The B-23 "Dragon Bomber"
Crash Site and Wreck
From the Payette National Forest
Thanks to Dustyn Putzier for the pictures
On January 29, 1943, the B-23 "Dragon Bomber" went down at Loon Lake (elevation 5,280') with eight men aboard. The plane was returning to McChord Field in Tacoma, Washington from a training mission in Nevada when it flew into a heavy snow storm near Pendleton, Oregon. Unable to maintain altitude, the pilot decided to attempt a landing in Boise. The approach was hampered by heavy icing and a failed radio. An order to prepare to parachute was given at 13,000'. Just then a hole developed in the cloud cover. A frozen lake was spotted and a landing was attempted.
Frozen flaps caused the first approach to be abandoned. In a successful second approach, the plane touched down on the frozen lake, sliding across the ice and through the trees. With both wings sheared off, the plane came to rest 150 feet from the shore of Loon Lake in the timber.
All eight men survived. A broken kneecap was the only injury.
After waiting five days for rescue, the crew selected three men to go for help. On February 3rd, the three left Loon Lake with a shotgun and chocolate rations. They followed the Secesh River downstream. Then, hiking over Lick Creek Summit, elevation 6,700', they reached the Lake Fork Guard Station. Once inside, an exhausted crew member picked up the telephone and spoke to the operator in McCall. The three men had hiked for fourteen days and approximately 42 miles through waist deep snow.
On February 18th, the wreckage was spotted by bush pilot, Penn Stohr, of Cascade, Idaho. He returned and notified authorities. Stohr made two more flights, landing on the frozen lake to fly the crew out. After some 21 days in the harsh winter climate of Idaho's primitive area, all eight men were rescued.
The B-23, "Dragon Bomber", a 1939 twin engine aircraft, was developed from the Douglas B-18 and the DC-3. It was the first United States airplane equipped with tail gunners. Only 28 B-23's were manufactured. Most were assigned to the 34th Bomb Squadron at McChord Field in Washington state. By the time of the bombing on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, more advanced aircraft such as the B-17 and B-24 made the B-23 obsolete. It never saw combat use. B-23's were used instead for training purposes.
Directions to Loon Lake and the Dragon Bomber Wreckage. The hike is approximately 10 miles round-trip.
From Chinook Campground take trail #080. Trail #080 follows the Secesh River south towards Loon Creek. Just above Loon Creek take trail #084 west. Trail #084 becomes rocky and steep with many switch-backs, rising 800 feet in elevation in 1.3 miles. Trail #084 intersects with trail #081. Continue south along #081 to the junction of trail #-84. Head west again on #084. This trail runs 1.75 miles south along the west side of Loon Lake. Where the trail meets Loon Creek, leave the trail to follow the creek north to Loon Lake.
The wreckage is on the south side of Loon Lake, approximately 150 feet into the trees.
You can return the way you came or you may follow trail #081 back north to Chinook Campground. The Secesh River may be high during late spring or early summer. Use caution when crossing the River.
Written by Ned Pence August 11, 2014, Retired District Ranger, Payette National Forest.
Great addition to the original story...
The B23 crash at Loon Lake is a fascinating story. When I was District Ranger at Krassel, I talked to John Wick who was the first District Ranger at Krassel after the former station at Poverty Flat had been moved to Krassel and the DFR house had been constructed by the CCC. He told me the story of how the Forest Service was involved. The search had first been centered in Oregon because that was the last reported position of the B23. The folks at the Willey Ranch reported that they had heard a plane fly over. The bush pilot had delivered mail to the mining camp at Warren and thought about where he would land if he was in trouble and decided to check out Loon Lake. He saw the SOS they had stomped in the snow and landed. When they found out that three men had walked down the Secesh River a snow shoe search was started by the Rangers. One of the men had read a story about the Salmon River and knew that it was called the "River of no Return". When they got to the Lick Creek Road there was a sign that pointed to South Fork of the Salmon River and McCall. They decided the River of no Return would not be where they should go and that McCall was where they should go. A hike to the Willey Ranch, Krassel, or Yellow Pine would have been much easier. Ground line telephones were available at all three locations. Their hike over Lick Creel in what would have been close to ten feet of snow is hard to believe. Wick said that the Rangers felt they must be looking for bodies when they found them at the Lake Fork Guard Station. He said that one man had not made it to the Station and they found him in very bad shape huddled under a Ponderosa Pine.
The bush pilot said he would fly men out but would not risk his life to fly airplane parts out. The army demanded that the machine guns, bomb sight and early radar must be retrieved immediately. That task fell to the Forest Service Rangers and a mechanic furnished by the army. Wick said that they set up camp at the crash site and proceeded to retrieve parts the army wanted. He said it was so cold that eggs froze by the stove in their tent. Parts were retrieved to McCall by dog teams and toboggans where the army got them.
And even more...
The Real Story of the Loon Lake Bomber by Richard H. Holm Jr.
If your pictures are better than mine on other pages, please feel free to send them to me for inclusion on our web page. Make sure you give me your name so I can give you credit for your contribution. Photos on this page are from Dustyn Putzier taken August 2011. With so much to do in the area, I'm sure I've left something out. If you don't see your favorite activity listed or your favorite place to visit, please let me know. Send your ideas, pictures and comments to Becky@secesh.net.