I have spent the last several years researching and searching for historic plane crash sites in the Adirondacks. It’s much harder to find them then people would think. Only in the last couple decades with the proliferation of hand held GPS devices has precise mapping come about and historical references often contain errors in descriptions and locations. One plane I found was not even on the mountain that media and government reports listed for its location. This fall, wreckage from a crash found me; as of yet, no one has been able to explain it.
I get calls from people periodically asking me about crashes in the Adirondacks. I have 225 documented to date, and believe about 50 of these have some wreckage still scattered about the wilds. This fall APA commissioner Dan Wilt, who is also a pilot, contacted me about wreckage at Spruce Lake, not far from where the Northville Placid Trail passes by. He gave me some basic information: the plane was small and had been salvaged, the engine and any landing gear were gone. My visit to the site revealed that this was a fairly old wreck. There was a spruce tree, a large one, growing up through the tail section or horizontal stabilizer. The wings and perhaps much of the plane was likely canvas-covered as only the frame was still present. Unfortunately not a single identifying number could be found.
Looking through my database, I found a crash incident that seemed likely, if not probable for the wreckage, at least in my mind. According to newspaper accounts, on August 27th 1956, First lieutenant Charles W. Allison, a Connecticut National Guard pilot, crawled two miles over 36 hours in the area of “Indian Lake” with a broken leg before being found and rescued by two “lumberjacks.” He was piloting a single engine liaison plane on a return flight from Camp Drum when the plane was caught in a downdraft and crashed. I didn’t have a precise location for this crash yet, but there were details that fit. Spruce Lake is near Perkins Clearing, which would account for what newspapers called “lumberjacks” coming to his aid because this was an area of heavy timbering. I contacted the Connecticut National Guard to get more information. Even though Lt. Allison’s crash was 55 years ago, the crash report is not easy to get. It requires a FOIL request and the report comes with portions redacted. The report I received from the National Guard revealed that the crash location was not Spruce Lake, in fact it was 10 miles away.
Privately owned planes that predate the NTSB and FAA are a challenge to research. Crashes after 1961 can be searched easily and efficiently on the NTSB database. This crash was older than that, and with my number one theory shot down – pardon the bad plane pun – I reached out to all the retired Forest Rangers who had patrolled the area: Tom Eakin, Gary Lee, Greg George, John Seifts, Gerald Husson and Mart Allen. I contacted local historians, commercial float plane operators, anyone I could think of who might know about this plane. No one knew the story of this small aircraft and how it ended up at its final resting place. Finally I hiked into Spruce Lake to look for identifying numbers or anything that would indicate what kind of plane it was. It was easy to find, lying on its side in the boggy spruce forest a few hundred feet from the southern shore line of the lake.
I quickly identified the crash path and the trees that it may have clipped, now stumps, a very large one adjacent to it. It had certainly been salvaged and perhaps even scavenged by those looking for a souvenir. The wings laid detached next to and overtop the fuselage and were constructed from aluminum. Only the wings’ frame remained, indicating they were indeed covered with canvas. A large decomposed log covered portions of one wing and when it was removed some of the fabric which had covered the wing was still intact. Early aircraft had a plasticized lacquer applied to fabric covering the aircraft, commonly called “Aircraft Dope.” Exposed to sunlight and untreated, the fabric breaks down.
A detached piece of aluminum had the words “Reynolds Aluminum” and “3-S ½ H” still legible. On another piece, likely the fuel shutoff, one could still make out the stenciled words “OFF”, “FUEL” and “17 GAL” These were the only words or numbers I could locate. The fuselage was very small and the firewall was naked, detached from whatever engine powered the aircraft. The plywood floor was still visible as was the stick and pedals. The dimensions indicated it was a tandem or single seater. I was only able to find one seat pan. The instrument panel had six cutouts but all the navigation and engine gauges were gone. You could even see the rivet holes under the cut outs where the manufacturer’s name plate was likely attached. Parts of the tail remained and a large spruce tree was certainly keeping part of it from being taken away as it had grown up through the frame. I did not take a core sample from the tree but I estimated it to be 40 years old. Amazingly the stabilizer jack screw assembly still turned!
I took my measurements and photos home and began showing them to pilots and posting pictures on-line. I am not a pilot and know little about plane components. Many people chimed in with thoughts of it being an Aeronca, Piper or Taylorcraft. One person would point to one thing indicating a certain type and just as quickly another person would cue in on another component suggesting an alternate. I did reach a consensus on the type of plane, although it was not a unanimous opinion and certainly not conclusive. Some offered the idea that it was highly modified or a “Frankenplane,” containing components from different plane manufacturers.
Frustrated, I contacted Pete Klein, reporter for the Hamilton County Express who ran a story about the crash. I hoped someone within the readership could solve the mystery for me. The article did provide the attention I hoped. I received several calls and emails of people who had seen the plane over the years but as of yet the story of this wreckage is untold. Perhaps someone reading this can provide me with the answer.