T-34 "Mentor" Crashes Near Wrightwood


SHERIFF'S OFFICE, LOS ANGELES COUNTY - FIRST REPORT

Date: July 31, 1965

Informant: Truesdell, Anthony

Victim #1: Henderson, Gerald (M/Sgt.)

Victim #2: Jaeger, Allen (A/2C)

Location: Inspiration Point Nature Trail, Big Pines

Time: At approximately 3:00PM this date

Undersigned contacted informant at Big Pines Ranger Station, who stated while hiking near location he observed a wrecked aircraft. Informant picked up some papers lying nearby the aircraft and brought them with him.

The papers were checked and found to be a pilot's log book made out to victim Henderson and a passport issued to Mrs. L Henderson, also a pilot's flight log made out to Victim Jaeger and one page from a T-34 aircraft flight manual.

The wreckage was located by the Antelope Valley Posse guided by informant. Posseman assisting were: Asst. Chief Jack Bones Sr., Lt. Jay Stockton, Dep. George Rigler, Dep. Jack Bones Jr., Dep. Philip Lewis and Dep. Lawrence Vejar.

Aero Detective Deputy McComas notified the following agencies: Sheriff's Information Bureau, Headquarters Detective Bureau, Aero Bureau Captain Hoffman, Aero Bureau Lt. Griggers, CAB, FAA Ontario Office, LA County Coroner's office who advised they would not respond and released victim's remains to the USAF and Edwards AFB Mortuary.

Mr. Outcen of FAA arrived at location at 6:10PM and commenced his investigation at 7:20PM. First Lieutenant Timothy McKinney, USAF, Edwards AFB Mortuary officer, arrived at Location and took charge of the remains of the victims.

Both victims were observed to be dead as evidenced by the decomposition of their bodies.

Aircraft #N-5506V, a United States Air Force T-34, Black and Yellow, is believed to the same as a missing aircraft report of 1/1/65 reported under RB-34 of that date.

Deputy John Nybakken, Station Coordinator


AIRCRAFT INFORMATION

The T-34A was used by the USAF for primary flight training during the 1950s. The original Mentor, a Beechcraft Model 45 derived from the famous Beechcraft Bonanza, was first flown in December 1948. The first military prototype, designated YT-34 by the USAF, made its initial flight in May 1950.

After extensive testing the USAF ordered the Mentor into production as the T-34A in early 1953. The first production T-34A was delivered to Edwards AFB in October 1953 for evaluation, and deliveries to the Air Training Command began in 1954.

The T-34A served as the standard primary trainer until the USAF introduced the Cessna T-37 jet trainer in the late 1950s. As they were replaced by the T-37, many T-34s were turned over to base Aero Clubs. In all, 450 T-34As were produced for the USAF. Three hundred fifty were built in the U.S.A. and 100 more were produced in Canada under license. In addition, two U.S. Navy versions of the Mentor were produced: the T-34B and the turboprop-powered T-34C. The Mentor also was built for the military forces of at least 10 friendly foreign nations.


WRECK SITE VISITED

The T34 Mentor belonged to the Edwards AFB flying club and was rented by two Air Force enlisted men who planned a flight from Edwards to Pomona to San Diego. The accident occurred in a severe winter snow storm near the community of Wrightwood, which is located in the Angeles National Forest, about 50 miles northeast of Los Angeles. Even though the plane was only a few hundred feet from a major state highway, a winter snow play area, and within a few hundred feet of a hiking trail, the plane went undiscovered for six months. The mountainside where the accident occurred used to be covered with dense underbrush and is heavily wooded. The plane might never have been found...except by chance someone literally stumbled upon it. After the post accident investigation was completed the wreckage was abandoned at the site. As time went on the thick underbrush covered the plane and it was forgotten; that is until a fire in 1997 brought it back in view almost 30 years later!

In the summer of 1997, the 13,400-acre Narrows fire was burning out of control and had reached within two and one-half miles from the mountain community of Wrightwood. Backfires were effective in holding the flames at bay. Access to the flames was hampered by steep elevation and heavy underbrush, but soon through the combined efforts of 2,250 firefighters, 35 aircraft and nearly 160 fire engines the fire was coming under control and would soon be extinguished.

Once the fire was extinguished some forest service fire fighters, who were patrolling the mountainside looking for spot fires, stumbled upon the wreckage of an airplane. The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, NTSB and other authorities were notified. The area was cordoned off and an investigation ensued for what was presumed to be a missing aircraft crash site. The local media aired a spot on TV and newspapers ran stories about the mystery plane in the hope determining it's origin. For a while it was speculated that the plane was a recent accident that somehow went overlooked. Fortunately, it is my understanding that a copy of the original accident report was kept by the Sheriff's Department and soon it was determined that the "new" crash was really just the remains of the old T34 Mentor that had long been forgotten.

I visited the crash site in October 1998. All that remains is some twisted metal; one of the cockpit seats in laying next to a tree, there are some engine pieces, and pieces and parts of the canopy and wings scattered about the mountainside.

This accident that occurred in a severe winter snowstorm and took two lives may have been prevented, hopefully all of us can learn a lesson from the "Mentor" that someday will prevent another tragedy from occurring.

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