Wreckage of decades-old plane crash discovered on mountain near Harrison Lake

A team of Sts’ailes Community School students helped discover the twisted metal embedded in a glacier

The view from John Faulkner’s helicopter, flying over the wreckage. (Submitted photo)

The view from John Faulkner’s helicopter, flying over the wreckage. (Submitted photo)

There is precious little information available about an airplane crash in the Fraser Valley in April of 1957, but a melting ice field on a mountain towering above Harrison Lake may have revealed the 63 year old wreckage of Walter Dalton’s aircraft.

Dalton, a Vancouver real-estate executive, had two passengers on board on April 24, 1957 including radio personality and CBC reporter Fred McDowell.

He was flying from Penticton to Vancouver when his plane went down in an area that was noted for claiming aircraft. Over four months in that year alone, three planes were lost and nine people died within 15 miles of each other in the Hope-Princeton corridor.

READ MORE: TSB to release findings on B.C. plane crash that left two people dead

READ MORE: RCMP identify wreckage and recover remains of November plane crash near Revelstoke

With today’s airplane technology, it is relatively safe for a knowledgeable pilot to navigate over and through the wind-whipped peaks of the Cascade mountain range, but in Dalton’s day it was regarded as treacherous territory, described by some as the ‘graveyard of lost planes.’

Some wrecks and bodies were recovered. Many were not, with rescue/recovery crews thwarted by dense forested terrain and dangerous flying conditions.

Dalton’s plane was covered by ice and snow at 7000 feet elevation and there it stayed, defying discovery for more than six decades.

One day recently, John Faulkner of Chilliwack’s Librico Helicopters provided a ride for a team of Sts-ailes Community School students, accompanied by an archaeologist and a UBC geo-scientist, dropping them off near the glacier field.

“We were on an archaeological trip in traditional Chehalis territory that has a lot of artifacts and historical/cultural significance,” said the expedition leader Adam Palmer, a mountain skills teacher at Sts’ailes Community School. “As we were moving from one location to another, I saw something in the distance that looked like plane wreckage.

“As we start walking towards it, we saw this tangled mess of aircraft in the ice.”

Palmer has been up there many, many times and not seen the wreckage, but on this trip the timing was perfect.

“The snow level is at the lowest point it’ll be all year,” he said. “When we got closer we could see that, over time, it’s embedded in the ice. Over the years, the sun hitting the wreckage at certain times of the year has been heating it and causing it to melt further into the ice. Then it re-solidifies in the colder months.

“And because a glacier is a river of ice flowing down, it’s been stretching and pulling and twisting it within the ice, to the point where the glacier and the aircraft have kind of become one.”

The sight, Palmer said, was an eerie one for many reasons.

Who knows how many times he’s walked right over top of the airplane during his expeditions, never suspecting it was there.

“We’re on this archaeological expedition looking for ancient artifacts, and everyone was more interested in trying to dig to the bottom of the aircraft to see if there were remains of any survivors,” Palmer said. “Your automatic response when you see something like that is, ‘What happened?’ It’s human nature that you want to know.”

When Faulkner and his helicopter returned three days later, Palmer’s crew told him about the wreckage. They snapped plenty of pics and video on the ground, and Faulkner took more photos from the air as they flew over the site.

When he got back, he told Blair Edlund.

Edlund operates an airplane repair business (EA Structures Ltd.) at the Chilliwack airport, and the story piqued his interest.

“Luckily enough, the registration on the airplane tail was still there, as clear as day,” Edlund recalled.

Faulkner thought the wreckage looked ‘fairly fresh,’ but when Edlund tried looking up the registration in the Transport Canada database he got no hit.

“So either this plane was really old or it was not registered for some nefarious reason,” he surmised.

Shifting into ‘amateur sleuth’ mode, Edlund started digging.

The only reference he could find to an airplane crash in that area came from a MacLeans article published in January of 1958, appropriately titled ‘The Toughest Flying Country in the World.’

It references an airplane going down in the region.

While he can’t be 100 per cent certain this airplane is that airplane, it’s a very strong guess.

“Transport Canada’s digital archive only goes back to the late 1980s, so the MacLeans article was how I determined that yes, it was a recorded crash and there was loss of life,” Edlund said. “I spent hours trying to get this info.

