Tony Krizan

Aviation mystery solved

By Tony Krizan

Two Curtis Wright P-40 Tomahawk Fighter Aircraft fly in formation. These planes are identical to the aircraft found on June 18, 2016.
Two Curtis Wright P-40 Tomahawk Fighter Aircraft fly in formation. These planes are identical to the aircraft found on June 18, 2016. Submitted Photos

On June 28, I received an email from a hiker who stumbled across an aircraft crash site while cross-country hiking. He wasn’t positive of the model identification, and after he located my name on the internet, he sent me photos of the wreckage. Once reviewing each photo, I called for a second opinion from a professional restorer of WWII military aircraft, Kent Lentz. Twenty minutes later I received his response; yes that wreck-site is a Curtis Wright P-40 fighter aircraft.

Pat Macha whose credentials are impeccable among the historians of WWII aircraft also received the same photos agreed with our opinion.

Between the three of us we started our research to verify the number of P-40 aircraft that have been reported missing in our Sierra Nevada Mountain range.

Only one aircraft was reported to have crashed in that general area and that was on Oct. 24, 1941. Lieutenant John H. Pease’s P-40 #39-213 is that aircraft.

During the past few years I have written many articles concerning the flight of 19 Curtis Wright P-40’s on a cross-country training flight. On Oct. 24, 1941, five aircraft from this group had mechanical problems and crashed within and around Kings Canyon National Park. If I’m not mistaken this was the first of the five aircraft to crash. Reports stated that Lieutenant John H. Pease bailed out and survived. His aircraft was reportedly removed and forgotten. Maybe we’ll have to rewrite history after verifying Pease’s aircraft at this site.

Good news sometimes follows occasions of this type. The pilot survived the war and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and is living here in California at the ripe age of 96. Pat Mocha informed me that John Pease Jr. wants to join us on our adventure to verify his father’s aircraft. Leading this hike will be Jonathon Beck the hiker who discovered the wreck site. He stated; after departing from an old abandoned trail, I decided to bush-whack toward the Pacific Coast Trail. After a short period of time I stumbled across this aircraft site.

Sometime in September when the mountains cool we’ll be hiking in to identify and log another historic marker from California’s colorful aviation past. If this site is Lieutenant John H. Pease’s aircraft, now only one P-40 aircraft from that flight is missing within the mountains of Kings Canyon National Park.

Lieutenant Leonard Lydon’s P-40 #39-194 has still evaded detection after 75 years. When will this mystery be solved? I along with many other searchers have graced this wilderness trying to solve the mystery. Who knows - maybe one day you may be that lucky individual and have your name associated with solving one of the remaining mysteries of our Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Here are the names of those five brave young men associated with that ill-fated flight of Curtis Wright P-40 Tomahawk Aircraft on Oct. 24, 1941.

Lieutenant John H. Pease #39-213 - Lieutenant Richard N. Long #39-287 - Lieutenant Jack C. West #39-285 - Lieutenant Leonard C. Lydon #39-194 - Lieutenant William H. Burrell #39-200.