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Bethlehem, New Hampshire, United States
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01 June 2012

Several Excellent Blogs about WW2 Bomber Crash on Mt. Waternomee


Because of the abundance of so many truly excellent Blog postings generated by others, there was a great deal of hesitancy to add yet another account of a trek to Mt. Waternomee where a World War II bomber crashed on 14-Jan-1942. 

There is very little that I can add to what has already been so wonderfully reported.  Therefore, throughout this report about my trek on 31-May-2012, I'll frequently interject quotes (with links) from the postings of other Bloggers who have done this same hike.

Although I've been aware of this well-known crash site for many years, this was the first time I've visited it.  The idea of doing this hike was roused by a trek I did a few weeks ago to the 1954 crash site of a commercial airliner on Mt. Success (click HERE to read that report).   I was immediately struck by one rather odd similarity between the two crashes.  For both the 1954 crash and the 1942 crash, there were 7 people aboard, and in both cases, 2 died and 5 survived.

As far as I know, the most complete account of the plane crash on Mt. Waternomee is contained in a book entitled "The Night the Bomber Crashed" by Floyd W. Ramsey.  This book isn't widely available, but can be ordered from either the Mountain Wanderer Bookstore or Bondcliff Books.

Before getting into the details of the crash, here are some brief details about the airplane.  The twin-engine B-18 Bolo was the first Douglas medium bomber.  It was a combat version of the DC-2 commercial transport.  Douglas produced 370 of the B-18 Bolos, and they made up most of the bomber force when the country first entered World War II.  They were soon replaced with larger and more efficient bombers.  However, throughout the war they were used as trainers, as well as for anti-submarine operations, especially with the recent invention of radar.   Some B-18s were retrofitted with nose-mounted radar which replaced the bombardier.

Shown below are two stock images of the B-18 bomber.

And so, with that rather lengthy introduction, let's move on to the details of the crash.  I liked the introduction as written in a Blog entitled Wicked Dark Photography (click HERE).  Below is a quote from that write-up.

"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."  (The author is referring to residents in the area of North Woodstock and Lincoln.)

From what I've read, the flames from the resulting crash were so high on the mountain and so intense that they could easily be seen from the towns of Lincoln and Woodstock.   The Wicked Dark Photography blog goes on to say:
"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 Gore-Tex or fleece either.  Amazingly, they found 5 of the 7-man crew alive."

In a Blog authored by Cheryl Suchors (Click HERE) it was interesting to read the following regarding the mindset of the local residents during this timeframe which was less than 6 weeks after the Pearl Harbor attack.  
"Only weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the citizens of North Lincoln and nearby Woodstock initially thought they were being attacked by the Japanese. The first rescue crew to reach the crash site wasn’t sure whether they were aiding enemies or allies."

On the day following the crash,  the U.S. Army took over the scene.  They removed the bodies of two airmen who died in the inferno.  They also located and removed live grenades, plus they detonated a 300-lb bomb that survived the crash.

After nearly 70 years, you might expect there to be almost nothing visible, but there is!  As Cheryl Suchors states in her Blog: "Though the burn marks and scars on the mountainside have healed completely, it’s astonishing how fresh the metal parts still look despite the nearly seventy years the forest has had to work on them."

Parts of the wings, engines, landing gear, and  fragments of the fuselage are scattered over a rather large area of the steep mountainside of Mt. Waternomee.   Also, there is a plaque and American flag honoring the aircrew.

Shown below is a composite of a few snapshots that I took during my visit to the crash site.  But if you want to see some truly excellent photos taken by a real photographer, then you should visit the ScenicNh blog (Click HERE) where Erin Paul Donovan has posted his photos.


As to how to get to this crash site, there is no official trail, which perhaps is just as well.  This is a very special place where lives were lost.  With the risk of sounding like an elitist, maybe this spot  should be reserved to be sought out by those who will honor and respect it.   For individuals of that mindset, a quick search of the Internet will provide directions as to how to access this location  (Click HERE for one such website).   Keep in mind that the crash site is located on federal land where it is illegal to remove any artifacts.


Lastly, you might also want to take a moment to visit a cascade located along the route to the crash site.  I don't know if this cascade has ever been given an official name, but I like the unofficial moniker of "Airmen Falls" which was dubbed by photographer Erin Paul Donovan in his Blog.  Below is a snapshot that I took.  But once again, to see some real photography, click HERE for photos of the cascade taken by Erin.

To sum it up, perhaps the best summation of this experience can be found at a Blog authored by J.W. Ocker (click HERE).  He sums up his visit to the crash site as follows:

"I know that seems like a dumb moral to leave you with, but it’s a reminder I need constantly. I mean, by the time I get to sites where tragedy and history have happened, they’re mostly all clean bronze memorials and glass-covered exhibits that might as well be TV screens. To see and touch and, in one case, trip over actual wreckage in the actual spot where it actually happened 70 year ago makes everything I’ve ever heard about in this world that much more real."

