Aircraft Wrecks in the Mountains and Deserts of the American West
As a result of a recent news article concerning the ’07 Santiago Fire and the wrecks that were revealed I received correspondence from Carol (Robertson) Ohman, niece and Terry Kay (Ferguson) Contreras, daughter of T/Sgt. Keith M. Ferguson. Thanks to them I received news articles and photos of their beloved father and uncle, which they asked me to post here.
On 11/18/50 a USMC Beechcraft SNB-5 Bu No 29649 departed Tucson, AZ with a stop in El Centro, CA on a routine training flight bound for MCAS El Toro in Orange County, CA with four men on board. The weather in Southern California included heavy overcast with rain and strong winds in the vicinity of the El Toro base. The pilot was initially cleared to make an instrument approach, but was then directed into a holding pattern because of a technical problem with GCA landing system. After a few minutes the El Toro controller cleared Bu No 29649 to land, as the GCA problem had been fixed, but the pilot of the SNB-5 did not respond. It was then recognized that the Bu No 29649 had crashed and search & rescue protocols were initiated.
On 11/21/50 the wreckage of Bu No 29649 was finally spotted by a Civil Air Patrol pilot on the west flank of the Santa Ana Mountains at 4,000’ MSL, the altitude the pilot had been directed to hold by the controller prior to being cleared to land. Weather and technical problems contributed to this tragic accident. The crew, flying in the clouds did not see the mountain and died instantaneously upon impact.
Some months following the crash of Bu No 29649 a USMC ground crew painted a yellow cross on the face of a rock outcropping next to the remaining wreckage of the SNB-5. Normally wrecks are marked with a yellow or red X, so the cross was thought to honor the crew, and mark the crash site too.
I first visited this site in February 1965 when it was overgrown in chaparral and difficult to document. I returned again the summer of 2007 with Cleveland National Forest Ranger Debra Clark, my son Patric, Orange County Ranger Tom Maloney, and friend Chris Le Fave. The chaparral was incredibly thick, but some wreckage was seen and documented.
The Santa Ana winds of October 2007 helped bring a firestorm to the Santa Ana Mountains that revealed four vintage aircraft wrecks, including Bu No 29649. On May 19 2008 our team returned once again to place USFS approved memorial containers that were attached to wreckage of the Beechcraft SNB-5 (11/18/50) and Lockheed SP-2E (2/11/69) that lie only a short distance from one another.
Beechcraft SNB-5 USMC BU
The memorial container placed on the wreckage of Bu No 29649 contained a private message from the family of T/Sgt Keith M. Ferguson and a crew list with crash date and three-view drawing of the aircraft. Special thanks with greatest respect to Carol Ohman and Terry K. Contreras, for remembering, sharing information, and encouraging us in this endeavor. Special thanks to Debra Clark USFS, Cleveland National Forest Trails Manager and Volunteer Coordinator.
Finally, we remember the crewmen of Beechcraft SNB-5 BU No 29649 and all their families who suffered as result of this tragic accident.