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Reporting on a tragedy

The Enterprise closely followed the story of a fatal Wright Peak jet crash that took place 50 years ago this week

January 21, 2012
By CHRIS KNIGHT - Senior Staff Writer (cknight@adirondackdailyenterprise.com) , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

LAKE PLACID - Fifty years ago today, on Jan. 21, 1962, wreckage from a B-47 jet bomber that had disappeared on a training mission across the North Country five days earlier was found scattered across the summit of Wright Peak.

Searchers battled heavy snow and frigid temperatures for the next 10 days to try and locate more wreckage and recover the remains of the plane's four-man crew: 1st Lt. Rodney D. Bloomgren, 1st Lt. Melvin Spencer, 1st Lt. Albert W. Kandetzki and Airman 1st Class Kenneth R. Jensen.

The Enterprise followed this story on an almost daily basis. The reporting was primarily by columnist Bill McLaughlin, with help from editor Howard Riley, who was part of the first search team on the mountain, and the Associated Press.

Article Photos

Then Enterprise editor Howard Riley, 32 at the time, holds up a piece of wreckage from the crash of a B-47 jet bomber that crashed on the summit of Wright Peak on Jan. 16, 1962. This picture was taken in June of 1962, when Riley and a group of Enterprise staff visited the crash site.
(Photo courtesy of Howard Riley)

Here's a day-by-day account of how Enterprise readers learned about this tragedy, as it unfolded, 50 years ago this week. What follows are excerpts from articles at the time.

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Thursday, Jan. 18

Three dozen planes, augmented by a special search craft from Labrador, swooped over New York's northern wilds again today in search of a downed B47 jet bomber and its Air Force crew of four.

The special search plane, a C54 transport ship carrying a team trained in such missions, came from the U.S. base at Goose Bay to join the hunt for the bomber missing from Plattsburgh Air Force Base since Tuesday morning.

Meanwhile, ground searches near Massena and Watertown, begun after reports that flares and (wreckage were) sighted, were abandoned. Police decided the reports were incorrect.

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Saturday, Jan. 20

State police and Conservation Department personnel are checking a report of a light seen in the area of the High Peaks last night about 6:45. In trying to establish the exact location of the light, there appeared to be some possibility it might have been night crews working on the Olympic Bobrun at Mt. Van Hoevenberg.

The report drew added attention because of the search for the downed B-47 jet bomber which disappeared early Tuesday reportedly in the Adirondack area.

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Saturday, Jan. 20

The Saranac Lake airport became a bustling nerve center yesterday during the massive air search being conducted for a missing B-47 Plattsburgh-based jet bomber missing since early Tuesday.

New York state National Guard planes with full crews studied maps of the High Peaks area and exchanged views with local pilots and observers on possible crash sites not yet covered from southern bases of the operator.

There was little optimism among the searchers that the plane crew would be found alive, but as one pilot said, "anything is possible but it doesn't look good."

The missing plane was on a regular military routine-simulated bombing mission over Watertown when last heard from.

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Monday, Jan. 22

The main part of the downed B-47 jet was found this afternoon at approximately 1:30. The wreckage was discovered on the Northwest slope of Wright's Peak which led the officials there to believe it had skimmed the top of the mountain and then crashed.

A search party headed by Forester John Hickey found the wreckage and one engine. There was no information available about survivors.

Hickey of Keene, who called back by radio to William Petty of the Ray Brook Station, Conservation department, said, 'We can hardly stand it up here with all the wind and ice.' But for the first time the men were sure they were on the right track and were reported heartened by their initial discoveries.

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Monday, Jan. 22

Members of the first search party attempting to reach the B-47 that crashed last Tuesday were literally driven from Wright's Peak last night by winds estimated at 60 mph.

The 7-man group headed by Conservation men Jim Bickford, Jim Lord, John Hickey and Don Alcott included Leo Stoffel of the New York State Police, Stanley Smith, an experienced volunteer climber from Saranac Lake and this reporter (Riley).

The 3 1/2-mile trek started at 4 p.m. yesterday from the Adirondack Loj at Heart Lake. Snowshoes were used until ice near the summit necessitated crawling and gripping any small shrub to keep from being hurlted down the face of Wright by the powerful wind blasts.

With the main group standing by at the timberline Smith, Lord Bickford and myself made a final attempt to reach the crest of the mountain and the plane wreckage which, on a map, was spotted just over this crest and somewhere to the right of our position.

The pinpricking wind and sheer ice at the top caused one ranger to term any further effort as suicidal. A discussion at this point on any possibilities of rescuing the downed airmen led to the decision to turn back.

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Tuesday, Jan. 23

Searchers were once again called down from Wright's Peak at about 1:30 this afternoon. Harsh weather and reported cases of frostbite among the Air Force men led to the decision to temporairily withdraw.