“A lot of these crashes from way back when, they never get resolved. They just get frozen in time.”

This wreckage may get frozen once more as winter sets in and the glacier swallows it up.

“I don’t know what will happen with it,” Edlund said. “Typically, if it’s able to be removed it’s removed, but for all the time it’s been sitting up there, maybe they’ll just leave it.

“It’s probably only visible for two to four weeks out of the year, so it might be a while before anyone sees it again.”


@ProgressSports
eric.welsh@theprogress.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

 

The wreckage has been melting into the glacial ice for decades and as the glacier has flowed downhill the metal has been twisted and pulled into a tangled mess. (Submitted photo)

The wreckage has been melting into the glacial ice for decades and as the glacier has flowed downhill the metal has been twisted and pulled into a tangled mess. (Submitted photo)

Just Posted

B.C. Centre for Disease Control data showing new cases by local health area for the week of May 2-8. (BCCDC image)
Vancouver Island COVID-19 local case counts the lowest they’ve been all year

On some areas of Island, more than 60 per cent of adults have received a vaccine dose

A nurse gets a swab ready to perform a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Island’s daily COVID-19 case count drops below 10 for just the second time in 2021

Province reports 8 new COVID-19 cases on Vancouver Island Wednesday

Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Campbell River dock fire spread slowed thanks to security guard

Creosote docks pose challenges for fire fighters

Scenes like this one in the dugout are all too frequent for parents and kids arriving to play baseball at Nunns Creek Park these days, spurring a request to the city to let them move to the Sportsplex in Willow Point. Photo from CRMB presentation to City of Campbell River
Safety concerns run Campbell River Minor Baseball out of Nunns Creek Park

Parents say ‘needle and feces sweeps’ have become part of everyday life for the baseball community

The cover of the newly redesigned Beaver Lodge Forest Lands activity guide. Photo courtesy Greenways Land Trust
Greenways redesigns Beaver Lodge activity guide

Guide has helped teach students for over a decade

Prince Rupert was one of the first B.C. communities targeted for mass vaccination after a steep rise in infections. Grey area marks community-wide vaccine distribution. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. tracks big drop in COVID-19 infections after vaccination

Prince Rupert, Indigenous communities show improvement

Dr. Aref Tabarsi, a general pathologist at the North Island Hospital Campbell River Hospital Medical Laboratory, spoke about the issue of service in the region at a meeting in February 2020. Black Press file photo
Comox Strathcona hospital board wants pathology service back

Board supports move for chair, vice-chair to engage with Island Health on issue

Municipal governments around B.C. have emergency authority to conduct meetings online, use mail voting and spend reserve funds on operation expenses. (Penticton Western News)
Online council meetings, mail-in voting option to be extended in B.C.

Proposed law makes municipal COVID-19 exceptions permanent

A nurse prepares a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press)
British Columbians aged 20+ can book for vaccine Saturday, those 18+ on Sunday

‘We are also actively working to to incorporate the ages 12 to 17 into our immunization program’

The AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine. (AP/Eranga Jayawardena)
2nd person in B.C. diagnosed with rare blood clotting after AstraZeneca vaccine

The man, in his 40s, is currently receiving care at a hospital in the Fraser Health region

Canada’s demo Hornet soars over the Strait of Georgia near Comox. The F-18 demo team is returning to the Valley for their annual spring training. Photo by Sgt. Robert Bottrill/DND
F-18 flight demo team returning to Vancouver Island for spring training

The team will be in the Comox Valley area from May 16 to 24

Saanich police and a coroner investigated a fatal crash in the 5200-block of West Saanich Road on Feb. 4, 2021. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
Police determine speed, impairment not factors in fatal Greater Victoria crash

Driver who died veered across centre line into oncoming traffic for unknown reason, police say

Ladysmith RCMP safely escorted the black bear to the woods near Ladysmith Cemetary. (Town of Ladysmith/Facebook photo)
Bow-legged bear returns to Ladysmith, has an appointment with the vet

Brown Drive Park closed as conservation officers search for her after she returned from relocation

Brian Peach rescues ducklings from a storm drain in Smithers May 12. (Lauren L’Orsa video screen shot)
VIDEO: Smithers neighbours rescue ducklings from storm drain

Momma and babies made it safely back to the creek that runs behind Turner Way

Most Read