Douglas B-23 Dragon
B-23 s/n 39-052
29 JAN 1943
Loon Lake ID
This is probably one of the most intact WWII aircraft that crashed on land in the continental US (and still remains there). Everything small has been stripped off of it by souvenir hunters, but it's intactness has allowed the bulk of the aircraft to remain there.
It is rare to run into other people at a crash site, this time was a definite exception. On the day we visited the site no fewer than 15 other people also visited! 6 on horse, 2 on mountain bikes, 2 on motorcycle (stopping at the wilderness boundary and hiking the last part) and 5 on foot. Everyone we met on the trail knew about the crash site-- though the story was not always right.
I visited this site in September 1999, apparently shortly there after the USAF Museum sent in a team of three museum mechanics and two Idaho Army National Guard mechanics who spent a week at the site removing parts from the aircraft which were then airlifted out by Blackhawk helicopter. While I am in favor of recovery if it is for a museum and it will help get an example of a rare plane restored, it is a shame to see what was the most intact crash in the Continental US destroyed, especially considering that most of the parts aren't even going to be used in the restored plane! They are going to be used solely as patterns. It is much easier to recreate a part from a pattern, but it is possible to recreate it from blue prints. One could also photograph the part at the crash site to see what a real one looks like. The time saved from using the parts as a pattern was at a cost of the B-23's structural integrity (as well as historical integrity) and the winter snows have started to crush the fuselage that had laid intact in the forest for 56 years. Take a look at the two links below for more details. The first is of photos of how the fuselage looked in July 2002 as well as three original photos of the crash site. These come from Richard H. Holm Jr. Richard has done extensive research on this crash and has even put together a 43 page history of the crash for the Heritage Program of the Payette National Forest. The second link is to TIGHAR's web site and is a field report of a survey they did at the site the summer after the parts were removed.
The following was taken from an Idaho Statesman article published 01/29/93.
"Bomber Crash 50 Years Ago Began Ordeal For 8 Crewmen"
by Mark Carnopis
Fifty years ago today, eight crewmen of a bomber that crashed in northern Idaho began an odyssey of survival that continued for more than two weeks.
Everyone aboard the B-23 Dragon bomber, which veered off course in a snowstorm, survived the
January 29, 1943, crash in the Payette National Forest about 15 miles northeast of McCall.
Five days later, three of the crewmen decided to hike out for help. On February 13, a Cascade bush pilot named Penn Stohr spotted the wreckage and the five men there. They were rescued the next day.
On Feb. 16, the three men who had left the crash site found a Civil Conservation Corps camp. One of them stayed there, while the other two hiked to a ranger station, where they phoned for help.They had traveled 42 miles in heavy snow before being rescued.
At the height of the search, the entire Second Air Force, which included the Army Air Corps from the entire Northwest, joined private pilots in scouring three states.
Efforts to contact one of the crewmen, Edward Freeborg, 69, of Portland, Oregon, were unsuccessful Thursday.
But Boise aviation historian Lowell Thompson provided a copy of a nine-page report of the crash purportedly written by Freeborg. Using that report, news stories of the crash and a 1991 newspaper interview with Freeborg, a Statesman reporter was able to compile the following account of the incident, which made headlines across the nation:
The Army Air Corps bomber, which was used for coastal patrol and in training missions, was enroute from Tonopah, Nev., to McChord Field in Tacoma, Washington, the morning of Jan. 29 when it got lost in a blinding snowstorm and ended up over Idaho.
Efforts to find a suitable landing site in the rugged terrain were unsuccessful. With gas running low, the crew decided to try an emergency landing on Loon Lake, near Upper Payette Lake.
The bomber hit the far shore, sawing off 20-inch trees for about 100 yards. Both wings were sheared off and the nose was smashed, but the fuselage remained intact. The only injuries were a broken leg and a severely cut hand.
The crew searched the plane and found two 12-gauge shotguns, some emergency rations, and chocolate vitamin bars. The first night, they took turns gathering wood and sleeping on green pine boughs.
Freeborg said attempts to hike out of the area or make themselves more visible from the air were difficult.
"The future was none too bright for us, with no food... half starved, half frozen and a regular covering every smoke signal we could make, and making it terribly cold and in general hampering all of our efforts in letting the outside world knowing of our whereabouts," he wrote.
He said those who tried to go looking for help "met with failure, due to exceptionally deep snow, with men in each case sinking into snow up to their waists and sometimes so deep they had to help each other out of the holes they had made."
On Feb. 1, Freeborg was able to fix the radio and send a message, which included a wrong location: "Crew intact, need food, clothing and an axe. At the south end of a lake near Boise, Idaho."
The night of Feb. 2, Freeborg and two other crewmen decided they would hike out for help. They left the next morning with small pieces of the chocolate, a shotgun and canteens.
"We hiked across the lake and up to the top of the mountain to look and see what type of territory we were going to have to climb out of," Freeborg wrote. "Believe me, that was the most disappointing sight I had ever hoped to see. Hills, hills and more hills in every direction. Believe me, I firmly believed that we looked in the face of death."
The first several days, all they ate were chocolate and one squirrel, which Freeborg shot. The fifth day, they found a small cabin with three cots and some food. They also saw a sign that said McCall was 25 miles away. They decided that two of them would keep hiking on the road.
On Feb. 13, Penn Stohr spotted the plane wreckage and crewmen while delivering mail by air. He could not land on the frozen lake, but came back the next day with a ski plane and rescued the five crewmen still with the bomber.
Stohr died in 1957 at the age of 54, his son, Dan Stohr, said in an interview Thursday from Boise. He died in a plane crash while doing aerial spraying in Montana.
Dan Stohr said his father never said much about the crash and rescue. "He was a very modest guy. Usually what I heard is what I read. He would just have assumed to stay out of the limelight."
Back in the wilderness, Freeborg and the others had found a camp mess hall and an Idaho National Forest booklet that included a map. Freeborg and another crewman decided to look for a ranger station that the map indicated was nearby. They followed telephone lines to the station, where they telephoned for help.
Fifty years later, remnants of the airplane remain, and it still is a popular site for hikers.
Special Thanks to Richard H. Holm Jr. for sending these pictures.