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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up 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

Bella Coola RCMP are alerting residents that the road between 4 Mile subdivision and downtown will be closed until at least tomorrow. (File image)
Winter storm closes 4 Mile to downtown road in Bella Coola

Police it will remain closed until Saturday, at least

The Bella Coola area also received a large dump of snow as seen here Friday, Nov. 27, but by the afternoon it had started to rain there. (submitted photo)
Update: More than 900 Bella Coola customers without power, expected to last overnight

Highway 20 remains closed between Anahim Lake and Bella Coola Friday, Nov. 27

More than 60 cm of snow has fallen at Ulkatcho First Nation since a snowfall warning went into effect Thursday, Nov. 26. (Ruby Squinas photo)
VIDEO: More than 60 cm of snowfall in Chilcotin since Thursday, Nov. 26

Graham West of Ulkatcho First Nation captures the scene on video

Heavy rainfall is expected through the region through today and into Friday (Caitlin Thompson photo)
High streamflow advisory issued for Bella Coola, Central Coast

The heaviest rain is expected Thursday night and into Friday and is expected to ease later Friday

Mary Cox and Jack Plant dance in their pyjamas and slippers at the morning pyjama dance during the Rhythm Reelers’ 25 Annual Rally in the Valley Square Dance Festival in Chilliwack on June 4, 2011. Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 is Square Dancing Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Nov. 29 to Dec. 5

Square Dancing Day, Disability Day and International Ninja Day are all coming up this week

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Kevin Bieksa during his days playing with the Vancouver Canucks. (Photo: commons.wikimedia.org)
Bieksa to guest on free Canucks Alumni ‘Hot Stove’ on Zoom app

Former NHL player has become a game analyst on Sportsnet

114 Canadians were appointed Nov. 27 to the Order of Canada. (Governor General of Canada photo)
Indigenous actor, author, elder, leaders appointed to Order of Canada

Outstanding achievement, community dedication and service recognized

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)
2 Lower Mainland churches continue in-person services despite public health orders

Pastors say faith groups are unfairly targeted and that charter rights protect their decisions

A big job: Former forests minister Doug Donaldson stands before a 500-year-old Douglas fir in Saanich to announce preservation of some of B.C.’s oldest trees, July 2019. (B.C. government)
B.C. returning to ‘stand-alone’ forests, rural development ministry

Horgan says Gordon Campbell’s super-ministry doesn’t work

Peter Wilson, left, and Micah Rankin, right, formed the Special Prosecutor team that was tasked with reviewing and litigating charges stemming from the Bountiful investigation. Trevor Crawley photo.
End of Bountiful prosecution wraps up decades of legal battles

Constitutional questions had to be settled before a polygamy prosecution could move forward

Alexandre Bissonnette, who pleaded guilty to a mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque, arrives at the courthouse in Quebec City on February 21, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mathieu Belanger - POOL
Court strikes down consecutive life sentences; mosque shooter has prison term cut

The decision was appealed by both the defence and the Crown

Most Read