Thursday, September 27, 2007

Sandia Mountain, RB-57 crash site

This is the type of military plane that flew into the 10,678 ft (3255 m) Sandia Mountain crest in New Mexico, at 10,433 feet, (3,180m) one night, many years ago while on approach to KAFB ABQ NM.

Tail number 292? didn't quite clear the mountain crest, reportedly the altimeter was not accurate. The scarred site of mountain slope is still visible with Google Earth at 35 12 32.5 N 106 26 40.3 W. Of which I had no knowledge on that first day.

My search for this site began on 22 September 2007. Armed with a very vague knowledge of the whereabouts, I set out at 10:30 am from my Jeep parked at the Sandia Crest parking area one mile (1.6km) up above the Rio Grande valley city of ABQ NM. 14 miles and 3,700 ft (1,128 m) up the mountain from North Highway 14, on Scenic Byway 536 out of Cedar Crest. I started hiking to the South Crest Trail TR 130.

Along the trail I met just the right people. The retired husband and wife were members of the original Mountain Rescue Team that found the TWA crash site on the west face, many years ago. They told me about the man that knew the Canberra RB-57's exact location among others. I called him for more exact details after returning home.

In the meantime, I ventured off the trail and thought maybe I could spot the area by myself. After walking for about three hours and checking each open meadow for signs of an old impact area, I saw only one small piece that looked sort of like an aircraft origin. I obligingly began picking up several carelessly discarded plastic water bottles, to return to a parking area trash container. I then settled down to investigate the area around the Historic 'Kiwanis Cabin' nearby.

The original cabin was built in the early 1920's and only survived about two months before being burned down by someone. The second attempt lasted about two years before the severe mountaintop weather tore it to shreds. The location being about 35 12 22 N and 106 26 58 W had plenty to do with it. The vertical Sandia Mountain Crest, is it's back door.

During the 1930's Great Depression in the USA, millions of CCC (civilian Conservation Corps) Boys and men were hired to build things all over the Nation to provide work. My wife's father was one of them. They built 46,000 bridges, 125,000 roads, 13,000 hiking trails, 300,000 erosion control dams, planted 2 billion trees, and built thousands of shelters. The Kiwanis Cabin was just one.

It was rebuilt out of 65 million year old natural limestone, pried (not cut) from the surrounding 300 ft (91.4m)layers with large bars. The style was Anasazi Rustic Aesthetic. It blended right into the mountain Crest. The glass windows set into the steel frames were all immediately and repeatedly broken out by various vandals, due to the irrationality of the self destructive human race, enhanced by it's remote un-monitored site.

'The Crest Rock House', as we call it, is about 1/2 mi South of the Sandia Crest Parking area near the antennas, and 1 mile North, of the upper tram terminal. It is easily visible from the city far below, using powerful optics. People are usually standing on the roof on weekends. Check the angular formation of Crest rock, South of the Antenna's. It was restored in 1993-95 to its present condition. The steel set windows were soon all broken out again. A few humans are the builders and innovators. Many sadly are the 'destroyers', Parasites of humanity.

After a late lunch, a sliced turkey sandwich, Nacho chips and bottled water near the Kiwanis Cabin with it's fantastic view overlooking the valley, one mile (1.6 km) below, it was time to pack up even more human litter, 'trail trash' for the hike back. The main trees on the harsh weathered Crest, are the Gambel Oak, Pinion Pine, and Limber Pine growing out of the rocks, along with the always hardy Mountain Aspen. The Aspen are starting to turn yellow and the Oak will soon follow with their red leaves. A small chipmunk, one startled deer, along with the many regal Ravens soaring up and down the shear vertical walls catching the rising wind, were my wildlife for the day.

The new $42 leather Sonoma Hiking Shoes from Kohl's, though a little heavier than the great selection at Target and Walmart, were excellent. Rock scrambling is easier now. They support my ankles instead of allowing the quick side twists that can disable a hiker far from help. I don't really desire sleeping on the mountain with the mountain lions and bears. I don't feel the sharp rocks through these tough soles. The old 'cross trainers' are ok for flat surfaces, Not mountain hiking.

Back at the Jeep by 3:00pm and start the 3/4 hr drive home. I will call 'The Man' this evening and get the real facts which are posted below:

My old 35mm Olympus with a 200mm telephoto/macro lens (out of respect and for the future interests of others, take only pictures and memories when you leave) will accompany the hike to the Canberra RB-57's nighttime 'terrain encounter' at 10,433 feet altitude, 35 12 32.5 N 106 26 40.3 W. This site is a white oval patch, on 'Google Earth' due to the image made in winter.

You will notice the long wide straight line running from South to North for many miles along the mountain at 10,000 feet (3,048m) altitude. (Site of the 10K Trails) That is the old clear cut for a highway proposed by the Forest Service during the 1970's. I blogged that hike a couple of weeks ago while looking for mid-cretaceous fossil images in a limestone outcropping I came upon 37 years ago. see;

The Forest Service hwy project was stopped by public opinion, originating at the University of NM, way back then. The cut will be visible for many hundreds of years, possibly 1,000's. It takes easily many hundreds of years for anything to resemble trees on any traumatized surface at this altitude.

