Tony Krizan

Tracking the site of a decades-old plane crash near Edison Lake

Fuselage resting against a growing pine tree.
Fuselage resting against a growing pine tree. Special to the Sierra Star

My previous article explained how eavesdropping on a conversation can lead to three separate hikes and a three-year adventure. I’m referring to how I learned about and tracked down a plane crash site in the mountains surrounding Edison Lake.

After a follow-up phone conversation that winter with Marty (the hunter who originally located the aircraft), I realized my original search was in the wrong area. In August 2004, I chose another trail that increased in elevation to a saddle above Bear Diversion Dam. From this location, I departed from the trail and started hiking in elevation to the mountain’s east side. Hiking along the mountain crest has its advantages: I can preview both sides of this mountain without any visual obstructions. After dropping into three separate canyons and climbing out the opposite side with a full pack, I was exhausted and ready to set up camp.

Around 4 a.m. my sound sleep was disturbed by snapping branches. The moon was in its second quarter and I could see a large, dark object moving in and out of the shadows created by the towering trees. It was a large shape walking on all fours, could be a bear! I must have been downwind because he continued across the stream and disappeared into the night. I awoke the following morning to a beautiful sunrise and, to my surprise, the bear tracks from the previous night were following through my campsite. What is scary, I didn’t hear a thing! I finally completed another two days of searching and once again with no results.

My first search was on Oct. 3, 2003. The second attempt was Aug. 12, 2004. The third attempt came Oct. 9, 2005. This time I was armed with a hand-drawn map from Marty and with another pair of eyes. My hiking partner for this all-day adventure was a seasoned trail hiker by the name of Dani. This will be her first adventure off trail and we’ll attempt to double the distance I covered in 2004. With only our day packs we’ll be much lighter for our departure at first light.

After an hour of trail hiking we departed from the trail and started our cross country trek. From last year’s experience of forging my way through thick manzanita while passing through the first canyon, I decided to hike at a higher elevation. With fewer obstacles to block our visual search we saved time getting to the second canyon. The second canyon was larger but the walls were much too steep and the trees were over 100 feet high. Also, the canyon was too narrow for an aircraft to pass through. At this point we split up and Dani searched the lower elevation and I proceeded into the upper canyons. We met at an old Jeffery pine tree that I had passed the previous year – the largest I’ve seen in all my adventures, with a girth over 12 feet and height over 75 feet. I’ll estimate its age as well over 1,000 years. I’m surprised that at this location on top of this remote canyon it hasn’t been struck by lightning. We took advantage of its towering branches and relaxed under its cool umbrella of shade.

The map revealed we should have located the crash site within the first two miles. I checked my topographic map and it showed a much larger canyon in the same direction we are traveling.

Off we go again over the next ridge and maybe this could be our canyon, because it was long enough to be approached by an aircraft, with only one extremely high canyon wall. The saddle was not cluttered with large pine trees.

Even though all this climbing has taken its toll on both of us, we decided to check this canyon area one more time. With my field glasses I was searching the canyon walls when Dani tapped me on the shoulder. She pointed in the cluster of trees at the top of this large saddle. With my glasses I focused in on that location and there was the wreck site twisted around the base of a cluster of pine trees.

The wings were separated from the fuselage. Most of the fabric had deteriorated from the tail section, wings and fuselage. The cowling and door were located 100 feet in the canyon below. We could not find the engine, which means the wreckage has been recorded by the FAA. If the pilot had another 25 feet of elevation he may have cleared the saddle.

Research revealed that the day was an extremely hot summer afternoon and maybe the 90 horsepower engine just couldn’t perform. The wreckage was a Piper Cub circa 1947-1953. It has tandem seating for two, fabric skin, single engine and a high wing with colors of yellow and turquoise. The pilot and cameraman both survived the crash. Their mission was to photograph Edison Lake during daylight conditions.

The only way I can describe our emotions during this moment of accomplishment: It was like panning for gold and finding your first nugget!