Category Archives: Mysteries

The Final Voyage of the USS Grunion

Of all the U. S. submarines that were lost during World War II, only a few disappeared without a trace. One of them was the Grunion, carrying 70 men, which was last heard from on July 30, 1942, near the island of Kiska, off the coast of Alaska.

The skipper of the Grunion, Jim Abele, left behind three young sons, who never forgot their dad. As they grew older, the boys became more determined to solve the mystery of what happened to their father’s sub.

Last summer, their determination paid off. Bob Dotson tells the moving story of the sons’ search and discovery of the ship’s wreckage, a thousand feet below the surface of the Pacific.

There is a lot more information about the search project, and the action that sank the sub, at the search team’s official web site. Another site has a lot of high-quality photos of the wreckage taken by the search team. The roll call of the men who were lost on the Grunion is found on the official Navy web page commemorating the ship.

Stories like this put a human face on the dreary numbers of casualties that came out of that war, and remind us again of the courage that motivated those who risked their lives to defend our nation. As the Abele sons note on their web site,

One could question the reason for the publicity on what otherwise should be a private matter, but we believe that this is about more than just honoring the 70 sailors who sacrificed their lives so we could live ours in freedom. It is that, and it’s also about making an effort to remember and honor all those who died in WWII and the many more injured who took great risk and commitment to protect a democratic system that we seem to have lost respect for today.

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Those Other Missing Airplanes

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.