Accident Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress 42-5152, Saturday 2 January 1943
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Date:Saturday 2 January 1943
Type:Silhouette image of generic B17 model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different    
Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress
Owner/operator:536th BSqn /397th BGp USAAF
Registration: 42-5152
MSN: 3691
Fatalities:Fatalities: 10 / Occupants: 10
Other fatalities:0
Aircraft damage: Destroyed
Location:East Humboldt mountain range, between Wells & Elko, Nevada -   United States of America
Phase: En route
Departure airport:Wendover Field, Utah
Destination airport:Wendover Field, UT
The B-17F 42-5152 of 536th BS, 397th BG, took off from Wendover Field, Utah at 08:10 on January 2, 1943 on a local navigation flight to include Elko, Burley, Pocatello, and Ogden and return to Wendover. Due to developing weather along the route, the legs to Pocatello and Ogden were cancelled. After take off, the plane circled Wendover field until 0853 when it was given clearance to continue with the mission to Elko and Burley and return to Wendover. Pilot and co-pilot were to alternate flying under the hood during the mission.

The plane was not heard from again and was not discovered until June 24, 1943 at a crash site located near a 11,000 foot peak in the East Humboldt mountain range located between Wells and Elko, Nevada. The plane would have hardly flown 50 miles before hitting the mountain peak. It was assumed that the plane would have been flying by instruments. The newspaper text states that the plane disappeared in a blizzard but blizzard conditions had not been established. Official weather reports state that the mountain tops were probably obscured in strato-cumulas clouds with scattered snow showers. No severe weather was thought to exist.

The following newspaper articles from the Elko Daily Free Press, edited to improve readability, report the aircraft’s discovery and the progress of the dangerous recovery of the deceased flyers. Although discovered in late June, considerable snow still remained at the crash area that contributed to the difficult recovery. The articles always refer to the general location as the Ruby Mountains rather than the East Humboldts. One mountain range is an extension of the other and it is common to refer to both as the Rubies.

Note that the articles refer to the military personnel involved as soldiers since the air force at the time was the United States Army Air Force.


June 25, 1943

Wreckage of Flying Fortress Found in Ruby Mountains, 10 Bodies Recovered
Ship Discovered Against Cliff at the Head of Pole Canyon
Plane Is First Sighted from Air
The Flying Fortress from Wendover Field, which was lost in a storm and crashed last January 2nd while on its way to Elko, has been found in the Ruby mountains. The plane wreckage and the 10 mangled bodies of the crew were discovered on a ragged peak of the Rubies at the head of Pole Canyon on the Ruby Valley (east) side.

The discovery of the wreckage was made from the air Wednesday from a plane out of Wendover that had been assigned to look for the lost Fortress. The snow had melted sufficiently to reveal parts of the wrecked sky giant.

The dead are as follows:
Second Lieut. Cyril J. Casey, pilot, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Second Lieut. Ray C. Hochheimer, co-pilot, Blue Island, Illinois
Second Lieut. Clifford J. Elliott, navigator, Philadelphia, PA
Second Lieut. Arthur F. Kelly, bombardier, Chicago, Illinois

Sgt. Michael J. DiSalvo, engineer, Philadelphia, PA
Sgt. Alexander C. Johnson, assistant engineer, Los Angeles, CA
Sgt. Seymour E. Sonkin, radio operator, Tucson, AZ
Sgt. Byron E. Olson, assistant radio operator, Morrill, NEB
Sgt. Lowell T. Stoner, tail gunner, Seneca, S.D.
Sgt. James A. Karnspon, armorer-gunner, Woodside, Long Island, N.Y.

Wendover officials have designated the Jim Wright ranch at Pole canyon as headquarters for the workmen who will remove the bodies and parts of the plane. A corps of officers has been named to investigate the accident. Rumors reaching Elko indicate that a jeep carrying four Wendover soldiers was taken up the mountainside as far as possible and they then hiked the rest of the way to the wreckage. Ranchers and soldiers later made the trip to the plane by horseback.

Owing to the cold weather and the flying suits, the bodies of the flyers had been well preserved. All the bodies but one were jammed into the wreckage while the other was some distance from the plane. (It is thought that this individual may have survived the initial crash and had crawled away from the plane.)

Sheriff C.L. Smith of Elko has volunteered assistance from his office and made the trip to the scene of the wreck this afternoon.

With army planes from Wendover and the Nevada CAP out of Reno assisting in the search, the loss of this plane resulted in one of the widest searches of its kind in the history of Elko county. The county was carefully combed but the wreckage not discovered since it was covered with snow. Weather was stormy part of the time that added to the difficulty of the search.

