Chris Knight talked recently to some of the victims' family members and people who were involved in the search for the plane.
In mid-September, Adirondack Daily Enterprise outdoors writer Mike Lynch and I set out to hike one of the nearly two dozen landslides Tropical Storm Irene created in the backcountry of the High Peaks. We followed a new slide up Wright Peak before crossing over to an older slide on the mountain's southeast face, where we came across a piece of what looked like a plane's wing. Bent and twisted, with a couple wires underneath and a little bit of fabric underneath. It looks like it's been there for a while.
Fifty years to be exact.
Around 2 a.m. on Jan. 16, 1962, the crew of a U.S. Air Force B-47 jet bomber on a training mission radioed that they were over Watertown. The plane was due back at Plattsburgh Air Force Base at 7 a.m. It never made it.
Five days later, after an intense search, an Army pilot spotted part of a wing and opened parachutes on Wright Peak's rocky summit.
Jim Lord, who was the Lake Placid area forest ranger at the time, led a search team up the mountain the following morning. "The first thing we found that was any real sign of it was the snow was all saturated with JP4, jet fuel," Lord said. "And it took us quite a while before we actually found where they struck."
Later that afternoon, several sections of the downed B-47 were located, and the following day, searchers located the remains of the pilot, Rodney Bloomgren, and copilot, Melvin Spencer. "We finally spotted the parachutes," he said. "They had partially deployed. It wasn't like anybody survived with them, but they were still hooked to the bodies."
The discovery of those remains brought some closure to the victims families. Dudley Ericson is a cousin of Rodney Bloomgren, the plane's pilot. "It ended the anxiety and confirmed their worst fears," said Ericson, who would later be a pall bearer at his cousin's funeral. "At least it did bring closure to that particular thing."
When the snow began to melt in the spring, searchers found the remains of Albert Kandetzki, the B-47's navigator. The remains of the fourth crew member - Airman First Classs Kenneth Jensen - were never located.
An investigation determined the unarmed bomber had apparently veered about 30 miles east of its course due to inclement weather and high winds.
The Wright Peak story is perhaps the most well known of many plane crash accounts in the Adirondacks. That's largely because, for decades, hikers have been able to see, and plunder, pieces of the wreckage that are scattered about the mountain's summit.
Tony Goodwin, who was 12 years old in 1962, said Wright Peak was the first mountain he and his friends climbed when the family came to the Adirondacks that summer. "I remember proudly coming home with a piece of fuel line, or something like that, dangling off my pack. For a while there, it seemed like every kid's room in their summer cottage had a piece of the Wright Peak plane crash debris on display."
Family members of the four men who died in the crash have also visited the mountain frequently.
Doug Kandetzki and his family came to the Adirondacks the summer after the crash to plant a group of trees as a memorial to his brother Albert, and the three other men who died. He's also visited the crash site in 1970 and in 1990. "It does come up, but certainly not as frequently as it did years ago," Kandetzki said. "He's remembered by all of us, every day."
The Air Force eventually placed a bronze plaque near the summit. It says the four men died "on a mission preserving the peace of our nation."