Unfamiliar Land

Pueblo Mountains B-24D Crash

Harney County, OR

On January 9th, 1945, a rancher in Eastern Oregon watched a bomber fly low over the Pueblo Mountains. It was a clear evening, and he followed the plane as it made a series of turns, narrowly avoiding one of the peaks. The pilot wasn’t able to regain the altitude he lost in the maneuver. It dipped behind the mountains, and a few seconds later the rancher saw a flash followed by smoke.

The rancher, along with his neighbor in the nearby town of Denio, saddled two horses and rode into the mountains. In deep snow and darkness they weren’t able to reach the crash site until morning. When they did they found only bodies. All eleven men aboard the bomber had been killed instantly.

The flight was a Consolidated B-24D Liberator, serial number 42-40427, on a training flight from Boise, Idaho to Hamilton Field in California. What happened to cause the crash is still a mystery. The Air Force’s investigation into the crash showed no sign of any mechanical failure, and none of the crew members were wearing parachutes as they would have if they had known something was wrong.

Today, the crash site is still accessible for anyone willing to travel to the most remote parts of Oregon. It’s located just south of Steens Mountain on BLM land, miles from the nearest paved road. A high-clearance 4WD vehicle is a must, and even then the last half mile or so is only accessible by foot. What remains of the wreckage has been left as a war memorial. The scattered debris and melted aluminum shows the intensity of the crash, and hasn’t changed much in the past 75 or so years. It’s a fascinating glimpse into history.

# Posted on September 25, 2019 by Marc Charbonneau.