Aircraft Wrecks in the Mountains and Deserts of the American West
Fall 1963 / Spring 1964?
There are three aircraft still listed as missing in the High Sierra. The oldest unsolved case is that of USAAF Curtiss P-40 39-194 flown by 1st Lt. Leonard Lydon. Lt. Lydon survived nine days in the wilderness before he and another missing P-40 pilot were rescued. USAF Lockheed T-33A 52-9232 was lost on 5/9/57. The pilot, 1st Lt. David A. Steeves survived fifty-four days in the wilderness before he was rescued, but his T-33A is still missing. The most recent case involves Piper PA-28 N4389J that vanished on 6/2/67 with three persons on board.
The on-going drought in California has been responsible for a drop in High Sierra lake levels. In July 2015 two hikers spotted aircraft wreckage in a remote lake southwest of Lone Pine, CA. Though they did not photograph what they saw, they did contact www.aircraftwrecks.com . When no information was found in the files, the missing T-33A became the prime candidate.
A recon mission was organized by Project Remembrance Team member David Lane. Mr. Lane and Andy Schultz located the lake in question, and large aircraft parts were immediately observed underwater. Some small parts were were also seen on a rock at the lake’s edge. What had the intrepid team found? The paint on the wreckage was olive drab, and the parts remarkably intact. Prefix numbers were noted so one aspect of the mystery was immediately solved. The aircraft was identified as a Bell Aircraft HU-1 Huey helicopter flown by an Army Aviation unit. The date the crash occurred was August 6, 1962. Two passengers were listed as USAF Officers: Brig. General Irving Branch, and Colonel Charles Yeager. The Army pilot was Major Emil “Jack” Kluever, well known for testing new helicopter designs in the 1960’s.
The crash site today appears to be a large micro site, however what remains submerged is not known. An accident report will be requested to ascertain the much needed details about the factors that contributed to this crash. What we do know is, the accident happened following the lakeside pickup of two passengers, and that General Branch was trapped under water in the HU-1 cabin. Fortunately the general was in an air pocket, and was able to kick out the plexiglass and swim to the surface. (Source: Yeager, An Autobiography by General Chuck Yeager and Leo Janos.)
Special thanks to: Ronald Bohigian, John Blossom, David Lane, and Andy Schultz. All photos courtesy David Lane.
Additional research thanks to: Walt Witherspoon, Craig Fuller, Tony Moore, David Mihalik, and Tom Maloney.
* The Bell Aircraft Company Model 204 was initially designated HU-1, but in 1962 the designation was changed to UH-1 (Utility Helicopter 1). The UH-1 is best known by it’s popular name, Huey.