In 1990 Kathy Wiegle was leading a group of horses and their riders along the Browns Lake Trail in Comanche Peaks Wilderness in Colorado when something caught her eye. Curious, Kathy approached the glinting piece of metal. She expected to find an aluminum pop can or piece of trash, but this appeared to be something much larger. On closer inspection, she found it to be a large, curved piece of aluminum with markings on the side. As she gazed around the woods, she noticed a few other pieces of metal lying around, and made a mental note of the location of this unusual find.
A year later Kathy called two of her friends, Bill Lundquist and John Herbst, and asked if they would like to help her look for, what she suspected, was a crashed airplane. Never ones to turn down a hike, John and Bill said yes.
It was July and the three hikers enjoyed the warm air of summer. As they ventured forth, each one felt the thrill and excitement of a treasure hunt burn in their blood. They hiked through dense pine forests that adorned the craggy mountains just west of Fort Collins and soon found themselves on the tundra, awed by breathtaking views of the Never Summer Range to the west. Over the tundra and down into the forest again, they were soon scouting the woods for a glint of metal. Kathy’s memory served her well. It was not long before she, John and Bill, found themselves standing amidst a small scattering of debris. The threesome split up and started bushwhacking through the deadfall and dense growth of the forest floor, searching like bloodhounds zooming in on the treasure.
The reward came when they moved into a clearing and found a concentrated area of debris. As they searched among the various parts there was little doubt they had found the remains of a WWII bomber. They found the wings and cockpit of the plane, also an engine and many other parts they could not identify. After scouting excitedly through this debris for most of the afternoon, the group decided it would be fun to take pictures of certain items and present a slide show for the Colorado Mountain Club, of which they were all members.
Later that same year Kathy, Bill and John presented a program to their local Colorado Mountain Club chapter in Greeley. The meeting was open to the public. In the audience was Bill Lambdon, owner of the Senior Voice newspaper in Windsor. Bill Lambdon interviewed John for an article being printed in his newspaper.
The article was read by a local historian named Duke Sumonia. Duke lived in Glen Haven and was interested in seeing the presentation. Kathy, Bill, and John obliged. Duke expressed interest in further pursuing the history of this plane crash. Around the same time, Bill talked to his father about the plane crash and learned that a gentleman named Len Wallace was writing a book about all of the military plane crashes in Colorado.
With the help of Duke Sumonia and Len Wallace, the date of the plane crash and the names of the crew were uncovered. The story made front-page news in The Coloradoan, a newspaper published in Fort Collins. Bill, Kathy, and John found themselves presenting slide shows all over the state to raise money for a dedication ceremony, and also to put a memorial stone near the crash site. By now four out of six of the survivors had been found. Three of these survivors and several family members of the crew that had died in the crash showed up for the playing of “Taps” and a 21-gun salute in the crew’s honor. There were also five newspapers, four television stations and even some Air Force personnel. Bugles echoed through the mountains that day, and there was not a dry eye to be found.
The survivors who attended the dedication ceremony admitted it helped them find peace of mind. All of the survivors had spent a lifetime wondering what had happened to the other crew members since the rescue, as each had been transported to different hospitals, and never gained contact again. They had also carried unfounded feelings of guilt for fifty years and had struggled to forget the incident. After the ceremony the survivors finally found closure.
For Kathy, Bill and John, a simple walk in the woods turned into years of research, fundraising, presentations, meetings, and reunions. A simple walk in the woods uncovered the history of the only WWII plane crash in Colorado that crew members had survived.
~ Roxy Whalley ~
Originally written for my column Tales From The Trail, published in the Estes Park New in 2005. The author acknowledges that this is only one part of the whole story, and it only reflects the part of the story that Bill Lundquist and John Herbst were able to share. There are many more aspects to this story, and many more people involved, but the author only interviewed the people named above. If you wish to add to this true story, please feel free to leave a comment, or add links in the comment section (I will then add them to the article at a later date). Thank you for helping to share this story and yours.
Roxy ~ A Nomad for Nature
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