In all the news in the last three weeks concerning the search for missing aviator Steve Fossett, there have been several references to searchers finding other previously unknown plane wreck sites. That got me to wondering about the identity of these planes and their occupants. Were these planes lost and never found despite searches years ago? And could these old crash sites yield answers regarding the fates of their occupants?
AP writer Scott Sonner wonders, too, and has written about these other missing airplanes, now found. Although it will take some time for searchers to go back and investigate these sites, authorities do expect to resolve some old mysteries about some planes and pilots that flew off into the wilderness and never returned.
“When all is said and done, they’ll send ground crews in to thoroughly investigate what is left,” Civil Air Patrol Maj. Cynthia Ryan said of the old crashes.
Eventually, some of the old crashes should be linked to long-missing aviators, Ryan said. Even small pieces of wreckage can contain a serial number that can be tracked back to the manufacturer and the owner of the plane.
Nevada’s forbidding backcountry is a graveyard for small airplanes and their pilots. Ryan figures more than 100 planes have disappeared in the past 50 years in the state’s mountain ranges, which are carved with steep ravines and covered with sagebrush and pinon pine trees.
Read the story about one of the missing pilots from long ago here.
UPDATE: Some guys make a very serious hobby out of looking for old crash sites, especially Air Force planes.
There’s a surprising number of wrecks still out there. Nearly 22,000 U.S. Army Air Forces planes crashed in the United States during training for World War II alone; B-24 Liberators, B-17 Flying Fortresses, P-38 Lightnings—all the famous warbirds from that era—along with training aircraft and even some fighter jets, left their remains in remote parts of the Southwest, where most pilot training took place. . . .
Fuller and his friends have been able to return dog tags and flight wings to the families of lost airmen. Perhaps more importantly, they’ve been able to fill in some emotional blanks for relatives.
UPDATE (12/23/07): Craig Fuller at Aviation Archaeological Investigation and Research (AAIR) has compiled a detailed list of all the planes that are believed to have been lost in this area, with a brief description of the known facts in each case. Interesting reading.