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USAF North American F-51H crash in the Yukon, 1949

Northern Aviation History

July 21, 2019

    Prompted by an email conversation a few days ago, I went searching for information about a 1949 USAF plane crash. It's listed in the 1943-1980 Yukon Aircraft Wrecks Database as a P51, and that got me a little bit of info. Deeper digging eventually led me to the fact that it was actually an F-51H, which was a lighter and more powerful variant of the P-51 Mustang. With that new letter, I was able to find lots of information, which follows.

    First, here's a summary - on Wednesday, August 10, 1949, North American F-51H #44-64261, piloted by 1st Lieutenant John E. Bylander, suddenly dropped out of the formation of F-51s he was leading from Anchorage, Alaska to Selfridge Field, Michigan. His aircraft dove through the clouds and crashed just west of the south end of Aishihik Lake, Yukon Territory.

North American F-51H #44-64255 - it was #44-64261 that crashed in the Yukon.

    The first news of the crash appeared in many newspapers the day after the crash, on August 11, 1949, with this Canadian Press dispatch (the article seen to the right is from The Windsor Star):

    WHITEHORSE, Y.T. (CP) - A United States air force P-51 fighter crashed in rugged, mountainous country about 46 miles nothwest of here.
    The plane, one of seven US fighter planes en route from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Whitehorse, suddenly spun out of formation and plummeted to the ground. The planes were following an airways route.
    Name of the pilot is not known.
    An RC.A.F. Dakota based at Whitehorse is searching the area for traces of wreckage.

    The wreckage of the aircraft was quickly located, and many newspapers including The Minneapolis Star reported that on on August 11.

    WHITEHORSE, YUKON TERRITORY (AP) - Searchers Wednesday night reported sighting the wreckage of a United States air force P51 fighter plane which crashed in mountainous country about 75 miles northwest of here earlier today.
    The aircraft was one of seven United States fighter planes en route from Fairbanks, Alaska to Whitehorse.

    Once I discovered that the P-51 had been renamed F-51 in 1947, I was able to find other reports with new information, including this one in The Missoulian of August 11:

    Whitehorse, Yukon, Aug. 10 - (AP) Searchers Wednesday night sighted the wreckage of a U. S. F-51 fighter which crashed in mountainous country 75 miles northwest of here earlier Wednesday. The badly-burned wreckage of the single-seat fighter was spotted by an RCAF Dakota aircraft, which had been sent out to look for the crashed plane. Para-rescue crews were dropped in a clearing near the wreckage.

    Also on August 12, The Eugene Guard provided even more information about the search for and discovery of the wreckage:

    EDMONTON, Alberta - UP) - Parara-rescue squads of the Royal Canadian Air Force Thursday jumped to the wreck of a United States P-51 fighter plane in the Yukon and found the pilot dead, RCAF's Northwest Command announced here.
    Name of the dead flier was being withheld pending notification of his next-of-kin.
    Wreckage of the American plane was sighted Wednesday night about 75 miles north of Whitehorse and 32 miles south-east of Aisikik Airfield in the Yukon by the crew of a searching RCAF Dakota piloted by F/L Bill Durnin. His crew sighted the crashed P-51 after a B-29 bomber and seven companion planes of the ill-fated fighter, failed to locate it.
    Crews of the U. S. formation said the P-51 spun down through the overcast while it was heading for Whitehorse.

    The final news on August 12 was the release of the pilot's name, reported here by The Daily Argus-Leader (Sioux Falls, S.D.):

    Detroit, Aug. 12 - (AP) - Air Force officials today identified a pilot killed in a Yukon territory plane crash as 1st Lt. John Bylander, of Beresford, S. D.
    Bylander's F-51 Mustang Fighter spun to the ground 75 miles northwest of White Horse in wild northwestern Canada. He and a formation of seven aircraft were flying from White Horse to Fairbanks, Alaska. Wreckage of his plane was found Wednesday.
    Bylander was attached to the 56th Fighter group at Selfridge field near here. His identity was withheld pending notification of next of kin.
    He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth, and his 9-month-old baby, who live in Mt. Clemens, Mich.

    And there, so far, the story of the crash ends - I have not yet found an accident report, and this crash isn't listed in any of the major aircraft crash databases. The next information is from the memorial for John E. Bylander.

