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Historians recall Vermont '57 plane crash

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Posted on July 19, 2018 |
By Rachel Cohen



AircraftAccidents_bw L-20_004.jpg
IT TOOK RESCUE crews 10 days to discover the crash site of this Army L-20 Beaver in October of 1957. The crash and subsequent search was the subject of a recent talk sponsored by the Salisbury Historical Society. Photo courtesy of UVM Special Collections

SALISBURY/BRANDON — At 11 years old, Brian Lindner hiked Camel’s Hump with a friend, and ended up finding the site of a 1944 B-24 bomber crash.

None of the adults in his life could answer his questions about the crash that were fueling his curiosity.

The plane, which had taken off from Albany, N.Y., had been flying particularly low, probably to retain heat in the cold October climate. Snow atop Camel’s Hump obstructed the pilot’s vision, causing him to scrape the plane against the rock of the mountain, even before he knew how close the aircraft was to the land.

Seeing this wreckage firsthand as a child inspired Lindner’s interest in plane crashes, and particularly in military crashes in Vermont.

“The more I found out, the more I wanted to find out. I started asking around town,” Lindner said.

Lindner’s vast knowledge has made him well-known in historical and aviation communities throughout the state, which is how he got involved with the search for the site of another plane crash, the 1957 crash of a U.S. Army L-20 Beaver Aircraft. He estimates that this is one of 30 crashed planes that are still in the woods in Vermont.

Last week, Lindner, of Waterbury, along with Bill Powers, a historian and writer from Rutland, gave a talk sponsored by the Salisbury Historical Society about the Army airplane that crashed roughly nine miles southeast of Lake Dunmore in 1957.

When he was 13 years old, Powers went to the scene of the crash with his father, a medical examiner. The plane was discovered 10 days after it had crashed in the mountains near Chittenden.

The single-engine aircraft took off from Governors Island, N.Y., Oct. 2, 1957, and was carrying its four passengers to Norwich, Vt., perhaps, although according to Lindner their final destination remains unknown. Twenty minutes outside of Burlington, the pilot alerted the airport that they would be arriving soon, but the aircraft never touched down.

After beginning a search mission, Burlington received a phone call from Bradley Field in Hartford, Conn., that indicated that the missing plane was in fact in Hartford, but this was not the case.

Because of this phone call, Lindner said the aftermath of the 1957 crash made it “the most botched search and rescue mission in Vermont ever.”

AN ARTICLE IN the Burlington Free Press from 1957.

The miscommunication caused officials in Burlington to cease their search mission for a few days until somebody put the pieces together. Meanwhile, snow accumulated in the mountains, making it more difficult for search teams to find the wreckage.

Powers recounted his journey to the crash site with his father and other search and rescue officials. They drove to Goshen and bushwhacked south of the Brandon Gap by the mountains adjacent to the Long Trail to arrive at the location. During the talk at the Salisbury Congregational Church, Powers showed footage of the scene that day from his father’s 8 mm film camera. Although difficult to make out particular shapes, Powers pointed out the wings of the plane sandwiched between trees and people searching for remains.

An unexpected snowfall blocked the pilot’s route to Burlington, and the plane flew 150 feet too low to clear the mountain. Three of the officers were burned to death in the crash, while one lived at least a day longer (some said three days) and died of dehydration.

Years later in 2000, Lindner flew over the area in a Cessna looking for a few plane crash sites that he wanted to locate. All the historical reports told him that the 1957 wreckage lay on Bloodroot Mountain. The Cessna flew up the ridgeline, but Lindner didn’t see anything.

A few years after that, the family of the pilot of the plane, Capt. Eual Cathey, reached out saying that they wanted to visit the crash site. Lindner teamed up with Powers to continue the search.

“I started putting together everything that would help me find the plane crash,” Lindner said.

But even with all of the official reports from search and rescue teams, newspaper articles, and some photographs that Powers kept, they still had trouble. Some reports said Bloodroot Gap, some Bloodroot Mountain, some Lookout Mountain.

“Everyone seemed to have the location wrong,” Lindner said.

The two went on many hikes up various ridges in the area in 2005, almost one every month. Still, they couldn’t find the plane.

It wasn’t until 2009, when Clarence Decker, a fellow student in a dowsing class that Powers was taking, used the pendulum dowsing technique to pinpoint the crash site, which he marked on a map with black pen.

Though a bit skeptical, Powers and Lindner decided they should check out Decker’s location.

“Decker had it exactly right. He nailed it,” Powers said.

Powers described the site of the crash as being near where the Chittenden Brook Trail crosses the Long Trail, by the Brandon Gap.

They communicated that they had found the crash to Cathey’s family, who traveled to Vermont from Florida to visit the spot where their father had been killed. Powers and Lindner had been searching for the location for years, and the family had been waiting for answers during that time.

During their visit, they had dinner with Powers and Lindner.

“It was an emotional dinner,” Powers said.

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