Aircraft Wrecks in the Mountains and Deserts of the American West
Story and all photos courtesy Don Pedrazzini
On December 6, 1942 six USAAF Consolidated B-24D “Liberator” bombers were scheduled to depart Hamilton Army Air Base. Their mission was to perform a long range armed patrol mission hundred of miles off the Northern California coast. That day was just one day short of the one year anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the possibility of an attack by the Japanese on the West Coast of North America was a real threat. Frequent recon missions meant that aircrews were required to fly patrol missions in all types of weather.
The lead B-24D and it’s crew of five took off at 0544, followed by the second B-24D at 0604, the third B-24D at 0613 and the fourth and what was to be the last aircraft launched, departed at 0617. B-24D 41-24262 with Lt. Donald O. Pedrazzini as pilot in command and his crew of five were in the fourth and last B-24.
Shortly after his departure the weather deteriorated to the point that the remaining two aircraft were sent back to the flight line. Approximately 13 minutes after departing runway 12 at Hamilton Field 2nd Lt. Donald O. Pedrazzini radioed Hamilton that an engine had failed, the prop was feathered but they were experiencing icing conditions and were having difficulty maintaining altitude. When he was instructed to tune the radio compass to the beacon at Fresno, Lt Pedrazzini advised the tower that it was also malfunctioning.
It should be noted that this was a new aircraft with a total flight time of only 16 hours prior to this mission. Lt Pedrazzini was then ordered to make a 180 degree turn and fly back to Hamilton on a heading of 300 degrees. At 0715 2nd Lt. Pedrazzini radioed again to say he and his crew were going to bail out. That was the last message received from 41-24262.
After several unsuccessful attempts to contact 41-24262 a crash call was put through at 0719 The wreckage of B-24D 41-24262 and bodies of the crew were discovered some 9.5 miles SE of Stewarts Point on a mountain ridge. Weather at the time of the accident was cloudy with light rain. Clouds obscured the mountain tops. With a full load of fuel and bombs the impact and subsequent explosions scattered wreckage over many acres. Due to the remoteness of the area and the difficulty removing the wreckage would be, permission was given by the property owners to the US Government to leave the wreckage of the aircraft at the site.
The loss of 41-24262 and her crew of five was not the only loss in the flight of four that day. The second B-24D to depart Hamilton Field 41-24260 with 2nd Lt William Smith as pilot in command flew out into the ocean area west of the Golden Gate Bridge and started the recon mission as ordered. The mission orders required that each aircraft make a position report every hour on the hour. At 0705, 61 minutes after departing Hamilton Field aircraft 41-24260 called in with the first position report. A second report was received at 0800, a third at 0900 and a fourth at 1000. That was the last transmission ever received from the crew.
An extensive air and sea search was made for a period of 15 days after which it was determined that no one could have survived that long even in a raft exposed to the elements during this time of the year (December). No trace of the crew or aircraft was ever found. On December 23, 1942 the search for the aircraft and crew was abandoned. The accident report states is part: It is recommended that they be assumed dead as of December 23, 1942, having met death in the line of duty.
In May 2008, retired Delta Airlines pilot Don Pedrazzini, who was also a Viet Nam War pilot, found his uncle’s crash site after searching for over thirty years. His father Harold Pedrazzini who was a career Air Force pilot and the brother of Lt Donald O. Pedrazzini had given his son the actual Press Democrat newspaper that reported the crash. That was in the mid 1970’s which started the long search. Due to inconsistencies in the reporting of where the crash took place in all of the documentation available and the remoteness of the area locating the wreckage proved to be very difficult.
Then in 2007 a chance
encounter on the internet with “AccidentReports.com” changed all that. The
original accident report contained the name of the of the property owners at the
time of the accident which was the big break that was needed. Through more
internet searches, the descendant was located and she confirmed that the
accident had occurred on their property when her grandfather was the owner. The
current owner knew of the crash but had never been to the site herself. That
ended in May 2008 when she and her son accompanied Donald Pedrazzini on the very
difficult trip to the crash site. Having found thousands of pieces of the
wreckage and keeping several for a remembrance of the occasion Donald Pedrazzini
vowed to return to the site before the end of 2008 to place a granite memorial
to the crew that had perished at that place. On August 7, 2008 he did return to
the crash site and placed the four hundred pound marker in concrete honoring the
entire crew of 41-24262. Don Pedrazzini has helped to close a page in his
family’s history, and open another of respect and remembrance.