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Pueblo Mountains B-24D Crash

Harney County, OR

On the evening of January 9, 1945, a rancher in Eastern Oregon watched an Air Force bomber flying low over the Pueblo Mountains. The skies were clear and he followed the plane as it turned, 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 there was a flash followed by smoke.

The rancher woke his neighbor in the nearby town of Denio, and together the two saddled horses and rode out. However, the Pueblo Mountains can be unforgiving during winter. As I learned myself during an ill-advised early spring camping trip, an overnight storm can make travel nearly impossible. I imagined what it must have been like for them that night while I was on my own search for the plane. Total darkness, snow and hail, and unrelenting wind. The two ranchers were forced to wait out the storm until the next morning.

When they finally reached the bomber the next day, they found only bodies. All eleven men aboard the plane had been killed instantly when it crashed.

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 to this day. The Air Force’s investigation showed no sign of any mechanical failure, and none of the flight crew had strapped their harnesses into parachutes as they would have if there had been warning something was wrong.

The crash site is located in one of the most remote parts of Oregon, but it’s reachable for anyone willing to make the journey. It’s located just south of Steens Mountain, miles from the nearest paved road. A high-clearance 4WD vehicle is a must, and even then the last half mile or so can only be reached by foot. The bomber’s fuselage was removed by the Air Force and some parts have been stolen since then, but what remains of the wreckage has been left as a war memorial. The scattered debris and melted aluminum show the intensity of the crash. It’s a glimpse into a tragedy that will never have an answer.

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