1946 C-53 Skytrooper crash on the Gauli Glacier, Switzerland
On 19th November 1946, a US C-53 from Vienna, Austria, to Pisa, Italy, with four crew and eight passengers crashed on the Gauli Glacier in bad weather.
This year, parts of the C-53 have resurfaced again from the ice.
It was luck that Captain Ralph H. Tate did not crash earlier. Instead of 5'000 meters, he flew only 3'500 meters. Rain was hitting the plane from north-west with speeds up to 120 km. One and a half hour after the start, the plane crashes at 14:25, the skid marks are only 80 meters long. The captain had an head injury, one of the passengers, a broken leg, the rest were more or less unharmed. Outside, there is hardly any visibility and the temperatures were soon to get to about minus 14 degrees Celcius.
About an hour after the crash, they send their first emergency call which is heard in Paris and M****ille. M****ille-Istres askes for a position, which Captain Tate thought, that he was 15 miles from Grenoble, France, many hundred kilometers from the actual crash site. There were claims in Italy to have found the plane. US had several B-17 and B-29 looking for the crashed place.
Meanwhile, the survivors used parachutes to close broken windows and to get some protection from the cold. 14 hours later, the sun shined again, it had stopped snowing during the night.
They inspected the plane and found it more or less intact. Both wings were damaged and the fuel had been leaking. Therefore, no fire was allowed inside the plane. The 11 litres of water were rationed.
At 08:00, 12:00 and 18:00, contact wit Istres was made. Two red robes of the female passengers were placed on the wings as a signal and they were promissed, that they soon would be able to see the planes searching for them. Signal fires were lit but no plane was seen.
Harvey and Matthews, two of the people on the crashed plane, tried to get help, but could not find their way on the glacier, due to large crevasses. Before the night fell, they returned to the plane the way they came.
The batteries were meant to work for 24 hours, so they wouldn't be able to send for much longer. On 18:00, Seargeant Hill sent a signal for two minutes, so that three stations could triangulate their location. This gave a better position of Airolo-Sion-Jungfrau.
Victor Hug, the Boss of the military airfield Meiringen-Unterbach heard the signals from the crashed plane very clear, which led him to believe, that the crash site was close. He asked to send his K+W C-36 to find the side, but heard nothing that day. Next morning, he asked again, but was told, that according to the US-forces, the crash-site was outside of Switzerland and he should stay put.
On Thursday, 21st November 1946 at 18:30, the last message was received along the lines of "We won't survive more than 24 hours."
Finaly V. Hug received permission to us the K+W C-36 to find the crashed plane and some US planes were allowed to land in Dübendorf. (Probably, because that is the larger airfiled, than Meiringen-Unterbach).
During the night from Thursday to Friday, there was a blizzard which covered most of the plane.
The US sent a train from Tarvisio, Udine, Italy, with 150 mountain infantry from teh 88.th Division with Jeeps and Weasels. Even thought the cloud coverage was 85 percent, many planes were searching for the wreckage.
After the third night with low temperatures, little water and no food, the athmosphere of the 12 was low.
General Ralph Snavely, whose wife was in the Dakota, was piloting a B-29/1679 on his way to Munich. Also on the plane was General Ralph Tate, father of the pilot of the Dakota. George Harvey was a lookout at the Dakota and heard the B-29. He fired a red flare, which was seen and answered with a green one.
Captain Tate junior could hear his dad over the radio and said "Hello Dad" which General Tate answered with "Hello Ralph, how..." then the battery died. The B-29 circuted above the crash side and with the help of Orly, Frankfurt and Munich, the position of the crash site could be narrowed down even further. An other B-29 and a Lancaster soon arrived and dropped packages, but not close enough.
Later that evening, a Swiss sent a C-36 and a K+W C-36 which could even give a better location of the Dakota.
At 16:00, the US train arrived from Italy in Brig where the US troops secured a perimeter with weapons blazing, much to the irritation of Swiss forces.
In the following hours of the same day, the Swiss Army organised a search team, some mountain guides, radio operators and mountain infantry. At 23:30, the 24 soldiers were equipted from the ****nal.
Saturday, 23rd November 04:15, the search team totaling 50 people, led by nine mountain guides started the ascent. About an hour later two ski-patrol and a further hour later, 33 other soldiers followed the first two groups.
Many of the Swiss soldiers were not equipted well enough for this rescue mission. Same has to be said for the US troops. Most of them had never been on a glacier. After the first Weasel got stuck in the snow, Lt Ronald Hicks realised, that neither the Jeeps nor the Weasels were able to reach the crash site. Only by foot and sometimes climing could the Dakota be reached.
The British wanted to try to land a glider, pulled by a Lancaster like during the D-Day. But due to the crevasses, the plan was rejected. 70 US and five Italian paratroopers offered to jump to the Dakota. The Swiss thought this would do more harm than good.
