Team members search the forest

Washington State Mission

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June 13, 2024
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On Sunday, May 26th, we woke up to some light Seattle rain showers and temps in the low 50s. After a quick breakfast at Corner Café, CEO Derek Abbey, COO Adrian De La Rosa, Dir. of Community & Donor Relations Michelle Abbey, and new Team Member MaryJane Harris, now fondly known as the Central Oregon Team, set off for the potential crash site of a WWII era plane.

Mission information

The call came in several months ago when someone had just learned of our work and reached out with a note that he had some information about a possible stateside site if we were interested. 

He used to own a boat shop in the Pacific Northwest. He grew to know one of his clients over some time. One day, the client shared a bit more about himself, along with a story about stumbling upon what he thought might be a WWII training crash site. He was out hunting and shot a deer. He climbed and pushed his way through the old growth and bushes of the forest to make his way toward the wounded deer. He was walking in the brush, slipped and fell on something metal. He realized it was an airplane wing. The fuselage was there and the canopy was broken. He looked through the hole and saw a pair of flight coveralls, with the kneeboard still on top. He also noticed twin tail booms. He made a note to himself that he’d come back soon to check it out more, but at the time, left with only that knowledge. In hindsight, he regretted not grabbing the knee board because he knew it would have had the airman’s information on it.

A few days later, he shipped out for a tour in Vietnam. He was captured and became a Prisoner of War for three years. 

He hoped our contact might check out the site sometime. Well, our contact felt really bad, because he also never made it up to the area to check it out.

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The Search

When we arrived at the trailhead at about 9am, the rain was coming down pretty steadily, it was chilly, and interestingly the parking lot was quite full. Almost everyone was headed on the somewhat short trail to the waterfalls, unlike us. We set off on a wet and slippery uphill jaunt at a good clip, thanks to Derek, the mountain goat. Weaving our way uphill through the lush and wet Pacific Northwest forest, we warmed up quickly and reached the lake at 11:30. Stopping for a quick snack and water break, cold quickly set in. Knowing we needed to get moving to stay somewhat warm, we had a quick strategy meeting laying out how we’d execute this initial search. One of us would stay close to the trail, and the other three would fan out within eyesight of the next person. 

Mary Jane and Michelle overlooking the search area.

This was the first Project Recover mission for Mary Jane, Michelle, and Adrian.

“I certainly felt the real feeling of searching for the small needle in the big haystack. Here we were in this forest, just south of a lake. It didn’t seem SO big until you had to find something. And we’re talking about the fuselage of a plane, a wing, and possible twin tail booms. I also realized this plane is sitting in an additional 50+ years of growth. There were humps everywhere, covered in deep patches of moss, bushes and trees. How far down is this plane sitting?”

Michelle Abbey

Team leader Derek kept a good eye on us all, checking in regularly audibly to make sure we were all in sight and sound of each other and visually to assess whether our “bubble” wasn’t getting too small after the hours of hiking, searching, and the cold that had set in.

We were hoping to find something sticking up, something unusual, to alert us to the site, but what if the entire site was now covered in biological matter? The other issue was a few dense thickets of very thorny bushes. We didn’t have machetes, so we didn’t have an efficient way of moving through those patches (noted for our return). I admit I secretly hoped one of us would stumble and fall – because I just know that’s how we’d find something.

“I climbed to a second ridge around 40-60 feet up, overlooking the possible area we all were operating in. The only thing I could see was this vast sea of green, mounds of moss that had formed over many years, and the large old-growth tree trunks that were merging with the forest floor. In my breath, I said, “It could be any of these mounds” There had to have been hundreds of these mounds.

Although we came up empty-handed, the experience of being in the middle of nowhere in the cascades looking for a potential service member the day before Memorial Day is a feeling you can not simply put in words.”

Adrian De La Rosa

About halfway through our search, Derek called us over. He officially coined Mary Jane as a team member. He also mentioned this was the chilliest mission that he had coined someone on. We weaved in and out of the forest once more, avoiding the thorny thickets and small stream crossings.

As the elevation began to rise considerably and we finished covering the search area, Derek called it for the day. We still had an eight-mile hike back to the car…and it was still raining. We opted for a longer gravel forest road back that had a much more forgiving grade and much less opportunity for slipping on invisible mold-covered wooden stairs. After a six-hour, fifteen-mile day in the rain, we arrived at the car, when the rain finally subsided.

Still all smiles as we started the 8-mile hike back to the car.

Next steps

This mission was a basic ground truthing mission since the suspected site was relatively close to an established trail. We noted evidence of past logging, but that does not mean that the plane was reported or removed.  There was no significant evidence of any fire in the area. The conditions on the ground provided evidence that the aircraft could be buried in biological debris and completely covered.  Our next steps for this open case will be to follow up with official agencies to determine if there are any historical reports, knowledge, or rumors of an aircraft being discovered in the area.

Leave a Reply

  1. Intriguing. The wreckage descriptors WWII, twin tail booms and canopy immediately says “Lockheed P-38 Lightning.” Would be interesting to know if any wartime training bases in the NW were flying that airframe.

  2. Per my previous comment, it appears Moses Lake AAF trained P-38 pilots. Not surprising since that airframe was used extensively in the Pacific Theater of operations. As PR likely knows, if the daily operations logs of those bases still exist, airmen gone missing/never found + aircraft serial numbers will be recorded. Cheers!

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      Author

      Hi Cliff, thank you for reading and for your comments! I will have this information added to our case file.