Keith Crane: Plane Crash of 1953

The plane was a C46 flying from Seattle, Washington to Cheyenne, Wyoming, when it crashed in the north-east corner of Franklin County near the Utah border. The Beaver Mountain ski area was near by on this day Jan. 12, 1953. There were 37 soldiers on their way home from the Korean war on the ill-fated plane that plunged into the pine covered snowy mountains of Idaho.

They had survived the horrors of war and made it back to the land they fought for. Many if not all were from the southern states of their country and expected to land in Jackson, South Carolina. Many families would be waiting to greet them on arrival, some hoped to celebrate a late Christmas with their sons and fathers on their return.

According to the flight log the plane was a little over weight but C46 cargo planes are built for heavy loads. The last known contact was from Malad, Idaho as the plane flew at app. 13,000 ft. with its chartered course leading to Cheyenne, Wyoming.

The plane went down on Jan. 12, in a snow storm. It sheared the tall red pine trees off near their tops and progressed lower and lower until it slammed into a small rocky ridge in the bottom of the draw. The bodies were scattered over the ridge and down into the hollow on the other side. The main portion of the plane’s fuselage with most of the soldiers were piled in a heap in the bottom of the first draw.

The military from Hill Field set up camp near by the following days. The snow storm continued on for about a week and completely buried the whole catastrophe. No snow machines of any kind were available in 1953 except a tank like all terrain vehicle called a weasel. Guards were placed to watch the site and were changed every four hours to guard the buried soldiers with all their baggage, money souvenirs, and personal items, soon buried under five or six feet of snow.

Ray Talbot was the sheriff in Franklin County at the time and a good friend of mine. We graduated from Preston High School in the same class in 1943 and both served in the military during the Second World War. Dad was one of the county commissioners at the time of this event and Ray told him there was nothing they could do until the weather broke but wait. Nothing could be done without Ray’s approval in his County.

Sometime in February the snow started to melt and some of the bodies started to show up. The birds were picking at them, and the sheriff was contacted to give the go ahead on starting to remove them from the site. Ray invited Dad to go with him up to the crash site, but Dad did not want to go for some reason. I jumped at the chance just out of curiosity. An adventure like this doesn’t come very often in Mink Creek, Idaho in the middle of the long winters we had there.

We drove up Logan Canyon in the sheriff’s car with his deputy early one morning in late February. We climbed into the weasel with a driver and an officer from Hill Air Force base in Ogden. It was about a quarter of a mile up a small creek to the crash site. I shall never forget what I saw when we circled the acre or so of the area. There were frozen pieces of human beings scattered all over the area. Legs, arms, backs and heads scattered all over the ridge with broken parts of wings and tail of the plane mixed in. Many of the torsos were black boys. Some had been wearing painted field jackets with scenes of Korean landscapes. They were grotesque, torn and blood splattered on the white snow of an Idaho mountain. Others had been wearing olive drab clothes of the U.S. military half covering their naked bodies and torn to shreds. A large tail section of the plane was over the next small ridge and underneath it hung a pink bra swinging in the wind. Apparently there were air line stewardess on board the ill-fated plane that day. It was a long and tedious process. Each person’s personal belongings were collected and taken to his nearest relative by military personal.

The removing of the bodies was started immediately as the snow moved back and March was just around the corner. Some of the bodies did not arrive home until late May and June. The clothing and blankets and all that would burn were burned on the spot where the impact was the most concentrated. All the parts of the plane were taken to Hill Field except the small pieces that covered the area. These were soon picked up by curious people as souvenirs the following summers.

The military personnel who guarded the site that winter and protected their fallen comrades were guilty of a different tragedy. They were court-marshaled for pilfering the bodies and wreckage of those they were guarding. The temptation was too great, with money both coin and paper scattered all over the site.

Though ice and an unexplained decent into the snowy mountains of Idaho was considered the cause of this Cargo 46 crash, some of the pieces seem to be missing in my opinion.

Half a century later a stone marker marks the spot and is visited by relatives of those men who served their country in time of war but died tragically on their way home. Today the site is a thickly forested area like most places in Idaho’s Wasatch Mountains, but if you look closer the red pine are still standing with their tops broken off and scars in the stumps still remind us of this sad event.

Stories of My Life
by Keith K. Crane
January 10, 2003