1941 B-26 Mount Keller Crash

In late 1941, the United States Army Air Corps, the forerunner of the U.S. Air Force, had sent nine Martin B-25 aircraft, twin-engine medium bombers to the West Coast after they had been delivered by their builder, the Glenn L. Martin Company of Middle River, Maryland, which is just east of Baltimore. The plane had been introduced earlier that year. The Air Corps was in a rush to reinforce American armed forces in Hawaii in the wake of the Japanese Navy’s attack on Pearl Harbor. The immediate intention was to dispatch the planes for stationing at Hickam Field, proximate to Pearl Harbor. This represented something of a challenge, since the planes had a 2,850-mile ferrying range, which was but some 300 miles more than the 2,558 miles between Los Angeles and Honolulu. The planes would need to be fitted with auxiliary fuel tanks and the pilots trained with regard to minimizing fuel consumption in steady flight in the event they encountered atmospheric conditions or wind resistance on the flight from the continent to the island, lest they fall short of their destination and have to ditch in the sea. The planes were flown first to Muroc Army Air Corps Base, since renamed Edwards Air Force Base, in the west Mojave Desert.
On December 30, 1941 the pilot and crew of one of the planes, B-26 #40-1475 were given orders to take the plane to March Field in Riverside, from where it was to shortly thereafter make the long haul to Hawaii.
The plane and its crew, which included Second Lieutenant Frank A. Kobal, Second Lieutenant Joseph B. Maloney, Technical Sergeant Waldo C. Jensen, Sergeant Roger F. Organ, Private First Class Wilham R. Chinn, Private First Class Vernon H. Engelbrecht, Private First Class George C. May, Private First Class Robert M. Enyeart and Private Jack C. Shirley, did not make it to March Field. The plane was flying at an altitude of what was presumed to be 9,000 feet in order to clear the western expanse of the San Bernardino Mountains, but apparently dropped to a lower elevation for an unknown reason. The plane crashed into the cloud-blanketed north slope of 7,881-foot Keller Peak, killing the entire crew of nine.
The remaining eight B-26s made it to Hawaii, where a little over five months later, in the first week of June, some of them participated in the Battle of Midway, the major turning point in the Pacific War.
Some remnants of the wreckage of the plane still remains near the crash in mute testimony to the sacrifice of the crew. A salvager cannibalized the fuselage in the late 1950s, exchanging the aluminum for cash. The then state-of-the-art and powerful R-2800 engines still remain with the landing gear and other airframe parts.
In 1994 a memorial plaque was placed above the crash site by William K. Blake, David K. Blake and David G. Schmidt.
-Mark Gutglueck

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