Aircraft Wrecks in the Mountains and Deserts of the American West


A “routine” flight from Norton AFB in San Bernardino, California to Long Beach AFB fifty-five miles to the southwest ended in tragedy on October 4, 1951. The C-47D departed Norton in marginal VFR conditions at 1930 hours local time and crashed approximately fifteen minutes later in the rugged San Gabriel Mountains many miles from the intended flight path. The two man crew of C-47D #45-931A and the three passengers died instantly, but the wreckage was not reached by rescuers until 12/6/51 due to bad weather and the extremely difficult terrain. The impact explosion and fire that followed burned out the center section of the fuselage and cockpit area, but the wings, empennage, and tail remained intact.

In the spring of 2010 an effort was made to locate the wreckage of a WWII era B-24E and the C-47D from the air by Chris LeFave flying a Legend Cub, and Pat J. Macha doing the accident report map analysis. Once Chris spotted the C-47D from the air plans were made to hike to the crash site. A forest fire had burned through the target area several years ago and that made the trek to the wreck a bit easier, but the new growth tick infested chaparral combined with the vertical nature of the San Gabriel’s made this an exhausting ordeal for all involved. More than twelve hours of determined effort were required to complete this important mission of documentation and remembrance.

Every accident has reasons and factors, in this tragic case weather was a factor, and haste in completing the assigned mission perhaps a reason. All findings are based on the Official USAF Accident Reports. The wreckage of USAF Douglas C-47D serial number 45-931A is a memorial to its passengers and crew. The San Gabriel Mountains stand guard over the site today.

Pilot 1st Lt. Willard H. Cooke, Jr.
Co-pilot 2nd Lt. Collin L. Campbell 


Capt. William Kaitner
T/Sgt John S. Vallery
S/Sgt Harry E. Gideon  

Accident report courtesy Craig Fuller at
Photos by Chris LeFave and Pat J. Macha except where noted.


Original USAF photo taken by M/Sgt Bob Koch of the C-47D empennage with the steep canyon in the background. Bob visited the crash site in the early 1960's during a SAR training mission.

Parachute "D" ring and harness fittings from C-47D #45-931A.


Prop hub and structure from #45-931A



Chris with C-47D cockpit seat frame.

Pat J. Macha and C-47D wing. Caption for bottom of C-47D story page. The B-24E story will be posted in the near future in this section.


C-47D tail cone with horizontal stabilizer structure visible. (Photo from M/Sgt Bob Koch)

Chris Le Fave with the wing section of USAF Douglas C-47D 45-931A lost 12/4/51 in a rugged area of the San Gabriel Mountains in CA. (P. J. Macha photo)

Chris holds prop blade at main impact of C-47D. Two crewmen and three passengers perished en route from Norton AFB to Long Beach Airport. Weather was a factor in this accident. More than nine r/t hours of hiking was required in very difficult tick infested terrain. (P. J. Macha photo)



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