Aircraft Wrecks in the Mountains and Deserts of the American West


In the Spring of 2002 I read a news article dated February 1945 supplied by Butch Gates about a B-24 that had crashed and burned west of Helendale on the Mojave Desert. The aircraft in question was B-24L-FO #44-49180 built by the Ford Motor Company. The aircraft was assigned to a Training Command Wing at Victorville Army Air Base. On 1/30/45 #44-49180 departed Victorville at 1410 hrs. and headed north flying some two thousand feet above the desert on what was to have been a routine radar training mission. The crew included six men: 1st Lt. James G. Wright, pilot, 2nd Lt. Norbert J. Vehr, copilot, 2nd Lt. Carl F. Hansen radar instructor, 2nd Lt. John R. Palin radar student, 2nd Lt. Herbert A. Perry, radar student, and T/Sgt. Harvey L. Cook, flight engineer. About six minutes after takeoff a fire started in number two engine. The pilot did not sound the bailout alarm but verbally called for crew bailout. Immediately three crewmen moved to jump. 2nd Lts. Hansen and Palin left the aircraft, but T/Sgt. Cook hesitated apparently thinking a successful forced landing could be made. As 2nd Lt. Palin descended in his parachute he saw the #44-49180 go into a left turn, lose altitude and crash on the desert some twenty miles north of Victorville AAB. When rescuers reached the crash scene they found the plane burning with the empennage and tail fairly intact. 2nd Lt. Perry, who was riding there survived the crash but his injuries were so severe that he had died shortly after impact.  

 After 57years we knew that very little of #44-49180 would remain, but with original crash report photos to help we were confident that the crash site could be found. We relied on the background photo images showing Red Butte and numerous Yucca trees near the wreck. This search wouldn't take more than one or two tries. Wrong!  The Yucca trees living at the time of the crash were down and the distance from Red Butte to the crash site was problematic as well. We came within 300yds. of the site without knowing it. One trip became four. We found wreckage, however, the parts were from either a F-102 or F-106. We also found a new, undated F-100A site. After four trips we were experiencing a growing sense of failure and frustration until Rick Baldridge joined search effort number five. Rick brought new computer technology into play that helped compute the distance from a known terrain feature, Red Butte. Thanks to Rick we were vectored to within yards of #44-49180. The photos and captions will tell the rest.

Thanks to the continued efforts of Gil Reza of the Los Angeles Times, the next of kin of T/Sgt. Harvey Cook and 2nd Lt. Norbert Vehr have been located. The only known surviving crewman from #44-49180, 2nd Lt. Carl F. Hansen has also been located by Gil Reza. A feature article will appear in the Los Angeles Times in late Nov. 2003. We salute our veterans and those who do not let their service, sacrifice, or memory fade.

Special thanks to Mrs. Loretta Kreft and her family for providing photos and fond remembrances of Harvey L. Cook.


Click on thumbnail to see large view!

After 57 years the earth is still scarred by the crash. Less than 1% of the B-24L remains.

Cross made of parts and containers from #44-49180  memorializes the four crew that died on 1/30/45.


These personal effects of T/Sgt. Harvey Cook were later returned to his widow Loretta Kreft.

Photo date 1/12 1945 at Victorville Army Air Base. T/Sgt. Harvey Cook veteran of forty-three combat missions in the India/China/Burma theater. T/Sgt. Cook received the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, and the Purple Heart. He died in the crash of B-24L # 44-49180 on 1/30/45.

The dog tag of 2nd Lt. Norbert J. Vehr.

The search team on site. Left to right standing: Pat Macha, Rick Baldridge, Larry Rayko, Don Jordan & grandson, Tom Gossett, and Kevin Sato. Kneeling left to right: Jim Rowan and the photographer not shown, Rob Hill.

Original crash photo with Yucca's in background that are no longer there.

Personal effects ready for mailing to next of kin shown with 1/200th scale model of a B-24L.

Patric J. Macha at the crash site of #44-49180 on 11/15/03. With honor and respect we commemorate the sacrifices of more than thirty-five thousand men and women who lost their lives while on "routine" flight duties within the continental United States during the Second World War.


Kudos to Rick Baldridge for making this search successful, and to the Veterans Administration to locate next of kin and returning personal effects including dog tags. The widow of Harvey L. Cook, now eighty years old will be the first to receive recovered items. Updates and photos will be posted as this story continues to unfold.


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