caused by the starboard runaway propeller, that came loose at the moment of impact on the hill and as a huge disc grinder, slashed into the lower rear end of the cockpit. The radio operator was sitting right there behind that flimsy skin panel and could have been killed by the incoming prop blade. But he surely had all the fortunes of the world: the downdraft that had pushed the aircraft so dramatically out of control , had a huge impact on the crew, most of them not wearing safety belt as the imminent danger of a crash was not realized. All of them inside the doomed plane went suddenly up in the air as the aircraft entered the downdraft, to the extend of jaws dropping and the radio man was lifted out of his sitting position just a second before the sudden crash happened and the ensuing act of the prop blade that came “knocking on the door” . He was sort of airborne inside the cockpit as the slashing sword came in and that may have saved his life! But the blade hit his leg, it severely wounded him with a broken bone.
The impressive 3 photos above are taken by my friend Felix Stadler from Germany, who made a most amazing portfolio of American ‘Transports” that I can strongly recommend you to watch at “http://www.555nm.de/
Photo 4. The picture above was made during my trip with Julie Le Bolzer, journalist/ photographer from Paris who came along with me to visit the Yukon C-47 crash site . We did it by Helicopter and had a very fascinating flight in relative comfort. but Felix decided to go up there ( over 6500 feet alt.) all by himself, alone. If interested to read the continuing story ( Volume 2), follow me and read my blog on Facebook or on War History Online. In my coming blog of September 26 , 2015 , you can read how the crew of 10 survived their ordeal of being lost in a snow covered airplane, that was most probably never to be spotted from the air. They had survived the crash alright, but they realized that that implicated by no means a rescue, as much as they had searched the missing C-54 for almost 2 weeks. This search was all without any results and that doomed C-54 Skymaster was never ever found back again. On top, Felix will have another surprise in Volume 2 for the fans of adventure stories and a few more photos of this wonderful site and its C-47, that is stretched over the yellowish hill as a tribute to its ruggedness.
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