Aircraft Wrecks in the Mountains and Deserts of the American West




In the summer of 1963 I went to work at a YMCA youth camp in the San Bernardino Mountains of Southern California. It was near here that I happened to stumble upon the wreck of an Air Force C-47D. Seeing the remains of C-47D #45-1124 strewn on the east flank of 11,499 foot Mt. San Gorgonio (Old Grey Back) made a lasting impression. I took this photo of #45-1124 in July 1963. Today the wreckage has slid farther down the mountain, and the yellow X has faded, but the impact of seeing #45-1124 remains undiminished for all who pass by.

C-47D 45-1124 as seen glinting from State Highway 38 near Onyx Summit in August 2010. The wreckage continues to slide farther down the NE flank of Mt. San Gorgonio with each successive winter season.(G. P. Macha photo)


From that summer to the present I have been on the trail, whenever possible, documenting old aircraft wreck sites. Tragically thirteen men died in the crash of #45-1124 on 12/1/52. Heavy snowfall prevented rescuers from reaching the crash site until 12/21/52, but no bodies were removed until 5/3/53. Three passengers survived the crash; two with major injuries were found huddled together near the tail, but a third man was well below the wreckage with no apparent injuries at all. These survivors would have succumbed from shock and exposure within a few days, if not on the first night.


Two memorial plaques placed at the C-47D crash site. The original plaque lists the accident as having occurred in 1953, that was the year in which the passengers and crew were finally recovered. The large plaque includes the correct accident date. Heavy snowfall in the winter of 1952-53 prevented recovery efforts until May 1953. ( Photo courtesy Megan Armes)

On August 28, 2012 my daughter Heather, and my grand daughter Megan climbed Mt. San Gorgonio as a conditioning workout prior to climbing Mt. Whitney. C-47D crash site looking southwest from east flank of Mt. San Gorgonio. (Photo courtesy of Megan Armes)

View of parts of C-47D wing, fuselage, and tail section looking southeast towards North Fork Meadows.  The disposition of wreckage since my more than thirty visits during the 1960ís and 70ís. The crushing weight of more than sixty years of heavy snowfall, avalanches, and rock slides have taken their toll on #45-1124. (Photo courtesy Megan Armes)

The shattered propeller and hub assembly from USAF Douglas C-47D #45-1124. (Photo courtesy Megan Armes) 


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