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

Some of the folks behind Angel Flight East Kootenay: Todd Weselake is a director, partner and pilot while Brent Bidston is the president and lead pilot of the not-for-profit. Pictured here with their older plane, they hope to get an upgrade for thanks to RDEK funding. (Image courtesy of Angel Flight East Kootenay)
Angel Flight secures RDEK funding for next five years

$100,000 will go to the not-for-profit each year, with the funds to be used to acquire a larger plane

This Dec. 2, 2020, file photo provided by Johnson & Johnson shows vials of the COVID-19 vaccine in the United States. (Johnson & Johnson via AP)
Interior Health notes 80 new COVID-19 cases over the weekend

108 people in the region have died from the virus

Last week warming temperatures were a concern for Avalanche Canada forecasters, and those trends likely contributed to an avalanche that killed a West Kootenay snowmobiler on Thursday, March 4. Jen Coulter file photo.
Warming trend contributed to Kaslo fatality: Avalanche Canada

Concern for persistent layers has reduced since then

(L-R) Michelle Malan, Administrator for the Elk Valley Seniors Housing Society (Lilac Terrace) and Stephonie Gordon, Staff Representative of the Legacy Celebration Committee, Sparwood Branch. (Contributed by EKC)
EKC gives $10k to Lilac Terrace

The funding is part of the EKC’s 70s anniversary celebrations

Forty-eight vaccination clinics will open across Interior Health beginning March 15. (Canadian Press)
48 COVID-19 vaccine clinics to open across Interior Health

Select groups can book appointments starting Monday

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

Montreal Canadiens right wing Paul Byron (41) fights for control of the puck with Vancouver Canucks defenceman Quinn Hughes (43) during first period NHL action in Vancouver, Monday, March 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Captain Clutch: Horvat nets shootout winner as Canucks edge Habs 2-1

Vancouver, Montreal tangle again on Wednesday

A special committee has been appointed to look at reforming B.C.’s police act and is inviting the public to make submissions until April 30, 2021. (Black Press media file)
Have thoughts on B.C.’s review of the provincial Police Act?

Submissions will be accepted until April 30

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

Cottonwoods Care Home in Kelowna. (Google Maps)
New COVID-19 outbreak at Kelowna care home includes fully vaccinated seniors: Henry

Two staff and 10 residents tested positive at Cottonwoods Care Centre

Excerpts from a conversation between Bria Fisher and the fake truLOCAL job. Fisher had signed a job agreement and was prepared to start work for what she thought was truLOCAL before she learned it was a scam. (Contributed)
B.C. woman warning others after losing $3,000 in job scam

Bria Fisher was hired by what she thought was a Canadian company, only to be out thousands

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix provide a regular update on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, March 2, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 cases: 545 Saturday, 532 Sunday, 385 Monday

Focus on Prince Rupert, Lower Mainland large workplaces

Rising accident rates and payout costs have contributed to billion-dollar deficits at ICBC. (Comox Valley Record)
B.C. appealing decision keeping ICBC injury cases in court

David Eby vows to ‘clip wings’ of personal injury lawyers

Most Read