That is one reason why open meadow hiking is discouraged by signs and barriers. The other reason is to allow wildlife (bears and deer) to forage for their food, without interference from hikers. Fire restrictions are often in place, closing the Forest trails. Check to be assured before heading to this great hiking area.

27 Sep 2007 I drove back up to the starting point to search for the site. This time I parked the Jeep at the 'Ellis Trail Head' parking area, which has a nice restroom facility. I walked toward the co-ordinates along the highway until I came upon a barely visible old 'cat' track, bladed years ago. Following it upward to an elongated clearing that looked promising, I settled in to more detailed exploration.

This is the clearing visible on Google Earth, but the CO-ORD's do not match my old Magellan. Most likely due to mountain anomalies. The pattern is consistent with a football field shaped, long up-slope impact area. I walked around the elongated site looking for any shards of mil spec material. One hiker told me that the intense retrieval endeavor swept the area very thoroughly. At the time, this plane and it's observation equipment was considered top security.

RB-57's, intensely modified by General Dynamics, Canberra's were also used during the cold war to spy on Russia and any other countries or situations considered a threat. Wife and her friends dated the pilots when young and single. TDY missions brought them back with Alaskan King Crab which was shared by the little gatherings around their apt complex pool.

King Crab are harvested from the Aleutian Chain. Russia shares, and is at the western end of the Aleutians (Ice Age migratory Land bridge), so it makes sense to return with Alaskan King Crab.. The Westernmost Islands including Wrangle may now be turned over to Russia... if the Obama administration allows it. After note: Sarah Palin was absolutely correct. From Alaska (her home) you Can see Russia.. Of course the Obsessed Liberal media predictably misquoted her (what's new) as saying from 'her house'.

After cris crossing the entire debris field a few times with no visible remnants to photograph, I continued the climb upward through the trees. Say now, these trails do not go directly to the site, surprise, surprise! Aha 'Buried Cable' trail (well maintained 4x4" post markers) looks interesting. I guess this one will work, nope, wrong direction. 'Switchback Trail' is surely the one. Nope again, wrong direction, guess that is why they named it 'Switchback'. Now I will head in the direction that looks correct on the GPS, Whoops, the trail now is going back down in altitude.

Finally I am on a trail that looks promising, 271 trail, now that sounds important. But wait, it meets 272 Trail along 130 Trail. A Hairy Woodpecker with it's long narrow beak (larvae removal tool) is knocking on the 5/32 in (4mm) hole in a dead tree to see if a Pine Beetle Larva is at home. Two young squirrels are scampering and playing along the low lying logs. Ahaa, 'Gravel Pit Trail', what a big old excavation, interesting but looped right back to TR130.

Met a volunteer Ranger. John was interested in the co-ord's of the site. He did point out the small vertical trail that 2 climbers used to return from the old early 1960's TWA, twin engine Martin 404,

Crash site. Pilot error, cloud flying on wrong side of Santa Fe beacon, took them directly into the vertical face of the mountain. The pilot apparently realized the predicament and tried to turn out of the box canyon.

John met the son of the TWA co-pilot one day on the trail, while climbing to visit the old wreck. Also John described a WWII B-25 bomber

that is located several miles south of that impact. Eleven 'known' total sites exist, at varying degrees of hiking difficulty, on this one 'relatively' small mountain. I could be busy for a long time.

John also had no idea where RB-57 was. One problem is the big trees in the forest, that keep the GPS from updating the numbers fast enough to keep up with my track. By the time it works out the co's, I'm farther along than I need to be. This process involves a lot of reversing direction. TR 130 is a common trail along the Crest. It also is diverted somewhat recently, to allow the animals to feed and travel without humans upsetting them. I'll go along with that. I tend to be the same way.

I kept running into the log rail fence around the 'Kiwanis Meadow' that is meant to keep hikers away from where the birds, deer, mountain lions and bears eat. Now that sounds like a good idea, I don't want to get eaten by a bear, but the headings are all leading me across that fence. I climbed over it and looked around a little, felt guilty and returned to the trail maze. OK now I am definitely headed in the right direction but the altitude is wrong and I am going higher, now whats up?

These trails are going to be hip deep in snow about December. The X Country skiers love them. It is possible to run the entire mountain's east slope, a 3000 ft (914 m) drop in altitude, down to 'Doc Long' picnic area on one trail system. That is only one of many. This mountain trail system is impossible to cover in one season. Some dedicated hikers are still trying to see the entire mountain after many years.

Back down in altitude a hundred feet and there is that dammed fence again. I have met more people in this particular area, looking for the trail back to the upper tram terminal (TR 130) South Crest Trail, than ever before. Must be a special day. Sat, 29 Sep 2007 is free parking day. I will stay away while the rest of the folks enjoy the mountain.

