Aircraft Wrecks in the Mountains and Deserts of the American West
The North American Aviation B-25 enjoyed a long career in the USAAF and USAF. During the 1950’s the venerable Mitchell bomber served as a crew trainer and staff transport. The B-25 was not retired from USAF ranks until 1959. The TB-25N was one of forty-seven rebuilt by Hayes Aircraft. The primary difference between the TB-25N and the more common TB-25J were the R-2600-29A engines.
On 1/26/56 NAA TB-25N serial number 44-86805 was en route from Goodfellow AFB in Texas to Norton AFB in Southern California with a crew of four on board. At about 8:00PM on 1/26 44-86805 was posted overdue and a search effort began the following morning. No trace of the TB-25N was seen until 2/2/56 when a search plane reported a possible crash site location on the south flank of Mt. San Gorgonio at about 9,000’ MSL. On 2/3/56 a ground search and rescue team reached the crash site late in the day forcing them to bivouac next to wreckage. After a difficult night enduring low temperatures and deep snow the team confirmed that there were no survivors, and that the plane in question was indeed the missing TB-25N.
Killed in the crash was pilot, Captain Bill F. Shotwell, copilot, 2nd Lt. Alvin P. Stearns, and crewmen Airman 1st Class H. L. Hill, and Airman 1st Class A. Doman, Jr. The accident report issued by the USAF cited bad weather as a factor in this crash. Only a short distance NE of 44-86805 is the wreck of USAF C-47B 45-1124 that crashed 12/1/52 with loss of thirteen lives, also en route to Norton AFB in a blinding snow storm.
My first attempt to reach the wreck of 44-86805 was in the summer of 1966. I hiked from Barton Flats to a camp site at Lodgepole Springs in the San Gorgonio Wilderness. After a night at Lodgepole I climbed “Old Greyback” and then trekked south to Tosh’s Tarn the high level dry lake, from there I continued southeasterly to within a mile of 44-86805, but lack of water and the approach of sunset forced me to return to Lodgepole. On 11/15/07 while en route to search for a WWII era B-24J in the Joshua Tree National Park area I was able to see the wreck of TB-25N 44-86805 thanks to the excellent piloting of George Petterson in his Piper Super Cub.
Few hikers have reached the remains of the TB-25N, and a very few have come via the route I tried so long ago. The best way in is still tough via Raywood Flat north of the Banning Pass, and south of the Gorgonio summit.
As the winter snowpack started to melt on the south flanks of Mt. San Gorgonio, Todd Loiselle of Pioneertown, California began planning his climb to the TB-25N.
Todd is an experienced backpacker, mountain climber, and surfer who offered to find the TB-25N site and photo document it. Todd’s only location data came from a series of over flights made by George Petterson and me in 2008, and the approximate GPS numbers and photos that were taken. An overland hike to the crash site in 2009 failed to launch, and Todd’s generous offer in the spring of 2011 came to a successful conclusion in June, 2011.
Thanks to Todd’s hard work in reaching the TB-25N crash site we now have a detailed view of the wreckage that remains today. The TB-25N is one of the least visited crash sites in California. I know of only two civilian visitations in the past forty years, and one more recent San Bernardino County Sheriff’s visitation made by helicopter.
In viewing Todd’s crash site photos we now know that there was a brief post impact fire, that the wreckage is highly concentrated, marked with yellow crosses, and that mercifully the crew of 44-86805 died instantly in the cloud enshrouded darkness of January 26, 1956.
Thanks again to Todd!