A great deal of the search was centered around Cougar peak in the Jarbidge area when it was reported that people in that vicinity had heard a plane. The CAP and other local pilots covered 8,000 miles in their trips over the area while searching for the plane. In addition to the air units, mounted and motorized divisions were brought in from Reno.

Army officials requested today that the immediate disposition of the bodies be withheld until further notice.


June 28, 1943

Bodies Are Still Being Removed From Wreckage
Great Difficulty Encountered in Moving Remains
Bodies are still being removed from the wreckage of the Flying Fortress that crashed against a rocky cliff of the Ruby Mountains on January 2nd. While the army has made no statement concerning the wreckage, other than to report it and give the names and addresses of the dead, it is now reported that the wreckage extended over a distance of 250 yards. It was said that the bodies were not grouped in the aircraft, but spread over this distance.

Caskets are being taken to the scene for the disposal of the bodies.

Great difficulty has been encountered in removing the bodies because of the ruggedness of the terrain. The plane hit a peak at the head of Pole Canyon above the Jim Wright ranch on the Ruby Valley side of the Rubies.


June 29, 1943

10 Bodies From Wrecked Plane Brought to Elko
Difficult Task Is Confronted On Rugged Peak
The arduous task of removing the bodies of 10 flyers from the wreckage of a Flying Fortress that crashed in the Ruby Mountains January 2nd was nearing completion this afternoon. It is expected that all of the bodies will have been brought to Elko by tonight where they will be prepared for shipment by Robley Burns, manager of the Arnold mortuary.

With assistance from ranchers in the vicinity of the crash and soldiers from Wendover Field, William B. Wright, manager of the 71 ranch, supervised the removal of the bodies from the wreckage. The task of bringing the bodies to the Jim Wright ranch at Pole Canyon from the ragged 12,000 foot peak of the Rubies proved to be very difficult.

Ropes were needed to lower the bodies from ledge to ledge on the downward course. Burns took part in the job of removing the bodies from the mountain crags, and he described the task as being most difficult. Some of the soldiers participating had no previous mountain climbing experience and it made their work doubly hard. Jeeps were driven up the mountain as far as possible, after which horses were ridden and the remaining distance being made on foot.

It was reported yesterday that the bodies were strewn over the mountain peak for a distance of 250 yards. The first report said that the bodies were huddled in the plane, with the exception of one, which had been thrown clear of the wreckage. Ten flyers were killed in the accident that occurred in a blizzard as the men were on a routine flight from Wendover Field to Elko.

The wreckage was sighted from the air last Wednesday and the job of removing the bodies required almost a complete week.

The coroner’s inquest into the death of the flyers was conducted this afternoon at the Jim Wright ranch by Coroner E. Bollschweller of Wells.


June 30, 1943

Ranchers Are Praised by Lieutenant
Bodies Removed from Wreck
Hazardous Job Details Are Given
Elko county ranchers were praised today for the part that they played in removing the bodies of 10 American flyers from a 12,000 foot peak of the Ruby Mountains.

The herculean task completed late yesterday by the ranchers and soldiers came in for commendation by Lt. Alphonso Madden, public relations officer of Wendover Field. All of the bodies from the wrecked Flying Fortress that crashed in the Rubies at the head of Pole canyon on January 2nd have been brought to Elko and await shipment from the Arnold mortuary.

Lieutenant Madden said today "The men who took part in this stupendous task risked their lives time and again in removing the bodies. They came out of the mountains without a minor accident after accomplishing a job that many of them felt was impossible. Once the job of removing the dead commenced, it was completed in a day’s time."

Despite the heroic action of the soldiers, Lieutenant Madden freely gave the greatest credit to the ranchers, particularly to William B. Wright, manager of the 71 ranch, whom he said did a great job of organizing and leading the ranchers and soldiers throughout the entire job until completed.

The Lieutenant said that some of the soldiers, who had never been at such high altitude and who had no mountain experience, found the going difficult but they stuck doggedly to the job.

He listed the names of those who actually took part in the removal of the bodies as follows: Ranchers William B. Wright, Jim Wright, Bob Duval, forest ranger L.E. McKenzie, Ray Woolverton, Darrel Lear Jr., Bill Lear and mortician Robley Burns; Officers, Cpt. Charles Michaels, Lt. John Mansus; Enlisted Men, Privates William R. White, Wardie A. Davis, Fred O. Wilkinson, Richard F. Stephens, Thomas W. Mabry, Domonick V. Colao, Carl Shepp, Joe A. Vavro, Raffel Beradi and Sydney Butensky.

