Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Telegraph Pass B-17 Crash Site

Telegraph Pass, AZ Bomber Training Flight Crash, June 1944

Gila Mountains, Ariz. -- Five men were killed early yesterday when a B-17 plane, returning to the Yuma army air field from a routine training flight, hit a peak in the Gila mountains 10 miles east of the field, it was announced at the field last night after a searching party returned with the bodies.Time of the accident was placed by officers at 1:52 a.m. The plane was blown to bits by an explosion which followed the crash, believed to have been caused by igniting of the plane's gasoline supply.A searching party from the field left soon after the accident was reported but required some hours to reach the scene in the rugged mountain terrain in which no vehicle could be operated. The crash occurred two miles south of Telegraph Pass.The Dead:2nd Lt. WILLIAM A. RICHELL, 22, pilot. Wife, Mrs. Nora A. Richell, Tonawanda, N.Y.2nd Lt. SHERIDAN B. MAREK, 20, co-pilot. Mother, Mrs. Martha M. Marek, Rt. 4, Temple, Texas.2nd Lt. ANGUS W. MacARTHUR, 21, co-pilot. Wife, Mrs.Patricia K. MacArthur, 106 S. Madison ave., Pasadena, Calif.Sgt. MANTEN P. JONES, 23, crew chief. Father, Charles P. Jones, 5069 Raphael, Los Angeles.Corp. MERLE G. ICE, 23, aerial engineer. Wife, Mrs. Louise F. Ice, 1013 N. Branson st., Marion, Indiana.
The Yuma Daily Sun Arizona 1944-06-29

I had heard about the B-17 Bomber crash site back in the 90's. After some searching and some inquiries I finally pin pointed the proper mountain valley where the plane crashed. I climbed solo all the way through the debris field to the top of the mountain where the impact occurred in the late 90's but had no camera with me. A recent acquaintance showed interest in seeing the site so we went off today in search of the site again.
John has a Russian built Ural sidecar rig which is suited for off road use. This was our conveyance to the base of the mountain to get into range of the climb.

Some of the approaches to the Gila Mountains are now posted as private property so the access in is limited. We found an open entrance to the land below the mountains and headed in. There are numerous roads in the area and finding the most direct route in was difficult. After a few miles of wandering we got into the general area where I remembered the site to be.
The trail below is where we parked the Ural and began the hike. The terrain is rough and trails come and is easy to lose them in the boulder fields.

Looking up the canyon I thought we were in the right area but wasn't sure. It has been so many years since I was last here. As you approach the mountains the perspective changes and doubt loomed about the correct route...The highest peak in the center of the photo was the impact site. The B-17 came into the mountains from the left, hitting the rock face of the peak about 30 feet from the top.

The approach to the valley. The going was pretty rough and great care is needed to avoid a twisted ankle or worse.

As we were about to give up the quest, a reflection up the gorge caught our eyes. Sure enough it was a large piece of aluminum from the aircraft frame. Below the small piece of wreckage was a large white cross, white washed onto the rocks. I had read that someone had marked the locations of where the airman's bodies were found. This was the first of the five markers.

As we climbed a little further more aircraft parts were about. Most pieces are damaged beyond recognition....not surprising considering the violence of the crash and the distance the parts rolled down the mountain.

A fairly large section of aircraft aluminum skin.

An engine super charger. Three of them were in the general vicinity.

Remains of a Radial Engine. Some of the cylinders were missing, attesting to the violent trip down the mountain and the initial impact.

Another large section of aluminum skin:

More Aluminum:

And more:

One of the aircraft's landing gear assemblies.
The wheel assembly and cylinder was large...the wheel appeared to be made from very thick magnesium. A fuel bladder sits in the foreground.

Landing gear strut.

A piece of the wing, where the landing gear attaches.
We spent a 1/2 hour or so at the lower end of the debris field. There is a huge debris field scattered all the way up the gorge. The upper reaches are VERY steep and treacherous. At the top of the peak, where the impact site is, there is a steel plaque with the lost airman's names inscribed. We decided not to go up any further.

In the 90's I remember a lot of smaller parts and pieces down lower where we were. Scavengers have likely taken out some souvenir's over the years. We chose to leave things as is, in respect to the site. Coming down was sure a lot easier than going up.


Mike & Pam said...

Great blog, and wonderful story about the B-17 crash site. John's a riding buddy of ours and he told me to check this out. Glad he did, you've got some incredible info here!

We're 5 years from retirement, and really champing at the bit, watching John and Cindy have so much fun.

We do as much m/c travel as we can squeeze into vacation time, managing trips through Alaska and to the northern tip of Newfoundland. So many roads, so little time!

Dan Gottschalk said...

Thank you so much for this site. Merle Ice was my uncle. Mother has told me wonderful stories about her big brother and now I have seen the site of his death. thank again for this post.

BMW HACKER said...

Dan, The site is "Hallowed Ground" to those who go there. I climbed up to the impact point one time years ago. My Father, still with us at 96, was a B-24 Bomber Navigator.
Lots of Air Corps related stories on my other blog -

Gila Mtns.

Gila Mtns.