Before descending yesterday, a Forest Ranger group led by John Hickey of Keene and James Lord of Lake Placid spotted major pieces of the plane, and a jet engine, but not the fuselage, at the point of impact near the top of the mountain.

The rangers had come upon pools of kerosene on the western face of the mountain, the opposite side from that which they had previously been searching. The major part of the wreckage was close to the ski trail although charred and twisted pieces of metal were strewn all over the top of the ridge for at least a half mile.

One jet engine, smashed to a length of about four feet, was discovered, and the rangers also spotted a large boulder on the crest which was chipped and still strung with parts of the plane. Along the side of the ridge, holes were gouged into the ground where the plane had hit and bounced. Those who saw the wreckage speculated that it had disintegrated and catapulted debris all over the mountain.

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Wednesday, Jan. 24

Searchers returned up Wright's Peak this morning as hopes for finding any survivors fell to a new low with the discovery of the remains of some of the four-man crew of the B-47 jet bomber which crashed in the Maclntyre Range last Tuesday.

An Air Force spokesman, who issued the formal report last night that some remains had been found said it might be some time before positive identification is possible.

Although it has now been established that the plane was 30 miles off course when it ran into the mountain, cause of the crash remains unknown.

---

Thursday, Jan. 25

The Air Force search (for) additional parts of the B-47 jet Bomber and its crew scattered over a wide area on Wright's Peak continued today from a new base at Marcy Dam on the east side of the mountain.

Yesterday afternoon a bulldozer operated by Gordon Wilson ploughed a pathway into the Rangers headquarters about 6 miles in from the Heart Lake Road through heavy crust and drifted snows.

---

Saturday, Jan. 27

Air Force teams will make two or three more trips up 4,585-foot Wright's Peak before ending their search for wreckage of the B47 jet bomber.

Its four crewmen apparently were killed in the crash, Jan. 16, an officer in charge of the operation says.

A blizzard Friday night forced searchers off the mountain after they had worked earlier that day in sunny weather.

The plane apparently hit about three feet from the top of the Adirondack peak, investigators said. If it had cleared Wright's Peak on that course, however, they said, it would have crashed into nearby Mt. Marcy, the state's highest mountain.

The Air Force said the remains of some of the crew members has been found but that it might be some time before identification would be possible.

---

Monday, Jan. 29

The Air Force search for missing pieces of the B-47 jet bomber on Wright's Peak will probably be discontinued this week, an Air Force spokesman said today.

Most of the wreckage is believed buried beneath snows up to a depth of 18 feet and further efforts to locate smashed and broken sections and other evidence of the four crew members will be abandoned until spring.

Two bodies were returned by helicopter Sunday to Plattsburgh Air Force Base and two others are still somewhere in the frozen crags of the mountain.

Crash wreckage will be returned to the base as it is recoverd but because of the severity of the impact and the dissolution of the fuselage, little can be determined about the possible cause of the tragedy.

---

Monday, June 14

Grim souvenirs from a wrecked Air Force B-47 Bomber that cost the lives of four of Uncle Sam's airmen on Wright's Peak are the prize of several Saranac Lake High School students and their teacher, Ronald Schroll of the biology department.

The students recovered the conversation pieces in a two-day salvage operation at the top of the 4,600-foot Adirondack peak. The task was a difficult one, and the boys take particular pride in two recovered 20 mm machine guns which are in fairly good condition in contrast to thousands of pieces of splintered, broken metal pieces that litter the rocky pinnacle above the timber line.

The guns weighed about 175 pounds each, and the long and circuitous route down the mountain with the heavy objects almost caused the group to abandon the salvage project.

---

Monday, July 23

Albert W. Kandetzki, a navigator and an Air Force victim of the Wright's Peak disaster of January 16, will have a living memorial 3,000 miles from his grave in San Bruno, California thanks to a father's love for his son.

Three other members of the crew who died with him will also be honored by the memorial near the timberline of the 4,600-foot Adirondack mountain peak.

Albert W. Kandetzki, Sr., father of the B-46 navigator, has just completed a labor of love which involved the planting of four native red spruce trees in a special bower on the mountain.

Visibly shaken as he relived the grim hours of last winter when no news of the missing plane was available and again when the report of the death of the men at the top of the mountain was relayed to the searchers and air force personnel at the Adirondack Loj, Mr. Kandetzki showed us his son's log book his wings and his lieutenant's bars.

Mr. Kandetzki and his family still ask the question ... what happened on that fateful morning that put the huge bomber off course? Albert was a good navigator, he says, and you know from his voice somehow that he is not satisfied with the answers given him by the Air Force officials ... but he accepts them.

 
 

 

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