Aircraft Wrecks in the Mountains and Deserts of the American West

Project Remembrance


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 NO 29649
Pilot: M/Sgt. William H. Follmer USMC
1st Lt. Willard M. Grubbs USMCR Student Pilot
Co-pilot T/Sgt. Keith M. Ferguson USMC
Sgt. Milton E. Johanson USMC

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.


T/Sgt. Keith M. Ferguson USMC with his daughter Terry Kay.

Looking sharp in his “dress blues” T/Sgt. Keith M. Ferguson USMC.  (Photos courtesy Carol Ohman & Terry K. Contreras)

1st Lt. Willard M. Grubbs USMCR. (Photo courtesy Ron Grubbs)

The entire USMC crew of Beechcraft SNB-5 Bu No 29649 is seen by us thanks to the daughter of T/Sgt. Keith Ferguson, Mrs. Terry Contreras.

Crew Members of SNB-5

The wreckage of USMC Beechcraft SNB-5 Bu No 29649 as seen in November 1950. (courtesy Ron Grubbs via USMC)

The cross marking the 11/18/50 crash site of Beechcraft SNB-5 Bu No 29649 taken in 1965. (Photo by G. P. Macha)

The memorial cross as seen in May 2007 having endured more than sixty years in weather and fire.
(Photo by Chris Le Fave )


June 2007 view of SNB-5 crash site looking southeast from Harding Canyon Truck Trail. (G. P. Macha photo)

June 2007 view looking east of SNB-5 crash site. This area had not burned in more than sixty years.
(G. P. Macha photo)




June 2007 photo depicting 1950 era exterior paint used exclusively on some USMC transport/utility aircraft.
(G. P. Macha photo)

1/48th scale model of the Beechcraft SNB-5/JRB-5/C-45H as the Model 18 was known in its more than thirty years of faithful service with the USN, USMC, USAAF, USAF, USCG, and USA as a light transport, trainer, photo recon, and maid of all work. This model depicts an El Toro MAS aircraft painted in standard 1960's markings. Model is metal and is a product of Liberty Classics and Spec Cast.

First Memorial Expedition, May 19, 2008

Closeup of SNB-5 wreckage with memorial canister attached. (G. P. Macha photo)

Chris Le Fave stands next to SNB-5 structure prior to attaching memorial canister on 5/19/08.
(G. P. Macha photo)


Second Memorial Expedition, May 8, 2009
SNB-5 Story by Ron Grubbs


On May 8, 2009 a team assembled to visit the wreck site of USMC Beechcraft SNB-5 Bu No 29649 that crashed taking four lives on 11/21/50. From left to right are next of kin Ron Grubbs, his wife Aileen, reporter/author Chris Epting, USFS volunteer Tom Maloney, USFS Ranger Deborah Clark, next of kin Mrs. Carol Ohman and her brother Greg Robertson and my son-in-law Pete Armes. (G. P. Macha photo)

Mrs. Carol Ohman, niece of T/Sgt. USMC Keith Ferguson, views wreckage at her uncle's crash site in a quiet moment of reflection and remembrance. (G. P. Macha photo)

Ron Grubbs at the wreckage of his dad's plane on 5/8/09. (G. P. Macha)

Ron Grubbs proudly displays the ring and watch that his dad, 1st Lt. Bill Grubbs, USMC wore on 11/8/50. Though the watch was badly damaged as a result of the crash, Ron had it restored to working condition, and wears it in memory and tribute to his beloved father. (G. P. Macha)

Mrs. Carol Ohman finds parts from the SNB-5 as she hikes through the wild flowers towards the main crash site.
(G. P. Macha)


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