The same morning, Major Pista Hitz used his Fieseler Storch to drop a 60 kg container with tea, chees, bacon, concentrated milk, chocolate and stoves. On 8:20, the second Fiesler Storch piloted by Captain Victor Hug droped a radio station. The crew and passengers from the Dakota asked for clothes, blankets and drugs.
Still the location had to be changed once again, making the trip 13 hours instead of 9. This also meant, that they would have to stay longer on the galcier than planned. He knew, that they had left without breakfast and only had food for one day. He started to get worried.
At 09:00 a "air invasion started, US, British and French military planes started dropping supplies from 4'500 meters sometimes without parachutes. The aid was dropped in a radius of 2'000 meters and was threatening to hit the Swiss planes, which opperated at a lower altitutes as well as the survivors. As a sack of coal hit the wing of the Dakota, George Harvey wrote FINI in the snow. Captain Victor Hug asked his superiors, if the "bombardment" could be stopped. In the afternoon, all drops were stopped.
Ernst Reiss and Wilhelm Jost, the two ski-patrol who had brought their skis were the first to reach the Dakota at 14:21. They communicated in French and General Hayes only then realised, that they were in Switzerland, in the Bernese Oberland. An hour later, the first group of the rescue team arrived and the doctors tended the wounded. Sergeant Wayne G. Folsom was their main focus of attention, as he had concussion, broken leg and knee as well as traumatic fever.
The second group of 33 soldiers was in a worse condition. Clothes and shoes were wet, water was long gone and food stared to run out. They cursed themselves for not having brought dry clothes to change. They were in quite bad shape, when they reached the Dakota at 18:00. In 13.5 hours, they had mangaged a vertical height of 2'500 meters and a distance of nine km.
They started to salvage the packages, the planes had dropped before and planned their further steps. General Haynes wanted to leave at once, but due to the exhaution of the rescue group and the nightfall, he could be convinced to stay an other night.
The rescuers wanted to sleep in the plane, which the US denied. They Swiss had to bivouac even though they had not brought any such equipment. The two Fiesler Storch both dropped 60 blankets which the Swiss troups used to build a bivouac under one of the wings of the Dakota. It was still minus 15 degree Celsius and one soldier got frostbite on both feet, an other altitude sickness.
During the night, the two Fiesler Storch were prepared for landing on the glacier. The sky was clear, but it was still cold. Seven US citizens and the Swiss soldier with frostbite were put on sledges, each secured by eight Swiss soldiers.
Andreas Abplanalp, who was a doctor and translator, heard that General Haynes ordered the destruction of the plane. Leutnant Roduner and Feldweibel Hutter stopped them and told the astonished General, that his plane was confiscated by the Swiss army. General Haynes ordered his men to stop and the first group left on sledges. It would take them about 36 hours to decend...
Coordination and communication between the different parties was lacking. So the rescue group was suprised to see the two Fiesler Storch landing 2'850 meters above sea level, around 500 meters next to the crash site at 10:25. On board was General Ralph Snavely, whose wife was in the Dakota. He said "I only come, when you don't land" to which Major Hitz didn't reply andGeneral Snavely boarded the plane.
It took the rescue team about 1.5 hours to return to the improvised airfield, but getting rid of the sledges gave them enough incentive.
An hour later, the first Storch started with two passengers, and only 12 minutes later, it landed in Meiringen-Unterbach. The second plane took the wounded Sergeant Folsom back to civilisation. In total eight flights, all the US citizens were flown to Meiringen and the last flight Major Hitz brought the personal belongings from the Dakota.
The rescue team started their way back and were soon greeted by a second team sent with supplies and to support them.
On Monday, 25th November, a salvage team of the Swiss army returned to the Dakota, trying to find any secret instruments, like radar. Nothing of great interest could be found though. The plane was made ready for winter.
Ernst Reiss and Wilhelm Jost, the two young ski-guides also were part of the team and they took tools, jackets, and canned food which they took home.
16 hours after the last Storch had left the Dakota, a three day blizzard started and afterwards, no part of the plane could be seen. (Picture 11 in the PDF)
On 10th of December 1946, the US consul donated 500 CHF to the rescue workers. The Swiss Federal Council payed CHF 23'377 for the rescue mission.
On 11th March 1947 the US General Mark W. Clark donated the wreckage to Switzerland. And from 29th May to 3rd June 1947, 23 flights of the Fiesler Storchs were used to take all usable equipment from the Dakota.
Disclaimer: This is more or less only a translation and concentration of the PDF in German. The videos are in German but show some parts of the rescue mission as well as some of the people involved. One of the Storchs is in the Swiss museum of transportation, some parts of the Dakota have been found this year.
If you have any further questions, feel free to ask.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1946_C-53_Skytrooper_crash_on_the_Gauli_Glacier[/URL] (English Wikipedia)
[URL]http://www.nzz.ch/aktuell/schweiz/ein-flugzeug-drama-taucht-aus-dem-gletschereis-auf-1.17909591[/URL] (German NZZ.ch with German movie)
[URL]http://www.bezg.ch/img/publikation/06_3/cornioley.pdf[/URL] (German PDF with some low quality pictures)