Searching Sequoia's Mount Brewer, Sphinx Crest for missing WWII aircraft

Mountain Secrets

July 7, 2010 

Missing P40 WWII aircraft remains a mountain mystery

Have any of you during the last six decades followed the squadron of 19 Curtis Wright P40 pursuit aircraft from the 57th Army pursuit group?

On Oct. 24, 1941, at 11:20 a.m., they started their training mission from March Army Airfield in Southern California to McClellan Field in Sacramento.

Shortly after take-off they encountered heavy storms and thick cloud cover over the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

During the years before WWll, following a prescribed flight plan was questionable. Pilots sometimes would depend on visual references to identify various locations. With the avionics of today's sophisticated systems pilots just follow the instruments on their flight panel.

Also during those pre-war years the Allison engine was not that reliable above 12,000 feet. The carburetor would ice up and the lack of high-octane fuel would cause the engine to stall.

Five of these aircraft were lost the first day of that fateful mission.

The first to experience engine problems was Lt. John Pease and he bailed out 15 miles north of Lake Isabella near Wild Rose Canyon. Lt. Pease survived and his P40 was recovered.

Lt. W.H. Burrell's bird crashed north of Bass Lake at Gray's Mountain to which a memorial monument was placed next to the only remaining artifact -- the engine.

Two others are located in the Sequoia National Forest area. Lt. Jack C. West crashed just west of the Roaring River Ranger Station and survived. Some debris still remains at that location.

Lt. Richard N. Long crashed and wasn't discovered until 1959 southwest of South Guard Lake at 11,200 feet, to which a memorial stone was placed. Some debris still remains at that location.

The fifth bird has never been located, even though many professional wreck hunters searched the Sequoia National Forest area, but never found a clue of its whereabouts. The pilot, Lt. Leonard C. Lydon, bailed out and survived, but the location of the wreckage remains a mystery today.

On July 28, Clem Bingham, Fred Cochran and I (Tony Krizan) will spend 14 days and search the Sequoia Mountains around Mt. Brewer and the Sphinx Crest to see if we can solve this Sierra mountain secret.

During that time we will visit and photograph the two separate locations of West and Long's crash sites.

Hopefully and with a little luck in one of the future Star editions, I'll have pictures and some interesting reading.

Tony Krizan, Adventurer

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