1952 Mount Gannett C-124 crash
Members of the US military recovery team examine remains from the crash on June 25, 2012
|Date||November 22, 1952|
|Summary||Controlled flight into mountainous terrain during approach in bad weather|
|Site||Colony Glacier, Mount Gannett, Alaska, United States|
|Aircraft type||Douglas C-124A-DL Globemaster II|
|Operator||United States Air Force|
|Flight origin||McChord Air Force Base, Washington (state)|
|Destination||Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska|
The 1952 Mount Gannett C-124 crash was an accident in which a United States Air Force Douglas C-124 Globemaster II military transport aircraft crashed into Mount Gannett in the Chugach Mountains, Alaska on November 22, 1952. All of the 52 people on board were killed.
The C-124 departed McChord Air Base in Washington state en route to Elmendorf Air Force Base near Anchorage, Alaska with a crew of 11 and 41 Army and Air Force passengers. The flight was recorded as passing Middleton Island in the Gulf of Alaska. Around 4pm, a distress call was received by the pilot of a Northwest Orient Airlines passenger aircraft. The reception was very poor, but the Northwest captain made out the sentence: “As long as we have to land, we might as well land here.” Weather near Elmendorf at the time was very bad with heavy clouds. The C-124 was flying without visual references, using just altitude, a radio beacon and a stopwatch. There was no further communication from the C-124 and it failed to arrive at Elmendorf as scheduled.
The severe weather continued for three days, so searching was only able to begin on November 25. Thirty-two military aircraft searched the surrounding mountains and four Coast Guard vessels searched Prince William Sound. The wreckage of the plane was found on November 28, 1952 on the south side of Mount Gannett by Terris Moore from the Fairbanks Civil Air Patrol and Lieutenant Thomas Sullivan from the 10th Air Rescue Squadron. The pair spotted the tail section of the C-124 sticking out of the snow at about 8,100 feet close to the summit of Mount Gannett. Sullivan and Moore recorded the location as being on the Surprise Glacier, which flows south and empties into Harriman Fjord. However, the 2012 rediscovery of the remains of the aircraft at the foot of Colony Glacier, where it enters Lake George, suggests that the actual crash location was a little further north on the Mount Gannett ice field, sufficient for the debris to be carried 12 miles (19 km) down the north-flowing Colony Glacier over the subsequent 60 years.
Moore, who was a mountaineer and pilot as well as president of the University of Alaska, told journalists the C-124 “obviously was flying at full speed” and appeared to have slid down the cliffs of Mount Gannett and exploded. Wreckage was spread across several acres of the glacier. Moore surmised that the pilot had narrowly missed other Chugach Range peaks during his approach. “From this I conclude he was on instrument, flying blind, and probably crashed without any warning whatsoever to him directly into the southerly face of Mt. Gannett.”
Moore reported finding blood on a blanket and noted the “sickly-sweet smell of death” at the site. It seemed clear that there were no survivors. Sullivan noted that recovery of remains would be very difficult as the glacier was already covered by fresh snow eight feet deep. Near the remains of the aircraft, drifted snow was piled up to hundreds of feet. Apparently, the crash had also triggered avalanches that had further buried the remains. Because of the difficult conditions, the recovery effort was terminated after a week and the victims’ families were told they would have no remains to bury. The debris was then covered by snow and ice, and was lost for the next 60 years.
At the time, this was only the second fatal accident for the C-124, and was by far the worst. However, the following year saw even more deadly crashes at Moses Lake, Washington and Tachikawa, Japan, Overall, this was the fourth-worst accident involving a Douglas C-124.