Remote villages are always filled
with an odd mix of people, and Cold
Bay in Alaska in the early
1960's was no different. At the local tavern, an evening could
spent listening to the "old timers' tales." One that
I heard over and over was that at the end of World War II "they
hauled old airplanes out and buried them." I eventually
wandered around this area near Cold Bay Airfield and actually found a few pieces
of sheet metal
that definitely came from an old airplane. Maybe they (the
old timers) weren't crazy!
Years later I decided to research
these "tales" and found little supporting data, but
by this point I was so intrigued with the idea of "buried
treasure" that I spent the summer exploring the site. As
the days passed with continuous rain and wind blowing, I managed
to hand shovel mounds of dirt with little bits of WWII airplane
pieces materializing.. just enough to keep me interested!
It took quite awhile to get
the permission of the land owners, but once we did we went in
and started digging. The first years we worked every summer
and retrieved the most parts, the P-40 project just got us going.
Later, we recovered others aircraft, like the P-38E 41-2027
and 41-2006 also, the B-24D. There were about 13 aircraft that
were wrecked in Cold Bay's Fort Randall area.
As you can see from my pictures
we did an extraordinary amount of hand shoveling! This fellow
owned the lot. (We quickly learned that using heavy equipment
was destructive to any potential parts we might find.) With
long summer days, daylight until midnight, and a nice breeze
keeping those nasty bugs away, we shoveled and shoveled until
we no longer could pick up our shovels.
With the previous find of the
P-40, we were sure that more parts were in the dump, so we dug
the summer away. When the P-38E parts started appearing, the
gold fever started, and we relentlessly kept on digging and
digging. First was the tire, with the air still in it! Then
the gun nose (which took days to dig out). It had been de-milled
at the rudder pedals. Less than fifteen feet away we found pay
dirt: the center section! It was upside down and deep in the
ground and we were sure that the whole airplane must be attached!
But it wasn't, it was just the center section. One engine nacelle
was cut off, but it was a rare find.
41-2027 Lightning Crash
landed off the end of the east/west runway and into the bay
and was retrieve in WWII. P-38E
41-2006 and some others had
crashed there but haven't found much of them yet.
Then we found a tail boom,
and a wing with a star and red meatball on it. The digging
on and on with miscellaneous parts and pieces appearing.
usual, the military had de-milled these parts using a torch
prior to burying them with a cat! The serial numbers on the
parts were 41-2027 and 41-2006, both E model P38's, making
the earliest models used in the war against the Japanese. These
parts were eventually used for the Hill Air Force Base Museum's
P-38 restoration project, restored by Ed Kaleta of San Diego.
The summer ended with another
pile of parts to our find, and we spent the winter scheming
about what and how we would do better next year! Gold fever!
Finally, the elusive P-40 fuselage
appeared, and by the end of the week I had unburied it! With
this new find I worked harder searching for more parts, which
eventually led to wing parts!
The locals thought I was crazy,
and maybe I am because as each summer nears, once again I am
looking forward to my "treasure hunt" hoping to find
an intact, crated Curtiss P-40!
Aircraft Wreckage Today
I sold the salvage to Hill
AFB and they put it together as a P-38J
42-67638 that they had retrieved out in the
Aleutians and didn't have much to work with so between both
hunks they were able to make up a static display.
I also dug up a hulk of P-40E
41-9705 and sold that to Don Brooks of Georgia. which is
status now after years of rebuilding.
I have the salvage of P-40K-5
42-9791 That I also dug up in this dump and have started some
repairs on it, and also I just sold a big project to Pat Harker
Found a P-82 that I found in
another dump in Fairbanks and have 5 data plates from that pile
it filled a 40' van.
Other RCAF Aircraft Wrecks
Also, I chased down five other P-40
wrecks and a RCAF wreck.