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.


September 2012

In this issue:

  1. My return to Mendel Glacier.
  2. A report on the Golden Sierra High School student trip.
  3. An update on what History Flight is doing.
  4. A meeting between History Flight and the Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park superintendent and chief ranger at park headquarters.

1. The winter of 2011-2012 was paltry in California's southern Sierra Nevada with some drainages only getting between 5-10% of their normal snow accumulation. Because of this I thought this September would be a great time to re-visit Mendel Glacier. I figured there would be no residual snow anywhere and that the glacier would be at its smallest and thinnest size in history. I also wanted to search the bergschrund of the glacier for debris evidence of the 1942 plane crash and to try locating a cairn of debris made by the four college students who first found the crash site during the summer of 1947.

Read about the trip in THIS PDF article from the Saturday, August 25, 2012 issue of the Inyo Register.

I was accompanied by three friends and companions: Professor Dixon Davis, from Cal Poly Pomona, John Daniels, a retired teacher from Golden Sierra High School [see below], and Jim M., who wishes to remain anonymous.

Peter, John, Dixon, Jim at North Lake trailhead.

Unfortunately, though the glacier was dramatically smaller than my last visit in 2009 I was unable to find any visually significant new wreckage, with one exception.


Radio box in situ [left] and close up [right]

This is a radio jack box from the AT-7's cabin and is associated with one of the student work stations.

Here is a close up of the jack box from the above photo.

I also found this little rubber plug and have no idea if it is from the AT-7 or is debris left by other hikers or climbers.

In many ways this was a most unsatisfactory visit. I was unable to find one of the engines, the section of wing, and the wheel that I have seen in the past. This surprised me since I had my GPS with me with their locations plotted.

Looking inside the bergschrund, Dixon was unable to see any wreckage - only rock and ice. During his examination he was constantly pelted by rocks falling from the cliffs above. In some places the bergschrund was 40 feet deep! We were also not successful in locating the cairn of debris from 1947.

Dixon Davis below the main Mendel Glacier bergschrund.

Clearly, the bergschrund has filled in with rock over the decades. Also clearly, the things on and in the glacier are still moving around. Subsidence of the ice has probably lead to some previously identified objects being buried by rocks and talus.

I am now convinced that the other two boys missing from the crash will never be found by a visual reconnaissance. What will be needed is ground-penetrating radar to find the principal wreckage [such as the instrument panel and airplane superstructure] and a cadaver-sniffing dog to find the crew's remains.

2. Four students and three chaperones from Golden Sierra High School in Georgetown, CA hiked from North Lake to Lamarck Col over Labor Day weekend. Originally their plan was to hike to Mendel Glacier to observe the History Flight operation scheduled for the same time. They planned to bring a video camera in order to produce a documentary for their school. They also brought a satellite phone so they were able to communicate with their local public radio station [KFOK] with a live broadcast.

However, their plans were changed and they decided instead to hike to Lamarck Col instead to complete their school assignment. This was because History Flight was unable to make the rendezvous [see below] and because the lead chaperone for the trip was concerned about the difficulties inherent in reaching the glacier. This includes the remoteness of the area, the degree of climbing involved, and everyone's inexperience in working together as a team.

Read about the basis for their trip in THIS PDF article from the Sunday September 2, 2012 Fresno Bee. Also HERE in the Georgetown Gazette from Thursday August 16, 2012.

3. On September 4 I joined Kent Schneider and Chet Walker from History Flight in a meeting with Karen Taylor-Goodrich [Superintendent], Kevin Hendricks [Chief Ranger], and Erika Jostad [Kings Canyon District Ranger] from Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park. Originally, History Flight had hoped to fly to Mendel Glacier this month but was unable to do so because they had not yet received permission from the NPS. We met at the Ash Mountain park headquarters in Three Rivers.

The subject of the meeting was the petition from History Flight to use multiple helicopter flights to Mendel Glacier in order to ferry people, ground-penetrating radar, and a cadaver-sniffing dog. History Flight proposed three days of flights with two flights in the morning to ferry people in and two flights in the afternoon to bring everybody out.

Helicopter flights are not normally allowed in park service wilderness areas without a very real and just cause such as a medivac or other emergency. This is a stipulation of the 1964 Wilderness Act.

  • The NPS position was that four flights daily was too many.
  • They were concerned with the disturbing affect on backcountry wilderness users of hearing the helicopter.
  • Also, they had safety concerns with shuttling people from close-to-sea level to 12,500 feet with the possibility of these people ending up with altitude sickness or pulmonary edema.
  • They believe there is not a suitable landing zone on the glacier due to the extreme amount of melting that has occurred since 2005 - the last year a helicopter landed on the glacier.

Here are the main results of the two hour meeting:

  • The NPS will consider two flights/day [one in the morning and one in the afternoon] to ferry equipment in along with the dog and dog handler. This is predicated upon the helicopter pilot finding a suitable place to land on the glacier. All other personnel will hike in and camp in Darwin Canyon.
  • The History Flight mission will occur either in spring or fall of next year [2013].
  • At either the end of this month or first week of October, two members of History Flight, including the dog handler, will pack in to Evolution Valley and then hike up Darwin Canyon and thence to Mendel Glacier. A member of the park service, most likely the backcountry ranger at McClure Meadow, will meet them and accompany them to Mendel Glacier. The dog handler will evaluate if the dog will be able to make the trek from Darwin Canyon to the glacier in the event of an unsuitable landing area being found on the glacier.

Here's a photo of Kent Schneider [left] and Chet Walker [right].



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