It is popular to ride the tram up, hike around a little, get lost, panic a little, then find their way back. It sounds almost like looking for old "Aircraft Terrain Conflicts". Five hours of wandering each trail around this mystery site is enough on this day. Guess I'll be back in the next week or so.

I had a broken buckle on the Eddie Baur, 'American Recreation Products' hydration pack, (an oversized fanny pack with 2 water bottles) which I mainly use to carry my 35mm camera with 200mm telephoto lens. A phone call to a very helpful woman at ARP, Mary, and A quick response in the mail, and I am back in business with 2 new buckles, all at no charge. 'Wenzel Company', New Haven Mo. is great to deal with. They handle the line of Eddie Baur that appears in 'Target' as well as other outlets.

The greatest little map and guide book for this mountain is 'Sandia Mountain Hiking Guide' by Mike Coltrin published by University of New Mexico Press. It is unequivocally the very best little packable reference guide I have found, The interesting sites are just as Mike describes them. In the back pages, the Co-ord's are listed for hundreds of way points. Mikes website also links to a great user guide for GPS basics. You are a true positive 'Guiding Light' in our society. Thank You Mike Coltrin.

I recently had someone ask why I do this 'wreck hunting'. My answer is "why would someone walk or jog on a treadmill for exercise, when the real world is so plentiful and interesting"?

'APPALOOSA' the Movie

Elizabeth Gabel's, Far Horizon casting agency just called. She has gotten me a 'featured' part as an 'Old Retired Sea Captain' Carpenter, building the main characters house. I'll be working with Ed Harris, what an Honor!

Viggo Mortensen,

and Renee Zellweger

'APPALOOSA', filming near Santa Fe. I will do Wardrobe tomorrow in Santa Fe. This is Great news, I love Western films, especially 1800's. They are like a full box of fine wine to a 'homeless alcoholic' with his bedroll tucked safely up under a highway overpass for a nice nights sleep.

The production will be shot in and around Santa Fe from October 1 through November 24 and expects to hire approximately 90 New Mexico crew members and 500 local background actors.

Ed Harris will produce, star and direct. Other principal cast includes Viggo Mortensen and Renee Zellweger. Alongside Harris; 'Producer, Director and Star', will be producers Robert Knott, Michael London and Ginger Sledge.

Appaloosa is based on Robert B. Parker’s novel, an 1800’s Western that tells the story of two lawmen (Harris and Mortensen) who are hired to bring order to 'Appaloosa', a dusty town suffering at the hands of a renegade rancher (A Hollywood portrayed, Dammed Conservative Republican most likely). But the arrival of an attractive, beguiling widow disrupts their plans. (Renee Zellweger)

This should be a great flik, also I have liked Viggo ever since 'Hidalgo'. What a fun career. What a great Country, The United States of America, One Nation Under GOD! 'Our Earth' 'Warm Earth' 'Cool Earth''Casting calls', click on 'In Production' and 'bulletin board' or 'for locals'.



Blogger Unknown said...

Wow. Interesting blog. I came here for more information about the RB-57 after a Google search for Sandia plane crashes. Wow, interesting blog. Considering the title on the page is "Sandia Mountain, RB-57 crash site" and only about 10% or less is about the crash all I can say is WOW, interesting blog. Do you have any more information about that or any other crashes on Sandia? I am already fairly versed on the TWA/Martin 404 crash of 1955, though you seem to state is was in the 1960's? And as there are some fairly reliable points made that dispute pilot error I guess I would not include that as the cause of the crash, but that is me.

7:14 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Do you have any further information about this or any other crash sites, other than the TWA, in the Sandias?

7:16 PM  
Blogger Sal said...

The WB-57F that ws lost in your story was not tail number 292. That aircraft was lost later on in about 1973 south of the base at very high attitude. I know this because I was the crew chief of the aircraft and unfortunately I also saw it go down.

6:29 PM  
Blogger Sal said...

The aircraft in your story was not aircraft 292. That one went down years later south of the base and over the mountains around 1973.
I know this because I launched the aircraft and unfortunately I also saw it go down.

6:31 PM  
Blogger stefan martin said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:48 AM  
Blogger stefan martin said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:03 PM  
Blogger Ric Min said...

Unless you had permission to be on Indian land there is no singular crash site or that aircraft. I know where the other engine is at and other parts of that plane was found recently

4:57 PM  
Blogger Blogengeezer said...

Ric. National Forest land is where the long scar was left by the RB just below the eastern crest face. A member of the mil team that was ordered to 'police' the area of all debris, told of 'shoulder to shoulder' scouring for every trace of the, at the time, security sensitive aircraft, debris. The 'cat road' access is still visible off the crest highway.

8:57 PM  
Blogger VanHelsing said...

Was this the one in about 1967? If so, my Dad worked the crash site.

6:22 PM  
Blogger stefan martin said...

i believe this occurred on 11/7/1966 based on my research. i've been to the site and i found some debris that i think was from the crash. i can take you to the site sometime if you want! if you want you can contact me at


6:51 PM  

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