Aircraft Wrecks in the Mountains and Deserts of the American West

P-40's #39-287, #39-200 & #39-213

Breaking News High Sierra June 2016

Avid hiker Jon Beck found aircraft wreckage in June 2016 while exploring off the trail in a rugged area of the Kern Plateau. Mr. Beck contacted me, and I was able confirm that his discovery was that of Curtiss P-40 39-213 flown by 2nd Lt. John Harold Pease. 2nd Lt. Pease was the first pilot to suffer engine problems and bail out on 10/24/41 over the High Sierra. Later that morning two other pilots bailed out O.K., and two more crashed to their deaths over the High Sierra. An extensive air search was launched for those P-40’s on October 25th. No search effort was made for the wreck of P-40 39-213 because the pilot had effected a self rescue by hiking out, and reaching help. As far as can be determined the P-40 flown by 2nd Lt. Pease has never been mapped until now. Four more P-40’s from this same flight crashed on 10/24/41, killing two pilots, and leaving two others stranded in the wilderness for nine days. On 11/2/41 three more P-40’s from the 57th Pursuit Group crashed, killing two pilots, and seriously injuring another. 

Someday we hope that other hikers, mountain climbers, or pilots will report they have discovered a missing aircraft in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Lt. Leonard Lydon’s P-40 39-194, Lt. David Steeves’ T-33A 52-9232, and a Piper Cherokee N4389J are still unaccounted for. 

Always report what you find/see unless a yellow or red X is painted on the material. We never know what mystery may be solved!


John Pease is a USAAF Major in this photo. Major Pease was assigned to the 9th Air Force in England during WWII. He was later promoted to Lt. Colonel when he commanded the 389th Fighter Squadron flying Republic P-47’s until the war’s end in 1945. John Pease was later promoted to Colonel in the USAF where served in the Air Defense Command flying the Convair F-102A until his retirement 1970. (Photo courtesy John Pease, Jr.)

Colonel John H. Pease was Deputy Inspector General of the Aerospace Defense Command in 1969-70 at the close of his distinguished thirty year military career. (Photo courtesy Colonel John H. Pease)


These top four wreckage photos courtesy of Jon Beck

On 10/24/41 a flight of nineteen P-40 “Tomahawk” fighters departed March Field in Riverside County, CA bound for Sacramento, CA. The flight encountered severe weather over the Sierra Nevada with fatal result for two of the USAAF flyers. 2nd Lt. Richard N. Long crashed to his death in a remote area Kings Canyon National Park. The remains of 2nd Lt. Long and that of his plane P-40 #39-287 were not discovered until July 1959. On 8/5/89 I flew by helicopter to 2nd Lt. Long’s crash site on behalf of Project Tomahawk. While at the site I helped construct a rock cairn into which a memorial statement in a metal tube was placed.

The memorial cairn for 2nd Lt. Richard N. Long who died 10/24/41 while in the service of his nation.

G. Pat Macha at the impact site of Curtiss P-40 #39-287. (photos by Pat J. Macha)

2nd Lt. Richard N. Long, USAAF pilot that lost his life on 10/24/41 in Curtiss P-40 39-287. The wreckage of 2nd Lt. Long’s P-40 was not discovered until July 1959 when hikers accidentally spotted the the plane near South Guard Lake in the High Sierra. (Photo courtesy Joshua Long)

The weather on 10/24/41 was also a factor in the death of Lt. William H. Birrell when his Curtiss P-40 #39-200 plunged into the forest near Bass Lake, CA. The impact crater containing a few engine parts are all that remain of #39-200 today. A memorial marker was placed at the site in the 1950’s and another memorial added later by family members. Lt. Birrell was not the last man to die on this flight. On 11/2/41 as the remaining aircraft were returning to March Field two more P-40’s crashed into a cloud enshrouded mountain killing Lieutenants T. L. Truax and R. E. Speckman. All together eight P-40’s were destroyed and several were damaged on 10/24 and 11/2/41. Four pilots had died in crashes and four had to bail out because of a squadron commander’s orders that sent his men flying into severe weather.

Memorial marker near Bass Lake for Lt. William H. Birrell.

Impact crater with Allison V-1710-33 parts. (Photos b Jon K. Lawson)

In 1996 members of the Birrell Family added another plaque next to the 1942 original. It reads:



1st Lt William Henry Birrell was a West Point graduate who received his wings on March 14, 1941. On October 24th, 1941 1st Lt. Birrell crashed to his death near Bass Lake, while flying P-40 39-200. 1st Lt. Birrell was one of five 57th Pursuit Group pilots to crash or bailout over the High Sierra on that fateful day. (Photo via Tony Kirzan)

Colonel Leonard Lydon circa 1944 standing in front of his Eighth Air Force Republic P-47D Thunderbolt. Len Lydon survived for nine days in October 1941 following his bail out from Curtiss P-40 39-194 over Kings Canyon National Park on October 24, 1941. He was tragically killed on May 8, 1945 when he landed on a newly captured Luftwaffe base. Col. Lydon borrowed an army jeep drove off the base, and upon his return failed to hear a sentry say ”Halt”. The sentry shot Colonel Leonard C. Lydon dead. We honor his service, sacrifice, and memory. (Photo courtesy the Lydon Family via Marc McDonald)

Jack C. West on the left, and Walt Radovich on the right at a gathering for Project Tomahawk in Torrance, CA circa 1989. Jack West bailed out of Curtiss P-40 39-285 on 10/24/41. Jack and Leonard Lydon were rescued on October 31. Walt Radovich  bailed out of Curtiss P-40C 41-13394 on November 2, 1941 near San Rafael, CA. During the bailout Walt’s left leg became entangled in the radio antenna wire, causing him to suffer a broken leg when he deployed his parachute. (Photo by G. P. Macha)



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