Under the direction of mortician Burns, each of the bodies was wrapped in the flyers’ silk parachutes and in a rubber sheeting. When they were finally brought to the Wright ranch they were sealed in caskets.

The story of reclaiming the bodies from the vastness of the rugged Ruby peak where the giant Fortress crashed was one of arduous labor with each man exerting himself to the utmost to accomplish the job. It meant preparing the bodies for delivery to the ranch; lowering them over sheer cliffs for hundreds of feet to resting places below; tobogganing the bodies over snow banks hundreds of feet in length; and finally bringing them to a point where they could be taken down in jeeps and ambulance conveyances.

The initial preparation required the carving of a jeep road up the side of the mountain as far as possible. Horses were then ridden up the steep mountainside until the horses could go no further; and finally, the dangerous mission of traveling by foot over loose shale and rocks to the scene of the wreckage. Today other crews were going to the wreck to see if anything might be salvaged.

"It was a stupendous job, well done," Lieutenant Madden concluded, "and those taking part in it are deserving of their country’s thanks. The fortitude and resourcefulness of those ranchers is something that should be a lesson to the youth of our nation. It indicated to me that with such men on the home front, we cannot fail in our great mission of winning this war (referring to WWII)."


July 7, 1943

William Wright Reviews Task of Removing Bodies
Narrated by William B. Wright who was in charge of the civilians and soldiers who recovered the bodies, Rotarians of Elko heard a dramatic first hand account of the recovery of the 10 bodies from the wreckage of the Flying Fortress that crashed in the Ruby Mountains January 2nd. As previously recounted, the ship was torn into a mass of wreckage as it crashed against a precipitous cliff at about a 70 degree angle. The ship was near a pass in the mountains and all of the bodies but one were clustered near the ship. One body was about 1,000 feet from the others.

Milton B. Badt, in charge of the program, presented Lt. Alphonso Madden who in turn introduced Wright and paid high compliment to Wright’s leadership and to the courageous conduct of the ranchers and soldiers who took part in the job.

Wright commended those taking part and detailed some of the difficulties encountered. He described cutting holes in the stretchers so that carriers at the back could watch their footing over a particularly difficult section where one mis-step could have meant serious injury and possible death.

The ship was new with wrappings still on the machine guns, and although there was every possibility of a fire, one did not occur. One gas tank partly filled with gasoline was thrown a great distance from the plane.


July 12, 1943

Lt. Col. Robert N. Dippy Thanks Ranchers for Part They Played in Removing Bodies from Plane Wreck.
Lt. Col. Robert N. Dippy, commander of the Wendover air base, has written a letter of appreciation to ranchers who took part in the job of removing the bodies from the wrecked Flying Fortress, which crashed into the Ruby Mountains on January 2nd.

The letters were written to William B. Wright, Jim Wright, Bill Lear, Darrel Lear Jr., Bob Duval, Roy Wolverton, and forest ranger L.E. Mckenzie. The letter said:
"I am taking this opportunity to write to you because of reports which have come to my attention of the tremendous part which you played in the recovery of the bodies of 10 flyers which were killed in an aircraft accident.

"I am fully cognizant of all the facts relative to this incident and for this reason I know that the success attained was a direct result of the courage, stamina, fortitude, and perseverance shown by you and the other ranchers who assisted in this dangerous task. I know too, that except for the characteristics evidenced by you, that success could never have been attained.

"This particular job was out of the scope of the Army, as out men were neither trained nor experienced enough for this undertaking. It was the excellent spirit and attitude which you manifested without consideration for yourself or personal safety when the job was turned over to you that is worthy of more praise than I can ever show by a mere letter of thanks to you.

"We at Wendover Field have always felt it an honor to have you as our neighbors, but we never fully appreciated the full measure of privilege involved until it was necessary for us to call upon you. You may be sure that your influence on the officers and enlisted men who participated in that expedition will never be forgotten by them, and you may be sure that we all will serve our country as better soldiers now that we fully realize the type of men who are holding down the home front.

"Please accept in my name as Commanding Officer and representative of the United States Army Air Corps, the sincerest appreciation of every man in uniform for the courageous deeds which you have just completed in our behalf."



Revision history:

01-Sep-2011 12:39 Uli Elch Updated [Cn, Operator, Location, Source, Narrative]
18-Aug-2013 03:11 JINX Updated [Operator, Total fatalities, Total occupants, Other fatalities, Location, Phase, Departure airport, Destination airport, Narrative]
02-Jan-2019 10:29 Laurent Rizzotti Updated [Operator, Nature, Source, Narrative]
13-Mar-2020 19:03 DB Updated [Operator, Destination airport, Narrative, Operator]

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