Bike ‘n Hike #2
I have been absent from this blog while our bikes have been shut away for the long Newfoundland winter.
Here’s one that I forgot to post last year and since the 62nd anniversary of this event has just recently passed, it seems apt to post it now.
For various reasons, our previous Bike ‘n Hike with our friends Mark and Krista didn’t go too well. This past weekend we decided to do better and rode 220km up to Burgoyne’s Cove via Clarenville to pay our respects at a crashed aircraft site – an American Convair B-36 bomber, also known as The Peacemaker.
The B-36 was a huge aircraft with a wing span of 230 feet and was designed to carry nuclear weapons. It could fly at least 16,000km before requiring refueling. It was powered by an incredible ten engines; six 28-cylinder propeller engines and four jet engines, given it the catch-phrase of Six turnin’ and four burnin’.
On 18 March 1953, RB-36H, 51-13721 was returning from the Azores to its base in South Dakota via Newfoundland and crashed in bad weather, killing all 23 airmen on board.
The flight was a secret mission to test American airspace defenses and to fly in undetected. The plan was to fly low over the ocean and then climb to a higher altitude 20 miles before they reached land.
The aircraft was blown off course and unexpected tailwinds meant that they reached Newfoundland 1 ½ hours earlier than expected. They were flying at low altitude (500 feet) across the sea for optimal range performance. Visibility was less than 1/8 mile as the airplane flew straight and level through sleet, freezing drizzle and fog. At 4:10 am RB-36H struck an 896-foot tall ridge at an elevation of 800 feet. The six whirling propellers chopped the tops off numerous pine trees before the left wing struck the ground, ripping off from the airplane. Spilled fuel ignited a huge fireball. The fuselage and right wing impacted 1,000 feet beyond the left wing. The entire crew was killed on impact and wreckage was strewn for ¾ mile across the hillside.
The crash site isn’t quite as remote now as it would have been at the time and can be accessed via a 5km gravel road from Burgoyne’s Cove to a slate quarry. (Hats off to Jess for completing the gravel section on her Firestorm!) From there it is about a 40 minute (fairly steep) hike up through the woods to the top of the ridge.
Surprisingly, many parts of the aircraft wreckage are still scattered across the hill top and the tail section is mostly intact and upright. The view from the hill is breath-taking and in stark contrast with the wreckage. The propeller memorial at the high point is a poignant reminder of the tragedy and one can only imagine the horror of that enormous aircraft ploughing into the hill top.
Whilst we were up there we met the son of one of the first responders to the scene. His father, a young man himself at the time, had been working in a nearby logging camp when the crash occurred and they rushed as quickly they could to the scene but were unable to save anyone.