Aircraft Wrecks in the Mountains and Deserts of the American West


On March 30, 1943, Boeing B-17F #42-29514 (88th B.G., 316th B.S.) took off from Walla Walla AAF, WA, at 3pm for a local instrument navigation training flight.  The weather closed in south of Pendleton, OR, and the crew became lost at about 4:20pm.  The radio compass malfunctioned, and it was discovered that the navigator's compass had been removed from the aircraft. At 5pm the tower at Walla Walla instructed the crew to attempt reaching Gowen AAF at Boise, ID, where visibility had improved.  En route, they found the bomb bay fuel tank had not been filled before takeoff.  Carburetor and wing icing became an issue as the weather worsened.  At 8:20pm they realized they wouldn't be able to reach Boise, so the pilot set the aircraft on autopilot and ordered the crew to bail out.  All nine men bailed out over the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in remote wilderness.  The aircraft circled for several minutes until the fuel was exhausted and it struck a mountain 25 miles south east of Challis, ID.  Eight of the nine airmen survived deep snow and freezing temperatures for over a week by following the river and staying in abandoned cabins.  Rescue came after one of them figured out how to climb a pole and close the switch for a ranger station telephone.  Flight engineer S/Sgt. Henry Van Slager was never found, and it was assumed that either his parachute failed to open or he drowned in the river. Special thanks to Bob Fratti and Eric Hansen for help with locating this crash site.  Site visited on 9/19/16.


Pilot                              2nd Lt. Joseph R. Brensinger                    Fairfield, AL
Co-Pilot                         F/O Howard E. Thompson                        Springfield, OR
Navigator                      2nd Lt. Austin Finley                                 Broken Bow, OK
Bombardier                  2nd Lt. George W. Smith                           Los Angeles, CA
Engineer                       S/Sgt. Henry C. Van Slager                        South Bend, IN
Assistant Engineer        S/Sgt. Howard A. Pope                              Athens, GA
Radio Operator             S/Sgt. Morris Becker                                Ozone Park, NY
Assistant Radio             S/Sgt. Harvey T. Wiegand                         Indianapolis, IN
Gunner                          Sgt. Erwin R. Grundman                           Compton, CA

Five of the airmen from #42-29514 enjoy a quart of milk each, after being rescued from the Idaho wilderness.  Front row (L-R):  F/O Harold Thompson and S/Sgt. Harvey Wiegand.  Back row (L-R):  S/Sgt. Erwin Grundman, 2nd Lt. Austin Finley, and S/Sgt. Morris Becker.  (Photo courtesy of the Pocatello Tribune)  Photo at bottom right of page.




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