The Keller Peak B-26
by: David G. Schmidt
It was on my first visit to the lookout tower on Keller Peak that I examined the pieces of wreckage which were on display there. With them was a legend identifying the wreckage as a B-26 which had crashed sometime in the fifties. I was at the time a member of the Air National Guard and had been involved in several crash investigations.
I had with me twelve year old William Blake and his nine-year-old brother, David Blake. They were visiting from Hacienda Heights, California. Both boys are great outdoorsmen, and William has a keen interest in WWII aircraft. He could tell nearly everything about these planes, and we were all curious about the fate of this wrecked plane and the fate of the crew.
Because of this curiosity, I began a personal investigation. I searched the Air Force safety records at Norton Air Force Base. There were no records of B-26 crashes in the '50s on Keller Peak. I thought it might be civilian owned; if so, the Air Force would not have any records, try the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). The FAA did not exist back then, try the CAP (Civil Air Patrol). They had records that marked the crash site but no other information. Everywhere I turned was another dead end. .
A large plane had crashed -- the engines and other bits of wreckage remained on the mountainside, but was it possible that it was not a B-26, although William was almost sure that is was? By now, Norton AFB was in the process of closing and the records were now in New Mexico. The Air Force couldn't help without a crash date, but I couldn't find one. A book has been published about "wreck chasing" and it confirmed that it was a B-26. William knew it all the time. I had talked to all the local mountain historians where I make my home, and at last a clue: "I don't think it crashed in the fifties, it was much earlier... maybe the forties at the beginning of WWII."
I now had a new lead, something to go on. I started to search in the libraries and found the accompanying articles, and with the information I found, the Air Force was able to complete the story. The plaque we've established near the crash site is to remember the brave crew who died... and to set the record straight... that it was in the early days of WWII. This plane was one of nine that took off from Muroc, California (Edwards AFB today) on December 30, 1941. This was just 23 days after the Japanese attack on our fleet at Pearl Harbor. They were flying the formation demanded by wartime conditions. The mission was a bombing exercise in the desert and then to land at March Field in Riverside, California. On completion of the exercise they headed for March Field, through the Cajon Pass. In the pass, the weather turned bad.
Cloudy and icy conditions required that the formation spread out to avoid possible collision with one another. Based upon the information provided by the Air Force and the reports provided to the press, it was probably the last aircraft on the right of the formation which crashed into Keller Peak. This one would be in "weather" longer and with the course change it would have had to travel farther east. Examining the crash site today, 53 years later, it appears that the plane hit a tree prior to nosing into the mountain. One engine was torn off and thrown several hundred feet up the side of the mountain.
The crewmen were in the process of transferring from New York to Hawaii to reinforce the defense of the Islands. The aircraft mechanics were also on board. .
One hundred feet more altitude and the big plane would have cleared the top of the mountain and landed safely with the rest of the formation. The Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engines are about all that is left on the mountainside... and the spirit of the plane identified as 40-1475.
My research took over two years and has satisfied William and David's curiosity, as well as my own. This crew of nine are remembered with this plaque.
-- DGS, 11 October, 1994
A Follow Up: Researched Background, by Marie S. Schmidt