Saturday, May 7, 2011

Hike to Carole Lombard's TWA Airplane Crash Site - 5/3/11

On Tuesday, several of our club members hiked up Mt. Potosi to visit the crash site that killed Carole Lombard and 21 others. As the story goes, the flight was scheduled to take off from Boulder City, Nevada but was moved to Nellis AFB. The navigator neglected to change the flight plan and the original flight plan took the airplane straight into Mt. Potosi. Clark Gable took up residence at a bar in Goodsprings, Nevada while the plane crash was investigated and the bodies were recovered.

Wikipedia gives us this about her death:

When the US entered World War II at the end of 1941, Lombard traveled to her home state of Indiana for a war bond rally with her mother, Bess Peters, and Clark Gable's press agent Otto Winkler. After raising over $2 million in defense bonds, Lombard addressed her fans, saying: "Before I say goodbye to you all, come on and join me in a big cheer! V for Victory!" On January 16, 1942, Lombard, her mother, and Winkler boarded a Transcontinental and Western Airlines DC-3 airplane to return to California. After refueling in Las Vegas, TWA Flight 3 took off and 23 minutes later, crashed into "Double Up Peak" near the 8,300 ft (2,500 m) level of Mount Potosi, 32 statute miles (51 km) southwest of Las Vegas. All 22 aboard, including 15 army servicemen, were killed instantly.

Shortly after her death at the age of 33, Gable (who was inconsolable and devastated by her loss) joined the United States Army Air Forces. After officers training, Gable headed a six-man motion picture unit attached to a B-17 bomb group in England to film aerial gunners in combat, flying five missions himself. Gable attended the launch of the Liberty ship SS Carole Lombard, named in her honor, on January 15, 1944.

On January 18, 1942, Jack Benny did not perform his usual program, both out of respect for Lombard and grief at her death. Instead, he devoted his program to an all-music format.

Lombard's final film, To Be or Not to Be (1942), directed by Ernst Lubitsch and co-starring Jack Benny, a satire about Nazism and World War II, was in post-production at the time of her death. The film's producers decided to cut the part of the film in which her character asks, "What can happen on a plane?" as they felt it was in poor taste, given the circumstances of Lombard's death.

At the time of her death, Lombard had been scheduled to star in the film They All Kissed the Bride; when production started, her role was given to Joan Crawford. Crawford donated all of her pay for this film to the Red Cross.

Lombard is interred at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California. The name on her crypt marker is "Carole Lombard Gable". Although Gable remarried, he was interred next to her when he died in 1960. Bess Peters was also interred beside her daughter .

The hike was reported to be a bear. Very steep terrain with constant brush encounters. The approach road was also in very bad condition with large boulders blocking the road and deep trenches to drive through.

Jerry Thomas offers these clear photos seen in this entry and describes the crash site as being scattered all over the mountainside with even the tiniest of parts still laying among the brush from the beginning of the hike to the top. The largest part that is still in basically one piece is one of the jet engines found near the actual site of impact as seen in Jerry's photo to the left.

UPDATE (2/7/14) - We have recently learned that the engine actually belongs to a different smaller plane that crashed near the same spot in 1944. When we get more information on this crash, look for a new blog entry detailing this crash.

This little fella was found near the cars on the hikers' return later that day. Mike O'C. related the tale to the writer.

I figured I'd abandoned all my snake confrontations once I'd left NTS. Hah!

A dozen of us hiked up to Mt. Potosi this week in search of the Carole Lombard TWA wreck of 1942. We found the plane scattered all over the mountain, but no sign of Carole or anyone else. Incredibly steep terrain.

Six hours after starting, I got back to the trailhead and was approaching the car. Damn near stepped on SeƱor Rattler before he tactfully alerted me of his presence. I jumped and hollered at the same time. I thought it was an anaconda! Or a cobra! Scared the *%#@ out of me.

Of all the ones I've seen on the Test Site, I had never seen one this lightly colored. Almost blonde.

Something's always out to get ya, eh?"


Jeff said...

You reported finding one of the "..jet engines" at the crash site. The DC-3 was powered by reciprocating engines, not "jet" engines. Jet powered passenger aircraft didn't become practical until the 1950s.

Las Vegas Cockapoo said...

Thanks, Jeff. I know nothing about airplanes. K

Tori Cross said...

Great article! I want to hike this as well. Thanks for the information on what a bear it is and the FYI on the snake...darn snakes!
Enjoyed your post and the photos, too.
- Tori

Defenseman1 said...

Is it federal land that is legal to hike? Sounds like a fun workout to take a nostalgia hike. Thanks for sharing.

Las Vegas Cockapoo said...

The east side of Mt. Potosi where much of the indicated route is located is in the Red Rock Canyon NCA. Most of the remaining part of the mountain, including the actual crash site is in the National Forest. However, there is a large Boy Scout retreat and a few residences located on the west side that is private property. Avoid the Boy Scouts and it is likely that you have the whole mountain to yourself! (Corrections accepted.)

Rick Bell said...

The remains of the engine in the picture appears that of an Pratt & Whitney R-1820 Wasp "single" row radial. Early model DC-3's had such an engine. The later model DC-3 had an Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp R-1830 "double row" radial, producing 1200 h.p. The serial number of the accident aircraft could be easily determined and the engine in the picture could then be identified as to whether or not it is indeed from the accident aircraft that was carrying Mrs. Lombard-Gable at the time. Rick

Mike McComb said...

The engines on TWA Flight 3's DC-3 were Wright Cyclone G-202s. Not Pratt and Whitney.