14 comments:

  1. No affront to Mr. Donovan, but I much prefer your cascade photo to those on the other end of the link. I am so glad you mentioned it - it has been ages since I was up there, and I had forgotten entirely about the cascade!

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    1. What a terrific compliment! There's nothing to say other than "thank you"!

      With all the rain that is predicted over the next several days, it might be an excellent time for you to pay a return visit to this cascade for some photo-ops!

      John

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  2. Well I guess that answer my question from your Mt Success hike. ;) How well is the trailhead marked,I've heard not that well. Thanks John.

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    1. Yup! Jim, part of the inspiration to do this hike came from the question that you posted on the report for my Mt. Success hike!

      Regarding the “trailhead” for the Waternomee crash, you shouldn’t have much difficulty getting to the site by parking at the gate on Walker Brook Rd (off Rt 118 just 0.8 mile from Rt 112), then walking that road to the end, and hanging a right onto a herd path. One of the links I posted in this report has more details.

      John

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  3. John,

    I have always been fascinated with world war two era crash sites like this. I actually live right next to Westover Air Force Base (where the plane took off from). We have a very similar crash site on Mount Holyoke when a B-24 crashed after the pilots became disoriented after take off. However nothing remains from this crash. The B-18 crash site is amazing because so much is still there! Awesome post and that was nice of you to promote other blogs!

    -Grant

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  4. Thanks Grant for the kind remarks!

    Looks like we share the same fascination with the WW2, including plane crash sites from that era.

    I guess it’s relatively rare here in the U.S. to have such a large debris field from a WW2 plane crash (like the B-18 on Waternomee). However, I suppose (but don’t know for a fact) that sites like this might be fairly common in the European countryside.

    It’s interesting that you live next to B-18’s home base at Westover Air Force Base. If you’ve not already done the trek to Waternomee crash site, you sure have plenty of incentive to do so.

    John

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  5. Hello,

    I was reviewing my blog stats today and kept seeing your blog listed as a referrer. I just wanted to say thank you for linking to and mentioning my blog and work.

    If you are ever in Lincoln stop by the library and ask to see the bomber book. I can't remember the official name of it, but its a portfolio / inventory of the site. I found it interesting and you may also. I don't think you can check it out, so you would have to look through it at the library.

    The names of the rescuers are also interesting.

    Thanks again!
    Erin Paul Donovan

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    1. Hi Erin,

      No problem with including links to your Blog in my posting. You have a terrific Blog, and your report on the bomber crash was first-class!

      And thank you for alerting me to the fact that there is a portfolio/inventory of the crash site available at the library in Lincoln. I’ll definitely keep that in mind the next time I’m in Lincoln. It must me a very interesting (and unique) collection.

      John

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  6. Hi John,

    I've enjoyed your posts about hikes to old airplane crashes. As I said in a previous comment I find it amazing that the debris from these crashes endures over many decades.

    In this post I liked how you combined your post with previous posts about the topic. Viewing all the posts together makes a well-integrated story.

    The unofficial moniker "Airmen Falls" is a good one. My dad was an "Airman" (Korean War)—I'm sure he'd appreciate the sentiment.

    Another interesting read, John!

    Rita

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    1. Thanks Rita!

      Regarding the enduring nature of the debris at both these plane crash sites, the debris itself is comprised of relatively non-corrosive materials. Also, in both instances, the debris is located on land which is protected from development, and therefore is unlikely to be carted off and sold for scrap. Don’t want to sound morbid, but most likely the remnants of these plane crashes will be around long after we’re gone!

      Last, but far from least, I’m appreciative of your Dad’s service to our Country.

      John

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  7. Very interesting and thank you for sharing. I will find the time to get to the links. As an Air Force brat, I've grown up with planes and still love to read about them and see them, even the ones with tragic endings.

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    1. Hi Summerset,

      Having a military background certainly enhances the experience of visiting a site such as this. When you find time to read the links within my report you’ll discover that the launch point for this hike is on the same road (Rt. 118) as the Ravine Lodge Rd. So perhaps if you’re feeling ambitious, you could combine a trek to Moosilauke with a visit to this site. You’d need to allow about 3+ hrs round-trip to visit the crash site.

      John

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  8. I've enjoyed your posts about airplane crashes. I find it amazing that the debris from these crashes endures over many decades.In this post I liked how you combined your post with previous posts about the topic. Viewing all the posts together makes a well-integrated story.

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    1. Thank you for your comments!

      It’s gratifying to read that you liked the concept of how my report integrated reports written by others on this same topic. It’s terrific to have feedback such as this!

      John

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