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The B-52 Crash on Elephant Mountain
Durward J. Ferland, Jr.
Nine members of the United States Air Force left Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts at 12:11 p.m. on Thursday January 24, 1963. The mission of this flight was routine: practicing low level navigation to avoid the newest Soviet radar technology and return to Westover at 5:30 p.m.
Their B-52 Stratofortress-C, an $8 million aircraft, was unarmed for this training run, but was capable of carrying 2 nuclear weapons and 12 short range attack missiles. The wingspan of these planes is 185 feet and measures 160 from nose to tail. The 8 jet engines can propel this aircraft at speeds of up to 650 mph at altitudes above 50,000 feet.
The crewmen were flying at an airspeed of only 280 knots at an altitude only 500 feet above the terrain. Outside it was 14 degrees below zero with winds gusting to 40 knots. About 5 feet of snow lay on the ground. When the plane began to encounter turbulence the crew commander, Westover's Most Senior Standardization Instructor Pilot, attempted to fly above it, Just after it started to climb, a loud noise was heard, sounding like an explosion. The plane went into a 40 degree right turn and was pointing nose down. The pilot, Lt. Col. Dante E. Bulli, attempted to level the plane, but when he could not, he ordered ejection. The navigator, Capt. Gerald J. Adler, ejected first, followed by Bulli and the copilot, Maj. Robert J. Morrison. Time did not allow the others to escape before crashing into the side of Elephant Mountain at 2:52 p.m, They were: Lt. Col. Joe R. Simpson, Jr, Maj. William W. Gabriel, Maj. Robert J, Hill, Capt. Herbert L. Hansen, Capt, Charles G. Leuchter, and T-Sgt. Michael F. O'Keffe. Morrison was killed when he hit a tree while parachuting to the ground a mile away.
Bulli broke his ankle when he landed in a tree 30 feet above the ground. He survived the night, with temperatures reaching 28 degrees below zero, by tucking the sleeping bag from his survival kit into the snow. Adler struck the snow covered ground about 2,000 feet from the wreckage at a force estimated at 16 times the force of gravity. His skull was fractured and three ribs were broken. The impact bent his ejection seat enough that he could not get his survival kit out. He survived the night by wrapping himself up in his parachute, which did not deploy upon ejection, but both feet were frost bit.
Scott Paper Company dispatched plows from Greenville to clear the road near the crash. They plowed snow drifts of up to 15 feet out of the 10 mile road getting the rescuers within l.S miles of the site. They had to snowshoe or snowmobile the rest of the way. Eighty rescuers from the Maine Inland Fish and Game Department, the Maine State Police, the Civil Air Patrol, Air Force Units from Dow Air Force Base in Bangor, Maine, along with others from New Hampshire and Massachusetts, and other volunteers quickly went to work. Bulli and Adler were rescued the next day. Bulli spent three months in the hospital then returned to active duty. Adler later became unconscious for five days with double pneumonia was hospitalized for most of the next year. His leg had to be amputated during this time from the frostbite and gangrene that had set in.
The crash was caused by a structural problem. The vertical stabilizer came off the plane, falling to the ground 1.5 miles from where the plane impacted the mountain side.
On the 30th Anniversary of the crash, a special commemorative service was sponsored by the Moosehead Riders Snowmobile Club. Adler returned to Greenville for the event and went to the crash site for the first time since being evacuated out by a helicopter thirty years earlier. He was honored at several ceremonies. Bulli was unable to attend the event.
A salvaged engine and Adler's ejection seat can be viewed at the Moosehead Rider's Clubhouse. Gravel roads now pass by the crash site, making it a short 400 yard hike to view the wreckage. The remains of this B-52 still are still on the side of Elephant Mountain just outside of Greenville.