SECTION E - SUNDAY, JULY 20, 1997
Gary Pat Macha has updated and revised "Aircraft Wrecks in the Mountains and Deserts of California 1909-1996," his 1991 guidebook to locating historical aircraft crash sites.
The Huntington Beach resident, who teaches history and geography at Hawthorne High School, is California's premier aircraft archeologist someone who identifies and documents wrecked or abandoned aircraft.
The 213-page trade paperback ($19.95) lists about 1,400 crash sites in California's mountains and deserts, from a sightseeing hot-air balloon that crashed into the San Gabriel Mountains in 1909 to a Beechcraft BE-35 that disappeared in a storm near Squaw Valley in 1996.
The book, which includes more than 80 photographs, is available in aviation specialty stores, Barnes & Noble and Borders Books and Music in Orange County and through Info Net Publishing in Lake Forest: (949) 458-9292.
Macha, 51, stumbled upon his first wreck while hiking in the San Bernardino mountains in 1963: a C-47 air cargo plane that crashed into Mt. San Gorgonio in a snow storm in 1952, killing all 13 men on board.
He has since visited hundreds of crash sites, many of the wrecked planes in overgrown, hard-to-find locations. He says he enjoys the challenge of the search, and there's always the thrill of discovery.
"It's a step back into time, especially the old sites," he says. "It's a great way to revisit that moment in history."
At some point, Macha says, "there will be another book dealing with all the western states."
There's already a video, "Lost but Not Forgotten," a 50-minute production narrated by Macha and featuring footage of crash sites from 1930 to the present. ' The $19.95 video was made by Wreck Finder Productions, a small video production company in Seal Beach. It also can be ordered through Info Net Publishing.
Not all airplanes that have crashed in unpopulated areas of California have been found. Take the P-40 Tomahawk that crashed in the Sierras in 1941. "People," says Macha, "have looked for years and years."
Macha was recently contacted by relatives of Lt. Gertrude Tompkins Silver, a Women's Air Force Service Pilot (WASP), who disappeared in October 1944 while delivering a P-51 to Arizona.
She was last seen taking off from Mines Field on what is now Los Angeles International Airport.
"The family is still troubled and would like closure," says Macha, who suspects that the newly married Silver's plane is at the bottom of Santa Monica Bay.
"I looked at the microfilm for weather that day," he says. "In late October, it was heavy overcast Her takeoff was at 4:45 in the afternoon, right near sunset, and I believe she went up in the clouds west of the airfield. She may have become disoriented and entered the bay vertically.
"There were 41 women pilots who lost their lives during the war in accidents, in training and flights. She's the only one who's never been accounted for."