B-18 Crash Site- Mount Waternomee
Walker Brook Road/Herd Path
4.6 Miles 1380' Elevation gain
Kevin, Judy, Emma and Bob
Judy, Emma and I had tried to make this hike a couple of years ago on Veteran's Day but were turned around in sleet and icy conditions. Today the weather would be a bit more cooperative setting a high-temp record at the summit of Mount Washington at 46*. Here on the north side of Mount Waternomee far to the southwest of Mount Washington and a few thousand feet lower the temperature rose into the high 50's. Well into the hike I stripped off a wet shirt and continued bare-back. Outside of a little mud and lots of leaves there were no difficult trail conditions. It was a good day to be in the woods.
This time Bob, a friend we had worked with for years, was along with us. As we walked the easy first mile along Walker Brook Road I told him why I was interested in visiting this site. On May 18th 1944 my father left Westover Airfield in Chicopee, Ma. on a training mission in a B-24. He was a 2nd Lt. and the navigator on board. During the training flight his plane was involved in a mid-air collision over Uxbridge, Ma. His life was saved by a parachute that day as was one other crew-mate. The rest of the crew was not so fortunate. 5 of the 7 on board his plane died without ever seeing a minute of combat. There is more complete information on that crash, and my father's ordeal HERE:
But this is not a story about my father. This is a similar story about a crew who also flew out of Westover. Excepts from "The Night the Bomber Crashed, The story of North Woodstock's Famous WWII Bomber Crash" by Floyd W. Ramsey, Author of "Shrouded Memories" and published by Bondcliff Books, are in quotation marks: On patrol on Wednesday January 14, 1942 their assignment was searching out German submarines along the east coast as far north as Newfoundland. "German submarines were known to frequent the shipping lanes with the intent of torpedoing Allied convoys carrying badly needed war materials to the British Isles and Russia."
"It was on the return flight that the aircraft first encountered the blinding snow squalls and drastic wind changes just off the New Jersey coast that were to throw it so far off course. Part of the dilemma was also caused by the navigator's inability to compute the drift factor. Added to this was the fact that the officers aboard the plane were a "borrowed crew thrown together for this one particular assignment."
"1st Lt. Anthony Benvenuto of Brooklyn, NY was the pilot, 2nd Lt. Woodrow Kantner of Crawford, NJ, was co-pilot, and 2nd Lt. Fletcher Craig of Gridley, Ca. was the navigator. Backing them as "fill-ins," PFC Robert Picard of Springfield, Ma. was a machine-gunner, Pvt. Richard Chubb of North Billerica, Ma. was the aircraft mechanic, Pvt. Raymond Lawrence of Worcester, Ma. was another gunner, and Pvt. Noah Phillips of Fayetteville, Arkansas, was bombardier."
"Though the plane was completely enveloped by snow squalls, Lt. Benvenuto continued to maintain a surveillance altitude of 4,000 feet. It was his belief that they were still over the Atlantic Ocean. With each passing minute, however, Lt. Craig grew more and more uncertain as to just where they were. When a momentary break in the clouds revealed the lights of a city below them, all three men believed they were passing over Providence, Rhode Island. Acting on that assumption, navigator Craig handed Benvenuto the coordinates that would bring them over Westover Field."
"Now flying a northwesterly course, the plane became harder to handle the controls. Before long, drenched with sweat and fighting fatigue, Lt. Kantner desperately began twisting the overhead radio dial in an attempt to establish a fix on their location. Not knowing how far off course they were, he was dialing the wrong frequency." "With the ice buildup growing worse, airspeed dropped to 160 mph. Only the carburator heat control kept the two 1,000 hp engines running. In an attempt to lessen the icing problem, Lt. Benvenuto dropped the plane to 3800 feet. By doing so, he put them on a collision course with the mountains that lay directly ahead." "As it turned out, the city they had seen earlier was not Providence, Rhode Island. It was Concord, NH!"
"Shearing off treetops, the 27,000 lb airplane pancaked its way through deep snow. As it smashed through a thick growth of trees, one wing was ripped off by a yellow birch, part of the other wing also disappeared. Traveling over a distance of 70 yds, the body of the aircraft split open before it finally ground to a stop and settled in the snow. With the wind howling furiously over and through the wreckage, high-octane fuel began dripping on the one remaining engine. Minutes later a fire erupted, and it rapidly worked its way through the fuselage. Seemingly possessed of a deadly intent, it headed straight toward the 300 lb bombs!"
Witnesses in the valley were aware of three loud explosions which, "As a matter of record, the shock waves from the blast were so powerful that they were actually felt 22 miles to the south in the small college town of Plymouth." The rest of the story is of the heroic effort of the good people of Lincoln and North Woodstock who put their lives on hold to go to the aid of these, their fallen, unknown protectors. There are names far too many to print here of the heroes who ventured forth in the dark and falling snow on a cold January night to bushwhack to a cold and desolate mountainside to help in what ever way they could. Indeed, it is a recurring theme in the mountains, and in America, of people pulling together to help one another at need!
