It was the day after Thanksgiving, Nov 27, 1964, somewhere around 9:00am when I departed the White Alice site in the snow cat to get some things I needed at the AC&W BX.  It was very cold that morning and from the 1,000 ft elevation of the  White Alice site I could see the top of the dense cloud layer that had moved in to encompass the lower elevations of the cape.   I knew it was going to be one of those “socked-in” days that would prevent the mail plane from coming to our remote location.   The road ran straight for a ways before turning left to make the descent downhill to base camp.  While headed south on this straight section of road I suddenly saw in my distant view, a plume of black smoke rise from the south side of the mountain and west of the radome which was visible above the cloud layer.    I thought this to be very strange and abnormal, so upon arrival at base camp I went direct to the orderly room and reported my observation to the First Sergeant.  He was not aware of any smoke and summoned the base commander to come and hear about my observation.   I told the commander what I had seen and he the called the base to alert status.   While I was in the office several telephone calls came in and the atmosphere became very serious and intense.   Soon I was told a Navy aircraft was reported missing in our area and the smoke I reported had to be checked out.  The major told me he would need my snow cat and to go hitch up the cargo sled we had at White Alice and return as quick as possible.   I returned to Whie Alice and our mechanic hooked up the sled while I went inside and put on extra layers of clothing.  It was a quick trip and I returned to find a group of about 6 men waiting for me and another snow cat was parked and waiting nearby.   The major gave me permission to go along as an “observer”.  Some equipment and tools were loaded into the cargo sled and  the two snow cats started up the north-facing side of the hill west of the radome with our snow cat closely following the other one.  The mission was straight forward – determine if the smoke was from an airplane crash and, if so, verify if it was the missing Navy plane, look for survivors, and locate bodies of non-survivors.   It took a couple attempts to find a location on the crest of the mountain from which access to the south-facing side, from which the smoke came, was possible.   Along this section of the mountain, the south-facing side is very steep (50 degrees) from the crest down to the sea below.   In addition to the steep grade, there was loose rock, poor visibility, windy, and extreme cold temperature to deal with.  This made access to the crash site below very hazardous.  Ropes were anchored at the crest and used to provide the only possible hope of reaching the crash site.   Using these ropes, three or four men went over the edge to begin the search.   I was not kept advised as to what was happening, but over a period of time three bodies were recovered and brought up to the crest and laid down carefully and respectfully, onto the frozen ground.   I could see some patches of burnt uniform and charred skin on each of them but they were otherwise intact.   These men would later be identified as LT Dennis Wilson, Pilot and PPC, LT William Dotson, ice observer specialist, and ADR2 Harold Ley, Plane Captain.  The aircraft was confirmed to be the missing Navy plane, Buno135610 with twelve men aboard.  Of these, three bodies were recovered and eight others had been located.   With nightfall quickly approaching,  the search work was stopped and the three recovered bodies were loaded into the cargo sled, and we went back down the mountain to base camp.      I was due to start my shift at White Alice so I had to leave base camp.  I knew they still needed the snow cat and the cargo sled so I walked back to the White Alice site on foot.  A few men of the recovery team where gathered around the cargo sled with the bodies when I departed.  It’s my understanding they put these bodies in the carpenter’s shop for the night to make sure they remained frozen.   In my opinion these men of the 794th AC&W Squadron that searched the accident scene that afternoon under extremely harsh and dangerous conditions with limited tools,  recovered three bodies and located 8 others, went beyond the call of duty and are true heroes.  I wish I had their names to list here.  A Navy Investigation team from Kodiak and a special army mountaineering team from Fort Richardson was scheduled to arrive the next day (Saturday) to continue with the recovery process and a make a complete investigation of the crash incident.  

That evening ended my personal eyewitness account of the incident, but the work of the Naval investigators and the Army mountaineering team continued for five more days.  What follows is information describing the investigation and recovery activity that took place during that period of time, along with information concerning the aircraft, the crew, the mission, the crash site, and other related events.   My source of information is the official Navy investigation report, Navy pilots who had flown the aircraft involved, and family members of the deceased.   None of the information presented here is from newspaper articles.

continued…..

 

Thank you for this report on the accident, Owen. I look forward to the remainder.

Regards,

Darryl

Posted by Darryl Crum on April 9th, 2014.

Dear Owen
I am sure that it hasn’t been easy for you to relive that day but am so grateful for all you have done over the years to keep the memory of our loved ones from being forgotten.
Fondly,
Ruth Ann

Posted by Ruth Ann McAfee on April 26th, 2014.

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