It’s funny. A person can live in an area all their lives and still not know much about it. In a total fluke I was made aware of a bit of dramatic New Hampshire history. Husband and I were all set to hike up Mt. Moosilauke a couple of weeks ago, but a local to that area told us that the road to the trail head was closed and it would add a few miles onto an already long hike. Being flexible we asked her for suggestions. She asked if we wanted to go see some plane wreckage.
Plane wreckage? Damn! Really?
Of course we said yes. Hell yes. How often do you get to see this kind of thing in the woods?
On the way up, she told us the story and I’ve since done some searching on my own as well. Essentially, the story goes like this –
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 be. 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 B-24 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 entire town below.
A rescue team was rounded up and within an hour they were headed up the steep, deeply snowed in mountain. 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 goretex or fleece either. Amazingly, they found 5 of the 7-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 a great deal of it at the time of the crash and others carting off what they could for a museum, there isn’t a lot of recognizable stuff on the ground. Fuselage is gone as is one wing (at least we couldn’t find it) and of course the ordinance and cockpit. Most of the site looks like this –
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 and there it is. Mangled hunks and twisted metal spread over a couple of acres. I can’t believe anyone lived, but they did.
Unfortunately, the site was difficult to photograph well. In part because much of the debris is unrecognizable and scattered over such a large area. Also because it was about 90 degrees and humid as hell. I was exhausted and hadn’t brought enough water with me (dehydration played a big part in my weariness) and so wasn’t in my best photographic form. So I had a sandwich, mooched water off my camel-like husband and made the trip back down. Luckily we got to stop here on the way –
Words fail to describe the utter bliss of being near this giant wall of cool air and misty water. Basically I just sat one one rock and splashed my face with water, all motivation gone. It was all I could do to get the tripod into the water.
I felt like I could have stayed there all day, but eventually we got back to the car and home. I’m glad I went up Mt. Waternomee to see the B-18 crash and remember that not all the soldiers died in battle.