on Mount Waternomee

The Bomber Crash

On the afternoon of January 14, 1942, a Douglas B18-A bomber with a crew of seven, took off from Westover Air Field, near Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts.

The flight would end in disaster around 8:00 pm, when the plane crashed in New Hampshire's White Mountain National Forest, killing two crew members. The five survivors were rescued by nearby residents of Woodstock and Lincoln who had to climb a 4,000 foot mountain, at night, in a heavy snowstorm. The story of that crew , and that night, deserves to be told and remembered.

The crew's mission was to patrol for German U-Boats, 250 miles into the North Atlantic. They did not report any sightings, and several hours later, a little before 4:30 pm, turned the plane around to head back to their base. Weather conditions were much worse than when they took off and they flew into a strong headwind. When the plane reached the coastline, the crew tried to get bearings on the radio, but were unable to because of static. They estimated it would take three hours to reach Westover, and they proceeded, flying on instruments at 4,000 feet. That altitude was chosen as it would keep the aircraft under the overcast and clear of obstacles between the coast and Westover.

The night was black and visibility poor. The wind was much stronger than the crew believed, and atmospheric conditions meant that they were unable to use any beacons. There was no celestial navigation equipment on board and no light in the drift meter. They were in total darkness. The pilot and co-pilot changed off every half hour. When they crossed the shoreline, they thought they were south of Boston, and turned north, expecting that they were heading towards Westover. But the combination of circumstances threw all their calculations off and they were actually flying north over Lake Winnipesaukee.

No mountains were visible, until at about 7:40 pm, the co-pilot, Lt. Woodrow Kantner, saw what he first thought were dark clouds. He turned on his landing lights and saw their error. He tried to warn the pilot, Lt. Anthony Benvenuto, to pull up. Benvenuto couldn't hear him, so Kantner pulled up. But it was too late and the men could not prevent the disaster. The plane hit a downdraft, stalled, and flew in through trees and crashed in deep snow on the side of Mt. Waternomee. Both wings and engines were sheared off and the top deck was ripped off. Fuel was dripping and a fire broke out. Five of the crew members were able to exit the plane. The remaining two crew members, in the rear of the aircraft, could not and died when the plane exploded a few moments later. The subsequent Army investigation credited Kantner's pulling up the nose with preventing the plane from crashing nose first, and probably saving the lives of himself and the four other crew members.

Residents in Lincoln and Woodstock heard the crash and saw the fire. Telephone calls went out to the State Police, the Forest Service, the Army, and civilian volunteers. Incredibly, the first of the rescue crews started up the mountain at 8:15 pm, just about a half hour after the plane went down. Lincoln's Dr. Handy was on the scene, as was Sherman Adams, the Parker-Young Company's "wood boss" (and later Governor of New Hampshire), along with about 50 others. It took the first crew of the rescue squad about three hours, on snowshoes, to reach the crash site. They rounded up the five injured survivors, administered first aid, and built fires to keep the injured warm. Lincoln Selectman Charles Doherty and Sherman Adams arrived with a team of woodsmen who had blazed a trail and brought toboggans. Dr. Handy put a splint on a broken leg and three of the injured were placed on the toboggans and started down the mountain. They arrived at the roadside around 2:00 am. The toboggans went back up and, at about 4:00 am, started back down with the other two survivors, reaching the road at about 10:00 am. The survivors were taken to the Lincoln hospital and four were later transported to Manchester.

The next morning, an Army team arrived and continued the search for the two missing crew members, who were found still inside a piece of the aircraft. Army ordinance teams recovered the bombsight, camera, weapons, and exploded a 300 pound bomb. The Army officer in charge reported "due to the nature of the wild, rugged, and remote region in which the crash occurred, it is inadvisable, impossible, and completely unnecessary to attempt to remove any remnants." As far as the Army was concerned, the story was over.

The Army may have thought that removing wreckage was impossible, but many Lincoln and Woodstock residents apparently didn't agree. Over the years, numerous pieces of wreckage were salvaged and several are on display in the Upper Pemigewasset Historical Society's museum. In 2006, the Forest Service, in partnership with the UPHS, conducted an extensive archeological study of the crash site. Copies of the study's report are in the Lincoln and Woodstock public libraries. There is far more to the story than we've told here, and interested persons will find the full report very informative. There is also a book on the crash, "The Night the Bomber Crashed," written by Floyd Ramsey.

As the Army said, the crash site is in a "wild, rugged and remote region". While hiking to the site is possible, it's not easy. And if you visit, remember that the site is on Federal land. It is illegal to dig, remove, or collect artifacts on Federally-managed land without a permit. If you visit the site, please treat it with the respect it deserves and befitting the two men who lost their lives there. It's a fragile site. We recommend taking photographs or make drawings to commemorate your visit. Leave the aircraft remains as you find them and practice "Leave No Trace" principles during your visit and help us preserve the site for future generations.

Image: Douglas B-18A Bomber

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