Aircraft Wrecks in the Mountains and Deserts of the American West



On February 2, 1931 Army Air Corps 2nd Lt. Charles D. Fator was flying a Douglas BT-2B serial number 31-37 en route from Phoenix, AZ to March Field, CA when he encountered bad weather in the San Gorgonio Pass. 2nd Lt. Fator stated that an engine fire forced him to bail out. Amazingly the BT-2B spiraled slowly earthward, and impacted a mountainside virtually intact! 2nd Lt. Fator was knocked out on landing, and when he came to, he thought a passenger was on his aircraft. He hiked up the mountainside, found no one on board, and shut off the fuel valve. No fire was observed, and there was no apparent fire damage to the wrecked BT-2B.

The rugged terrain where the BT-2B crashed hampered salvage efforts, and very little was recovered. In later years the the R-1340 power plant was disassembled, but not completely removed. Parts of the airframe where hack sawed, and some wreckage was dragged down the mountain. 2nd Lt. Fator continued to fly on the USAAC, and remained active in the USAAF until he was grounded for attempting to loop a B-17! Charles was considered to be very bright, a “wild card”, and a “cowboy”. He left military service in 1945.

In the fall of 2010 I obtained the accident report for 31-37 from Craig Fuller at AAIR. Within weeks Chris LeFave had conducted both aerial and ground searches that nailed the crash site high in the San Jacinto Mountains. In March 2011 Chris lead my son and myself on a steep climb to the remains of the Douglas BT-2B (basic trainer version of the O-38 observation aircraft) now scattered down the boulder strewn slope. Bits of metal and fabric still had the blue and yellow paint, hallmarks of USAAC aircraft in the 1930’s. Landing gear, tubular structure, and engine cylinder heads were still to be seen, along with other interesting items.


Aerial view of the BT-2B crash site circa February 1931 (USAAC via AAIR)

Fuselage of Douglas BT-2B nearing completion at Clover Field, Santa Monica, (Douglas Aircraft Company via Bruce Cunningham)

Charles D. Fator in United States Army uniform with sword circa 1930.  (Courtesy the Fator Family)

Horizontal stabilizer with Pat J. Macha and G. P. Macha (Chris Lefave photo)

Pat J. Macha with tubular fuselage showing hack saw damage. (G.P. Macha)

Pat J. Macha holds cylinder head from R-1340. ( G.P. Macha)

Prefix number 407841 attached to tubular structure. (G.P. Macha)

Section of engine ring mount. (G.P. Macha)

Wood wing rib section. (G.P. Macha)

Chris holds steel ring next to fuselage tubular structure. (G.P. Macha)

Landing strut fairing. (G.P. Macha)

Air Corps blue on cast part. (G.P. Macha)



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