Nature November 16, 2017
The Puzzling Details Of A 1943 Plane Crash In These Wyoming Mountains Are Still A Mystery Today
The mysteries hidden in the mountains of Wyoming go back to the beginning of time. One puzzle from the past is comparatively new, though it’s still over 70 years old.
In the 1940s, a World War II bomber disappeared over Wyoming during a transcontinental flight. The plane and the crew remained missing for over 2 years, and to this day the details of the crash are still unknown.
During these uncertain times, please keep safety in mind and consider adding destinations to your bucket list to visit at a later date.
There are too many mountains in Wyoming to name. One in the Big Horn Range, however, was named for the part it played in one of the state's most puzzling mysteries.
On June 28, 1943, 10 crew members boarded a B-17F bomber, departed the Walla Walla Army Air Base, and flew east to Nebraska.
The crew was to report to a base in Grand Island, Nebraska where they were to pick up supplies and fuel their plane, then head out to join the fight against Nazi Germany.
The flight to Nebraska took the bomber and its crew over Wyoming, and that's where things started to go awry.
Sometime near midnight, the pilot radioed in that they were flying near Powder River. That report was the last thing ever heard from any of the crew.
The pilot's position report was the first clue that something was wrong, though it's not known if anyone thought much of it until after the plane disappeared. If the bomber had been following the flight orders and traveling at cruising speed, it should have arrived safely in Grand Island Nebraska by midnight.
Not knowing where the plane might be, the Army could only guess at the best place to begin searching. For a week, they combed the central third of Wyoming from border to border, South Dakota to Idaho. It would be 2 more years before the fate of the bomber and its crew was discovered.
Not even the smallest sign of the plane or crew was found initially, so the search was called off, and the crew's families were notified that they were missing. Another search of several Wyoming mountain ranges was attempted in the summer of 1944. Though the Army scoured the Absaroka, Big Horn, and Wind River Mountains, not one piece of wreckage was found.
If the pilot's last report was accurate, something had to have gone terribly wrong with the plane's instruments. The wreckage was finally located on an unnamed mountain in the Big Horn Range, almost 100 miles north of their last-known position near Powder River, and in the wrong direction from their destination in Nebraska.
It was finally discovered on a Sunday afternoon in August of 1945. A couple of cowboys noticed something glinting in the sun on a mountainside near Cloud Peak and, when they climbed up to investigate, they found the remains of the wrecked plane and crew.
Strangely enough, the 5-mile radius around Cloud Peak was an area that the forest service suggested be covered in the 1944 search, as it hadn't been included in the 1943 search - and yet the wreckage wasn't discovered until 2 cowboys accidentally noticed it.
The bodies of the crew were brought down the mountainside, and the Army contacted their families to let them know they'd been found at last.
Although all 10 of the crew members had perished, rescuers believed that one of them might have survived the crash.
The body of one of the crew was found propped up by a rock with his wallet open and family pictures lying next to him on one side, and an open Bible on the other.
The wreckage of the plane is still up on the mountain for anyone to see if they're willing to hike to get there.
If you're not up for the hike, you can view one family's trek here:
Some sight-seers are content to explore the fuselage and examine the twisted pieces of metal from almost a century ago, contemplating what could have caused the crash. Others purloin smaller pieces from the plane to take away as mementos.
In 1946, at the request of the Sheridan, Wyoming War Dads Auxiliary, the Forest Service named the mountain in honor of the fallen men who died there, and a plaque was installed on the shore of Lake Florence about 1 1/2 miles southwest of the crash site.
Although to this day, no official cause has been found for the crash, at least Bomber Mountain serves as a massive memorial to the crew.
A variety of explanations have been considered for the accident, from malfunctioning instruments to the weather (a freak snowstorm had hit the area earlier in the evening), but they're all speculation.
What other baffling mysteries are in Wyoming’s history?