Flight 802 Memorial Site (Bishop, CA)

I recently enjoyed a 6 day journey around the eastern Sierra, including 2 nights in the higher (cooler) elevations of Death Valley, plus a hike to a 1974 plane crash site. The hike was unexpectedly difficult, due to a navigational error, not having a 4WD, and it being 102F degrees when I got back to the car…more on that later!

The story: On March 13, 1974, on a dark moonless night, with calm and clear weather, a chartered Sierra Pacific Airlines Convair 440 took off from Bishop airport, headed back to Burbank. On board was an experienced crew of 5, plus 31 people from Wolper Productions, who were in town filming the “Primal Man” miniseries. Minutes after takeoff, with no radio calls or signs of mechanical issues, the aircraft impacted a steep mountainside. 36 people died instantly in a fireball that was seen from the town.

Full text of the crash report: http://libraryonline.erau.edu/online-full-text/ntsb/aircraft-accident-reports/AAR75-01.pdf

…and a shorter summary here: http://www.check-six.com/Crash_Sites/PrimalMan-N4819C.htm (The actual “Primal Man” film footage was recovered from the crash site, having miraculously survived in the tail section. After some consideration of the friends and families involved, was aired on television. I could not locate the show anywhere, but USC has a collection of all Wolper Productions work, which can be viewed by appointment.)

I found out about this site many years ago, via Geocaching.com https://coord.info/GC382A and have had it on my “to do” list for awhile. I’ve also visited and blogged a few other crash sites. (F-2H Banshee above Saratoga, CA, (https://alpharoaming.com/2015/01/10/banshee/) and an F-4 on the San Mateo County coast (https://alpharoaming.com/2014/02/11/plane-crash-site/)

After reading the experience of other Geocachers, I drove my 2WD car as close as I could to the memorial summit, and just started walking, bushwhacking, scrambling, and dead reckoning…there is no defined route.

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Unpaved turnoff to Redding Canyon Road

Using old USGS Topo maps, downloaded to the GaiaGPS App on my iPhone, I drove my regular 2WD car as far as I safely could. (A capable 4WD vehicle would have a been a big help, and cut at least 1/3 off my hiking time)

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That’s my 2WD car!

I headed up the gravel road for awhile, then at some unknown point, I headed off cross-country to the right.

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Bishop Airport

Most of the advice I read was to leave the gravel road when you’re at the same elevation as the crash site, which I did. It took me 3 hours from the car…a bit more than I expected, but I can’t give much advice on what I did right or wrong…at times it seemed I did it all wrong, but there was no obvious “better way”!

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The plane crashed 180 feet below this summit. Large reflective aluminum pieces are visible as far down as my finger is pointing


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Descending down to the memorial peak


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A cross on the peak, made of aircraft bits

At the summit there was very little wreckage. If you read the (above linked) crash report, you’ll note that the impact point was 180 vertical feet lower. Interestingly, several pieces, including a door, went up and over the summit, according to the diagram in the report. Most pieces impacted the side of the mountain and tumbled down.

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The Bishop Airport is just above the cross, on the right. About 6 miles away.


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Very few pieces were at the summit. The plane crashed 180 vertical feet below the summit.

That’s it! Time to head back. I attempted a route back along the higher ridge to the north, instead of scrambling along the sides of the ridges, in an attempt to save time. It did not! It took me just as long, and at one point I had to slide down a chute of small rocks, on all fours! My Cabela’s canvas shorts suffered minor damage. My pride and navigation skills suffered more.

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A lone sentinel tree I stopped at during my meandering return to the car

That’s about it! Get some good maps, lotsa water, and a 4WD if you can, and make an interesting day out of it!

At some point, I may try a more direct route from below, to the actual impact site. It “might” be easier and I’d definitely see the wreckage. There are some great photos here: https://joeidoni.smugmug.com/Aircraft-Crash-Sites/The-Bishop-Convair-340440/

Please remember, this is a tough, and potentially dangerous hike. Be respectful of the site. Don’t remove anything.

Note: If I knew an optimal route to get there, I probably wouldn’t publish it anyway! “The Code of Ethics” for Wreckchasers, and people who search out archaeological sites, is to not make it any easier to locate than it already is. The bigger the effort to research and visit a site, the more likely there won’t be any disrespectful visitors and souvenir collectors.

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About AlphaRoaming

Random outdoor roaming: hiking, cycling, camping, backpacking & plotting more of the above Grew up on the edges of the Adirondack mountains of New York, just a bit west of Vermont. Now living in Silicon Valley and venturing out when and where I can!
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