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


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.

May 13
I am fortunate in having acquired historic photos of Mendel Glacier and environs from Kirby West [from his summer 1947 trip with Bill Bond, Wes Houseman, and Thomas Hodges], Julia Sulzbacher [from her husband, Capt. Roy Sulzbacher's two 1948 trips], and now, Lauri and Julie Woods [from their father, Capt. Robert A. Lewis's late September-early October 1947 trip guided by Bill Bond].

Below you will find a comparison of these images alongside photos that I took in 2007 and 2008 during my trips to Mendel Glacier. You can get a good appreciation of how the glacier has shrunk in size over the last 62 years and how pieces from Lt. Gamber's aircraft have weathered over time.

Clicking on the links will take you to a separate page where all the similar photos are displayed. These will be large files so if you have a dial-up or other slower connection, be prepared to wait for the download to occur.
Mendel Glacier
1947 Oakland Tribune article
Beech 18 AT-7 Navigator front tire
Beech 18 AT-7 Navigator engine
Florence Lake
Hikers on Mendel Glacier

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May 10
Several weeks ago I got an email from Laurie Lewis Woods wondering if I could help her and her sister, Julie, with some biographical information about their father, Robert A. Lewis. Let me provide a little review of 1947 so you can appreciate how excited I was to hear from Laurie.

Lt. Gamber and his cadet crew disappeared on Novemeber 18, 1942. During the summer of 1947, four students from the University of California, Berkeley [William Bond, Thomas Hodges, Wes Houseman, and Kirby West] discovered airplane wreckage in Mendel Glacier. In late September they reported their find to the Army Air Forces Air Rescue Service. Bond was the only one of the students who had not started classes yet and he was prevailed upon to guide a recovery team to the wreck site.

Capt. Robert A. Lewis, as ground rescue officer, was in charge of the mission. He was accompanied by Capt. Andrew Walton [communications officer] and Capt. Robert Goulding [para-doctor]. A para-doctor was a medical technician trained as a paratrooper. Goulding's job was to supervise the recovery of any remains and determine their origin.


[From L-R] Capt. Robert A. Lewis, William Bond, and Capt. Robert Goulding beside C-47 #6256 at Hamilton Field [Marin County, CA] on October 3, 1947 after returning from the Army's first of three missions to Darwin Canyon to recover the crew of AT-7 #41-21079.

Photo courtesy of Lauri Lewis Woods & Julie Lewis.

During the course of my research for Final Flight and the people involved in the story, I failed to find any trace of the three captains. My genealogist friend, Marge Carpenter, was also unable to turn anything up. Hence my joy and excitement when Lauri Lewis wrote to me. And when she send me photos of her father, including the image above, well; I was turning cartwheels in my office! 
Lauri and Julie gave the following biographical info for their father:

Robert A. Lewis

Born 3/14/19 in Medford Oregon.

After serving one year in the Oregon National Guard, he enlisted in the Army on 9/16/39. Active as Aircraft Inspector and Aviation cadet.

He graduated from Pilot Training School, and was assigned as a WW II B-17 Bomber Pilot with the 15th Air Force, stationed in Italy. Flying 48 combat missions he was awarded a DFC, ACM, AM with two OLC and a DUC. Let me add here that Lewis must have been one hell of a pilot and lucky too. At the beginning of the war, crews flew 25 missions - later upped to 35, before they were sent home. Many crews were not that lucky and were shot down.

After the war he was a pilot with Air-Sea Rescue and was honorably discharged from the USAF on 5/31/60, with the rank of Major.

He was then employed for many years at Luke Air Force Base in civilian capacity in charge of the base Fabrication shop.

In later years he owned a service station/automotive repair shop franchise before opening his own automotive repair shop.

He died June 3, 2007 in Phoenix Arizona.

Here is a photo of Capt. Robert A. Lewis and his B-17 crew. Capt. Lewis is furthest to the right.

Photos courtesy of Lauri Lewis Woods & Julie Lewis.




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