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.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) I headed up the gravel road for awhile, then at some unknown point, I headed off cross-country to the right. 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”!
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.
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. 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.
My best friend Mary Parker was the flight attendant on board. Could you tell me directions from Main Street in Bishop? I just want to get to the general area. I don’t have a 4WD In 2004 I tried to reach summit but didn’t have right gear and enough water. Thank you for sharing this.
It means a lot to me
Mrs Terry Lozinsky
My uncle was killed in that plane crash. He was a cameraman for the series. They recovered his wedding ring and my aunt kept it on a chain around her neck. The loss devastated our family. I came across this post because today marks the anniversary.
Wow! Thank you for the comment, and sorry for the loss of your uncle!