This is what they found: "As McInnis' group progressed up the mountain, each of the men took turns breaking trail. During the ascent blowdown caused by the 1938 hurricane proved to be a chronic problem. At one point a member of the party found himself chest deep in the snow when he dropped between two fallen trees. With the ascent growing steeper, and the snow depth increasing, exhaustion began to affect the older men. Rest stops became more frequent. Going into the third mile, the group began shouting "Hello! Hello!" hoping for a return response. Periodically they stopped and listened for any replies that might be heard over the roaring mountain winds."
"Finally, a mile from the crash site, their efforts unexpectedly produced a distant shout. The plaintive cry of "Help! Help!" drifted down to them." "Due to the wind-whipped snow, however, their flashlights and oil lanterns lacked distance. Then, like ghostly apparitions, three airmen in blood stained flying gear staggered into sight. As they stumbled nearer, one behind the other, it was evident they were in deep shock. The lead airman, Lt. Fletcher Craig, the navigator, appeared to be the least seriously injured. He had only facial lacerations and bruises, while the co-pilot, Lt. Woodrow Kantner, not only had similar cuts, but also a broken forearm and ankle. Private Richard Chubb, the mechanic, had an ugly cut over his left eye, his front teeth were missing, and his jaw was badly fractured."
"As members of the rescue party examined Kantner, he told them, "From the crash site we could see lights down in the valley. We struck off toward them, hoping to get help for the rest of the crew. When I was walking away from the plane, it blew up and a large piece hit me in the shoulder blade. Maybe that's when my arm got broken." While some of the party attended to Chubb, Craig and Kantner, others continued onward and upward towards the crash site. Next, they came upon the pilot, Lt. Benvenuto. "Having crawled 200 yds from the wreckage, he was lying there with a broken back. Then, unexpectedly, over the eerie creaking sounds coming from the remains of the bomber, they heard another cry for help. Unbelievably, someone else was still alive at least 75 feet closer to the wreck."
"In a weakened voice Lt. Benvenuto warned the men, "Don't get too near the wreckage. There's still plenty of hot stuff that hasn't gone off yet." "Dovholuk made the decision to go to the injured man's assistance. Taking the flashlight, he carefully walked around splintered trees and smoldering metal. Arriving at the site where the young man was lying, Dovholuk could see that he was in deep pain and nearly frozen to death. Even worse, his left leg was wrapped around a small tree." "I'm PFC Robert Picard, a gunner. After I crawled out of the burning plane, I dragged myself as far as here when it exploded. I don't know why, but my head hurts worse than my leg."
"At 4am the rescuers were ready to leave the mountain. It would take them 6 hours to reach the ambulances waiting at the base. Due to the treacherous terrain, it was sometimes impossible to proceed at more than a quarter-of-a-mile an hour. The entire 5 mile descent was extremely painful for the men. Throughout the ordeal, Paul Dovholuk remained at Picard's side comforting him." "Late that afternoon, while working through the wreckage area which covered over 250 yds, the badly charred remains of the two missing airmen were found in a section of the bomber that had been blown away from the fuselage during the explosions."
Standing at the crash site surveying the incredibly well preserved wreckage, I try to imagine the scene 70 years gone by. It is like a nightmare to imagine being stranded on a dark mountainside, injured badly, and freezing cold. While all things point to imminent death, a spark of life inside refuses to give in against the odds. You can't understand how on earth you have just survived an airplane crash, but in a panic you know you must get away, crawl if you must, away from the leaking fuel and fire, and bombs which could end your life instantly! The only thought is getting down off the mountain, out of the cold, to help, and to guide others to the site to help your fallen comrades. It is hard to imagine these men ever recovering from the trauma the remembrance of this night would bring again and again to their waking dreams.
Not every heroic veteran was lost in combat, not every hero ever went overseas. Many have lost their lives or suffered great injury in training or in the defense of our own borders. Many heroic lives have been taken from us that never came under enemy fire. Many carry scars that are not visible. These are the lives of men and women who gave them freely so that their kin and fellow countrymen could live in peace and enjoy the freedom that was bought with their blood, sweat and tears. Take some time to remember our servicemen and veterans not just on Veteran's Day, but all the time, they have suffered for your benefit whether you care to acknowledge this or not.
Pvt. Ray Lawrence of Worcester, Ma. a gunner, and Pvt. Noah Phillips of Fayetteville Arkansas, the bombardier died in the crash. Though he survived this crash Pilot 1st Lt. Anthony Benvenuto did not survive the war. The B-24 he later piloted was shot down over Asia. If you visit the crash site, please treat it with the respect the hallowed ground it has become deserves, and remember the tragedy amid heroics that make this place a memorial to the unselfish sacrifice these men made while suffering in our service and for our protection on a cold January night 70 years gone by.