a blog by Peter Stekel

FINAL FLIGHT is the story of four aviators lost in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks on November 18, 1942

Read more about FINAL FLIGHT here.

December 2010



Saturday | December 4,  2010 | 5 - 10 PM

Here is a perfect way to begin your holiday gift shopping. Final Flight will be available for purchase at a reduced cost of $15.00. And here is also an opportunity to converse with the author and have him personally autograph your book.

Finger food, Snacks, Desserts, Beer, Wine, and Soft drinks will be served.

Updates for Final Flight book presentations for 2011 are located HERE at my Presentations page on the Final Flight website.

My next book project is: Hester - A Son, A Father’s Enduring Love, Two Airplane Crashes, and the Sierra Nevada.

In 1943, the B-24E "Liberator" was not as current in armaments and other technology as later versions of the aircraft. This led to its primary use as a training aircraft such as the B-24E 41-28463 piloted by 2nd Lt. Charles Turvey. This airplane disappeared December 5, 1943 during a night navigation training mission from Fresno’s Hammer Field to Bakersfield to Tucson and return. On board as co-pilot was 2nd Lt. Robert Hester along with a crew of four others. This is a story achingly similar to Lt. Gamber’s missing AT-7 but with a resolution that required only sixteen and a half years.

With a total of 613 flight hours including 260 hours in the B-24, Lt. Turvey was well-versed with piloting the Liberator. He had 38 hours of night flying experience too, seven of which were in the previous 30 days. For 1943, Turvey could be considered a highly experienced B-24 pilot.

Though the weather forecast given to Lt. Turvey mentioned a cold front moving into Northern California, no bad weather was expected along his planned route. Two weeks after the Liberator disappeared, an investigator questioned another pilot who was coming back from Arizona to Hammer Field at 3 a.m. the night Lt. Turvey and 41-28463 disappeared. 2nd Lt. John K. Specht said, "Returning from San Diego that same evening, we encountered strong winds from the northwest at 12,000 feet and we were flown about forty miles off course to the southeast." When Lt. Specht arrived at Hammer Field it was overcast with light rain at 3000 feet and a cloud deck of about 2000 to 3000 feet thick.

Pilot and author, Ernest Gann, had something to say about this disparity between what forecasters foretold and what the atmosphere delivered. He called them "on-the-other-hand" people, saying they were worse than economists at protecting themselves against any eventuality. "This would be providing this was, that is, on-the-other-hand, such and such did not occur." Gann encouraged pilots to not trust weather forecasters, or to do so at risk to their lives.

At 2:10 a.m., Staff Sergeant Howard Wendtake, Lt. Turvey’s radio operator, transmitted his last position report: 50 miles east of Muroc [now known as Edwards Air Force Base], flying at 18,500 feet. Their heading of 280 degrees would take them south of the Sierra Nevada before altering course to head north up the Central Valley and home. Like 2nd Lt. John K. Specht, Turvey’s crew must have encountered strong winds which blew them east, off course.

Lt. Specht’s final comment to the investigator sheds some light on why one crew could be aware of these strong winds and correct for them but not the other. "The compass radio in 463 [Turvey’s B-24] was not in very good operating condition. For a celestial mission that could have been a very good reason for them to get quite a ways off the course without realizing it." Weather crossing the Sierra would have been marginal, according to the Hammer Field weather officer. "Broken cumulus clouds, bases on the mountains, tops twenty to twenty-five thousand, visibility zero-zero in the clouds and 10 miles outside of clouds, moderate icing in clouds, moderate turbulence."

The father of co-pilot 2nd Lt. Robert Hester was devastated by the loss of his son. Los Angeles resident, Clinton Hester, spent the following 14 years searching the Sierra Nevada for signs of Robert’s airplane. In 1959, Hester died from a heart attack. The following summer, two USGS researchers were working in a remote section of the High Sierra, west of LeConte Canyon in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks. They encountered airplane wreckage in an unnamed lake and along the slopes above the lake. Army investigations revealed the wreck belonged to Lt. Turvey and Lt. Robert Hester. The missing crew had been found. This lake is now known as Hester Lake.

Another B-24 Liberator was lost during the search for Lt. Turvey and crew. Squadron Commander Captain William Darden lifted off in 42-7674, along with eight other B-24s, early in the morning of December 6, 1943. Experiencing high wind turbulence, Darden lost his hydraulic pressure. Seeing what looked like a snow-covered clearing, Capt. Darden gave his crew the choice of bailing out or crash-landing with him. The co-pilot and radio operator chose to jump.

Capt. Darden, his airplane, and remaining crew were not seen again until 1955 when Huntington Lake reservoir was drained for repairs to the dam. It seems the "clearing" spotted by Darden was the reservoir’s nearly frozen surface. The B-24 was found resting 190 feet below the reservoir’s high water mark, the five other crew members still at their stations preserved by cold water and anaerobic conditions.

The preceding text comes from Final Flight, chapter 15, "They Weren't the Only Ones."



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