This morning I heard the news that Dante Bulli, the pilot of the B-52 which crashed on Elephant Mountain late in January 1963 passed away last month. I'll link to an ABC article
for more information. My condolences to his family and friends.
Aviation Safety Network incident number 48333
covers this crash incident and identifies the airplane as a B-52C number 53-0406.
Later in the same month another B-52 crashed in New Mexico. Aviation Safety Network incident number 48392
identifies the airplane in this New Mexico crash as a B-52E number 57-0018.
Seven airmen lost their lives in the Elephant Mountain crash. Another two airmen lost their lives in the New Mexico crash according to these ASN reports.
Just now I found this incident report, again at the ASN website, incident number 48295
, describing a follow-up incident in January of 1964 where a B-52H model on loan back to Boeing to test stress from low-level radar avoidance flights lost its vertical stabilizer and rudder but miraculously and at great risk to the crew after six more hours of flight landed at Blytheville Air Force Base, Arkansas.
The second survivor of the January 1963 Elephant Mountain crash, Gerald Adler, ejected from one of the upward-ejecting seats and survived the fall despite the fact that his parachute never deployed. Adler was not sitting in his usual navigator position on the lower deck. That seat and the seat beside it eject downward. Three seats on the upper deck eject upward and Adler was in the third upward-ejecting seat.
Google Earth shows the trailhead for this crash site at 45 degrees 31 minutes 40.5 seconds north latitude, 69 degrees 26 minutes 04 seconds west longitude. This location is 6.8 miles northeast of the house that I grew up in. The crash took place probably during my bus ride home from school when I was in 8th grade. My house overlooked Lower Wilson Pond and several mountains including the west face of Elephant Mountain where the crash site is located. Two large picture windows in my home faced the direction of the crash but unfortunately for the crash survivors, we didn't see the smoke. It was a brutally cold January day with strong northerly winds blowing plumes of drifting snow across the ice of Wilson Pond. In the days that followed rescue helicopters from
Dow Air Force Base in Bangor flew directly over our house on their flight from the Greenville airport to the rescue site at the base of the mountain. Rescue crews followed logging roads up the side of the mountain to the crash site.
I first visited the crash site in May, 1963. Air Force search teams were still searching the wreckage. I can still remember the strong smell of jet fuel. At that time there were no roads closer than the old logging camp location on North Brook, the spot where now the Elephant Mountain access roads cross North Brook. The rest of the trip was an uphill hike on eroded logging roads.
I believe I took my first pictures of the crash site in the spring of 1968 when I was home on leave from the Air Force although it may have been when I came home in May 1970 before my deployment to England. Back in 1963 I remember hearing stories of wreckage being hauled through town but I never witnessed any of that. What amazed me on my first trips to the site was that the only recognizable part of the fuselage was the tail gunner's section which remains to this day on site. Broad flat sections of the wings, intact landing gear with tires, heavily damaged, and as I recall all eight jet engines were scattered in a field of smaller debris along a northerly path downslope through charred hardwoods crossing several logging paths that traversed that section of the mountain. Years later I learned that the vertical stabilizer was still on the ground on the far side of the mountain although to this day I have not been there to see it.
Some of the wreckage was salvaged when the paper company built permanent gravel roads into the area but a local snowmobile group organized an effort to recognize this site as an historical monument rescuing the remaining wreckage from further salvage. The site is accessible by snowmobile in winter but summer visitors can drive by car (no all-wheel-drive required) to a trail which meanders for a couple hundred yards up through the debris field.
I worked on the B-52H model at Grand Forks Air Force Base and briefly on the D model in Fort Worth, Texas as an avionics technician. A few of the men in my shop flew along on some of the training missions but I was transferred out of that work before I had any such opportunity. Until today I thought the H model didn't have that vertical stabilizer problem in low-level flight. I knew that on earlier models of the B-52 the vertical stabilizer was on a hinge such that it could be folded over sideways giving the plane the clearance it needed to fit inside a maintenance hanger. From 1968 I remember older B-52 models used for training on the flight line at Chanute Air Force Base with their tails folded down. Later models didn't have this feature and I always thought these later models were safe during low level flight but clearly I was mistaken.