For Saturday, first, Anita, Paul, and I were maybe going to climb Handies down in the San Juans. But Paul and I were wanting to do Sopris near Carbondale instead, and we never heard from Anita. Then my brothers, who I've been putting on hold all summer long said they wanted to go to an old B-17 crash site. So I bailed on Paul and then my brothers bailed on me!
Then, at the last minute, they un-bailed on me.
So we went.
I Googled and found the Pingree B-17, but my brother didn't know about it. He had been talking about the Crown Point crash site not far away, both north of Rocky Mountain National Park. Pingree was closer.
Also, the Pingree site is one of the few that the Civil Air Patrol hadn't used thermite grenades on. When a plane went down, they had to retrieve the top-secret Norton bomb sights, the radio gear, the .50 caliber machine guns, and of course the bodies of the crew. Just in case they miss anything, they nuked the remains with white phosphorous/thermite. So there isn't usually much left of these planes but some old radial engines.
I plugged the coordinates into Google Earth, tilted the map, spun it around, and looked at it from several angles. It would be easy.
When we headed out, though, my brother - the only one with a GPS - said he didn't bring it. Okay, we left the trail and were bushwhacking straight up the mountain towards treeline, with the forest littered with criss-crossing tree-fall, and our one source of pin-pointing it is gone.
I got a tiny peek at a ridge opposite from where the crash was supposed to be, though, and I was fairly certain of my bearings. Sure enough, I spotted half of a wing less than 100 feet to my right.
This crash occurred at 10:45pm, Oct. 20, 1943 - 64 years ago.
Wow, what a horrible way to go. We couldn't figure out the whole story. One wing got ripped off and didn't burn, but it burst its fuel load all over the place. The rest of the plane went into the mountain with the remaining wing above the fuselage. The upper wing impacted the mountain and exploded so loud it was heard 7 miles away. Everyone had to have died instantly, and I wonder if any bodies were even found. Molten aluminum was everywhere. My research had stated that there was no torching of this site because there was no need to - it had incinerated itself.
There was no sign of the distinctive B-17 tail, nor any sign of any of the fuselage. Hard to believe, but the entire fuselage was gone. There were parts that were taken away, but as rugged and remote as this crash was, nothing of any great size or weight could have been removed.
We found something very bizarre. One of the radial engines had been blown outward from inside. The aluminum head was gone, with the valves and ports. The rest of the steal or iron cylinder was cracked down the front, and blown out with such force that the metal curled outward and around. It was as if some C4 had detonated from within. We couldn't fathom any fuel/air mixture having enough force to do this, but it is a turbocharged engine, and the Civil Air Patrol didn't have C4 back then (not even C3!), nor would there be any motive to use any inside this one engine cylinder. So we wondered if somehow this cylinder did exploded in-flight and caused the whole crash?
Check this post tomorrow for a few photos (edit - added above). My camera batteries ran out so I didn't get many. Until then I found these, and these, and these on Webshots.