On a cold December day in 1943, the crew of the "Exterminator" flew into the history books. At the time, they were on a search mission east of Fresno, California. They were looking for another B-24 from their base that disappeared on December 5, 1943. The missing aircraft, later known as the Hester Lake B-24, failed to return from a cross country training flight. Ironically, both aircraft would be found in the cold, clear waters of a high mountain lake, more than a decade later.
Both aircraft were assigned to the 461st Bomb Group, 766th Squadron and were training at Hammer Field in Fresno, California. Hammer Field, now called Fresno Yosemite International Airport (FYI), was a third phase training base for heavy bomber air crews during World War II. Many Army Aviation training fields would become civilian airports after the war.
Most military airplane accidents fade into distant memory shortly after the investigation into the cause has been completed. The wreck of the "Exterminator" would prove to be a different story. It would continue to make the headlines for many years to come.
There were eight crew members onboard that day, but only two would survive the ordeal. Those two, 2nd Lt. Marion C. Settle, copilot from Wilkesboro, North Carolina, and Sergeant George J. Barulic radio operator, from Newark, New Jersey would parachute to safety seconds before the aircraft slammed into the frigid waters of Huntington Lake.
The remaining six crew members were, Captain William H. Darden, pilot from Ports, Virginia, 2nd Lt. Samuel J. Schlosser, navigator from Brooklyn, New York, Staff Sergeant Franklin C. Nyswonger engineer, from Green Bay, Wisconsin, Sgt. Richard Spangler, gunner from Weed California, Sgt., Donald V. Vander Plasch, gunner from Wauwatosa, Wisconsin and Sgt. Richard E. Mayo, assistant gunner from Prestonburg, Kentucky.
Huntington lake, which is only four miles long and less than a half mile wide, must have looked like a great meadow and a perfect emergency landing field to the pilot and copilot as they tried unsuccessfully to deal with their in-flight emergency. Just what that emergency was, has never been determined.
You will read the full story of this famous bomber in the new book by G. Pat Macha and Don Jordan. "Aircraft Wrecks in The Mountains and Deserts of California" (3rd edition) is available from Info Net Publishing, and all major retail book stores. Or you can order directly from Don R. Jordan, and receive free shipping with your signed copy.
In addition to being a data base of California aviation accidents from 1909 to 2002, the book will contain many short stories, and interviews from surviving crew members.