Beech 18 AT-7 Navigator Copyright Museum of Flight - all rights reserved

December, 2007


a blog by Peter Stekel

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

FINAL FLIGHT, coming from Wilderness Press in 2010

Read more about FINAL FLIGHT here.

December 22, 2007 - Roy F. Sulzbacher
Reported in the September 16, 1948 issue of the Inyo Register, Captain Roy F. Sulzbacher broke camp and returned to the Presidio in San Francisco with a "detachment of army-trained mountaineers." They had been to the Mendel Glacier to recover bodies from the Beech 18 AT-7 Navigator discovered the previous summer. They were not successful in either retrieving bodies or anything else from the wrecked AT-7.

According to Bill Bond, when I interviewed him last summer, he was supposed to meet up with the soldiers in Fresno and travel with them to the wreck site as guide. But he became separated from his gear and was unable to make the trip. He said the soldiers had gas-powered jackhammers to work the ice.

See here for earlier blog entry.

In the course of my research I was shocked to discover that Capt. Sulzbacher died October 2, 1948 - less than a month after returning from Kings Canyon. Today I learned why. I had requested a copy of the Captain's death certificate from the City of San Francisco. It listed his cause of death as, "Poliomyelitis, Bulbar Type." More on that here. People with this type of polio have respiratory complications. The mission to the Mendel Glacier could not have been good for Capt. Sulzbacher.

I will attempt to contact Captain Sulzbacher's family after the new year.

December 20, 2007 - the Beech 18 AT-7
I had a long chat this afternoon with Taigh Ramey, owner of Vintage Aircraft in Stockton, CA. He looked at my photos from the Beech 18 that crashed on Mendel Glacier and let me know what I was looking at.

See here for my photos of the wreck along with interpretive comments made by Taigh. Very informative.

In observing the damage to the aircraft, Taigh mentioned that, judging from the way the dishpan [see photos] is peeled back, it looks like the plane went "straight in" to the rock - which is what Bill Bond told me when I interviewed him last year about the 1947 discovery of the aircraft. Taigh felt the damage is so severe to the engines [look at how the piston rods are bent] that the plane might not have been flying into the wall but, perhaps, diving into it. That is, the damage is too catastrophic to have been caused by the plane flying into the cirque wall at the Beech's cruising speed [about 140-150 mph]. Perhaps by the time they hit, they weren't flying - they were crashing.

"There is no [evidence in the] picture of the forward crankshaft, propeller or nose case. I think this thing hit with a lot of velocity - more than the cruise speed of a normal Beech."

He suggested the best thing I can do is show my photos to an NTSB inspector who has experience with interpreting airplane crashes. an inspector might be able to tell me from what angle or direction the Beech came from.


Mendel Glacier, Kings Canyon National Park

December 7, 2007 - more on The Ring
One of my longest friends, and also one of the people responsible for introducing me to the Sierra Nevada, is Mike Robbins. Mike has been an enthusiastic supporter of Final Flight all the way back to its first incarnation as a feature story, "Mystery of the Ice Man," for Sierra Heritage magazine. He reviewed several versions of my book proposal for Final Flight and contributed many comments and insights which helped make the proposal better than it was.

Mike sent an email to me with comments about the ring found on the aviator I discovered last August on Mendel Glacier. He wrote, "From the first time that I saw it, I thought that it looked like a stock ring. I had one very similar to it when I was a teenager. I wish that I'd kept it, but it is nowhere to be found." I'm glad that Mike's experience and observations substantiated what I'd learned in October.



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copyright 2010 Peter Stekel, all rights reserved

FINAL FLIGHT, coming from Wilderness Press in 2010