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The Crash of TB-29 Superfortress #44-70039

in Alaska, 1957

    At the Alaska Veterans Memorial is a monument honoring the crew members of a TB-29 Superfortress that crashed southeast of Talkeetna on November 15, 1957, killing 6 of the 10 crew members. Click on the photo of the monument to the right to get a better look at it.

    The aircraft, a trainer conversion of a B-29 four-engine bomber, and its crew were with the 5040th Radar Evaluation Squadron based at Elmendorf Air Force Base at Anchorage. On this day, they were on a routine radar-calibration training mission that was to last about 10 hours. Flying south down the Susitna Valley in bad weather, however, they strayed 27 miles off course into the Talkeetna Mountains, and at 6:22 p.m., crashed into an unnamed glacier at 5,600 feet elevation about 39 miles southeast of Talkeetna, just north-east of Hatcher Pass.

Six crew members were killed in the crash:

  • Major Robert A. Butler
  • Captain Richard O. Seaman
  • Captain Erwin Stolfich
  • Captain Edward A. Valiant
  • 1st Lieutenant William J. Schreffler
  • Airman Basic James R. Roberson

Staff Sergeant Calvin K. Campbell was credited with saving the lives of the three other survivors:

  • Staff Sergeant Robert J. McMurray
  • Technical Sergeant Manuel Garza
  • 1st Lieutenant Claire W. Johnson
    In spite of this own injuries, Staff Sergeant Campbell sought out his fellow crewmen and carried those who could be moved to shelter. He wrapped the men in parachutes and sleeping bags to protect them from the storm until rescuers arrived. As a result of his actions, Staff Sergeant Campbell received the Soldiers Medal, the highest possible award for valor in a non-combat situation.

    Lieutenant Jack A. Wolf, flying a Grumman SA-16 Albatross amphibian, was the first to spot the downed aircraft. Captain Melvin Swendels and 1st Lieutenant Thomas Seebo piloted the Piasecki SH-21 Workhorse search-and-rescue helicopters from 10th Air Rescue Group that rescued the survivors. An artist's conception of that rescue can be seen here.

    A Boy Scout service project initiated by Tyler Adams and supported by the other members of Troop 25 as well as several companies, Rep. Don Young and the Alaska State Parks, resulted in two memorial plaques being forged in 2006. One of the plaques was placed at the Alaska Veterans Memorial, "where the souls of those who serve our country are honored". The other was placed 70 miles south at the crash site. The video below describes the project and the placement of the plaque at the crash site.

    The crash site is accessed from the Reed Lakes Trail, which is 9 miles round trip and takes 6-8 hours. Poor weather is the problem most associated with this moderately-difficult trail - July through September is the most popular hiking season. The climb from Upper Reed Lake to what is now known informally as "Bomber Glacier" is much more difficult and is definitely not for people inexperienced in steep, off-trail hiking. The 3 videos that follow show the entire hike to the crash site. Click on the map to the right for an enlarged look at the area.

    A brief trail description with photos can be found at AKtrailhead.com. Many more photos and another trail description can be found at AlaskaHikeSearch.com.

    The trail can also be done in the winter, as can be seen in Dante Petri's article Air raid: Bomber Traverse in an 11-hour epic.

Arctic & Northern Aviation