    The following article was published in The Daily Argus-Leader (Sioux Falls, S.D.) on September 7, 1949:

    Beresford, S. D., Sept. 7 - Memorial services were held in the Dalesburg Lutheran church Tuesday afternoon for 1st Lt. John E. Bylander, 30, who was killed August 10 near Ashihik, Yukon territory, Alaska, while leading a squadron of F-51 Fighters which were being ferried from Anchorage, Alaska to Selfridge field, Mich.
    Burial was in the Dalesburg Baptist cemetery, with military honors paid by the Beresford Legion post. Air coverage was supplied by jet fighter planes from the Selfridge base.
    Lt. Bylander was born near Beresford. He enlisted in the army during World war II and served in the Pacific theatre with the 869th Air squadron of the 497th Bomb Group, 73rd Wing, 20th Air Force. Lt. Bylander made 39 bombing missions from Saipan over Japan as flight engineer in a B-29. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal with Five Clusters.
    In August, 1948, Lt. Bylander was assigned the task of flying one of 20 fighters to Germany in the historic first ocean crossing by jet-propelled aircraft.
    Surviving are his widow and an infant son at Selfridge, Mich.; his mother, Mrs. Minnie Bylander, Beresford; and one brother, Dan, also of Beresford.

    A lengthy article posted on his memorial page at Find A Grave includes much more information and a photo - it has no date and is not credited.

    Memorial services were held Tuesday afternoon, September 6, from the Dalesburg Lutheran Church, for Lt. John E. Bylander, 30, who met his death in a plane crash while ferrying P-51 Fighter Aircraft from Anchorage, Alaska to Selfridge A.F.B. Lt. Bylander was squadron leader and he crashed 40 miles south east of Aishihik, Yukon territory, Canada, on August 10th.
    Rey. Howard. Youngblom officiated at the service and burial was made in the family plot in Dalesburg Baptist Cemetery. Full Military Honors were supplied by the Beresford Legion Post No. 72, assisted by. Capt. J. E. Davenport, military escort, who made the trip to Beresford from Anchorage, Alaska. Air coverage was supplied by Jet Fighter Planes from Lt. Bylander's own home field, Selfridge, Michigan.
    Pall bearers were: Raymond Nelson, Irving Frick, Orville Lindstrom, Leonard and Dennis Carlson and Maurice Erickson. All are ex-service men. Musical numbers were furnished by the Dalesburg Lutheran Choir and Harold Johnson was the soloist.
    John Erwine Bylander was born February 6, 1919 at the farm home in Clay county, the youngest of three children born to John Martin Bylander and Minnie Messler. It was here that he grew to manhood receiving his education in the rural schools of the district. Confirmed in the Lutheran faith in 1933 at Dalesburg he later attended high school in Beresford and graduated in the spring of 1937.
    Continuing on the farm for two years, he enrolled at South Dakota State College at Brookings in the fall of 1939. He enlisted in the army at Sioux Falls in November 1942. After graduation from S. D. State College in March of 1943, he then received further specialized. training in the Boeing Aircraft plant in Seattle, Washington and at Lowry Field, Colorado. Being transferred to Pratt Field, Kansas, where he trained as flight engineer he was activated for overseas duty at Kearney, Nebraska.
    In October 1944 he was assigned for overseas duty with the 869th Air Squadron of the 497th Bomb Group, 73rd Wing, Twentieth Air Force, which was stationed at Saipan. From this base he served as B-29 Flight Engineer on 39 missions of air bombardment over Japan and Tokyo. After having been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal with Five Clusters he returned from the Pacific Theatre of operations in September 1945.
    He was then assigned to Warner Robbins Air Technical Service Command, Macon, Georgia, as Maintenance Officer. It was there on May 8, 1946, he was married to Elizabeth Howell at the Post Chapel, and to this union a son was born in 1948.
    Lt. Bylander received pilot training at Randolph Field, San Antonio, Texas, and at Williams Field, Chandler, Arizona, receiving his pilots rating, after graduation from the latter, in October 1947. Since that time he has been stationed at Selfridge Air Force Base, Mt. Clemens, Michigan. In August 1949 he was assigned the task of ferrying P-51 Aircraft from Anchorage, Alaska to Selfridge AFB.
    He was preceded in death by his brother, Orville, in 1914 and by his father in 1939. Surviving him are his wife and son, John Eric; his mother, Mrs. Minnie Bylander, and one brother, Daniel Bylander.

    That brings us to the current day. The map below shows the crash site in relation to Aishihik Lake and the Aishihik Lake Campground. I have a report from a Whitehorse person who says she hiked to the site a decade ago, and found that the wreckage had been blown up, but some of the gun barrels were still recognizable. The site marked on the map is from the Yukon Aircraft Wrecks Database but it is not yet verified, either, as a second-hand comment from a helicopter pilot says it's about 6 miles to the northwest of that and the hiker hasn't yet responded to that query.

    As (or if) I'm able to add information, I'll update this file.

Map of Yukon F-51H crash