Wreckage Of Lockheed Neptune Found In January
Aircraft which have gone missing and never been found hold a
special fascination, whether they involve celebrities like Amelia
Earhart, or anonymous everyday people. To some, the topic seems a
touch morbid... but retired high school teacher Pat Macha has
turned his fascination with old airplane wrecks into a significant
hobby, and has authored three books on the topic.
The San Diego Union-Tribune reports wildfires which blackened
the Santa Ana Mountains above Orange County in California last
October also exposed jagged hunks of steel, sticking out of the
ground in spots where they'd apparently been hidden by vegetation
for years. A US Forest Service worker stumbled across the debris
during a January hike, and recognized them as pieces from an
aircraft -- but neither the agency nor curious pilots overflying
the area could identify the debris.
Forest Service spokesman Tom Lavignino says burns in several
states have led to the discovery of aircraft wrecks... as well as
junked cars, human bones and toxic waste dumps. "It's ground
rediscovered," he said. "After a major burn, it's a lot easier to
navigate in these remote areas without getting jabbed in the face
or the arm by a bush. So you'll find things."
It was Cleveland National Forest trails manager Debra Clarke who
thought to contact Pat Macha. After discovering a downed Air Force
transport plane on a YMCA hike in the San Bernardino Mountains as a
youth, he's spent decades studying plane crash sites from the peaks
of the Sierra Nevada to the depths of the Pacific Ocean.
Macha quickly figured out the debris found in January was that
of a Lockheed SP2E Neptune. The crew of the submarine hunter was
doing night training in 1969 when it impacted three rocky ridges,
finally exploding into flames and raining metal across a
quarter-mile of backcountry. The Navy recovered seven bodies,
unexploded bombs and all the big pieces. The rest was left
Macha told the paper the men who died that night were not
rookies, but they were probably unfamiliar with the terrain.
"...They were coming out of a Navy squadron in Minnesota, where
there are very few mountains," he said. "They should have been
managed by air controllers who should not have let them get this
It turns out Macha actually visited the crash site back in 1969.
He says the son of the plane's co-pilot wrote to him in the 1980s,
and Macha was able to send him a copy of a photo of the only flight
manual that survived intact, with the co-pilot's name on the
Macha returned to the site in February for the first time in 39
years, to confirm the debris found after last year's burn was,
indeed, from the SP2E that went down in '69. Hands shaking from the
cold, he unzipped his pack and removed a thin American flag. He
says he always flies it, out of respect.
The hillside will be off limits to the public for two years
while the vegetation returns. When hikers are allowed back in, the
Forest Service says they should not take home souvenirs, but leave
the debris right where it is. Macha agrees.
"Car wrecks get cleaned up and forgotten about the next day.
These things are here forever," he said. "And they should be."