During the war years
of the 1940's many B-24 crews would receive their final training at the
Airfield on the great Mojave
of southern California.. Some of that training would be
"final" in more ways
than just one. Muroc would lose dozens of aircraft of all types
during those turbulent war years. After the war Muroc would
continue to lose men as it tested equipment on the cutting edge of
aviation technology, and it would get a name change.
It would become Edwards Air Force Base to honor Capt. Glen
Edwards, who was killed in the fatal accident of the YB-49 Flying Wing
open desert to the north.
During the war the largest
aircraft used for training at the desolate base was the
magnificent B-24 "Liberator". The
American B-24, and the famous B-17 were constantly raining death and
destruction down on Nazi Germany, Hitler's Riche, and the Japanese held
Pacific islands. Many of the
crews onboard those aircraft were trained at Muroc AAF. Some
would go on to become highly skilled crews, and help to win the
While others were destined to become part of history while still in
training. Pieces of their aircraft would forever litter the
desert floor and isolated peaks around Muroc.
On a cold and windy January morning in 1944,
2nd Lt. Fred W. Bauscher was the pilot in command at the controls of
such aircraft. Just four months earlier on
August 30, 1943 Lt. Bauscher had received his Army Pilot rating . He
completed his four-engine transition training in B-24's on
November 12th of that same year. and had accumulated a
total of 459 hours of flight time to date. His copilot that dark
morning was 2nd Lt. Allen
Haupenthal, also a recent graduate of the B-24 transition school.
Together they would guide their mighty B-24J through
the early morning sky while given the other crew members the
required training on
the day's schedule. There were eight other young airmen on that
ill-fated B-24 that morning, and none would live to see the sunrise of
The other crew members were 2nd Lt.
Snell, 2nd Lt. Daniel S. Logan, Sgt. Joseph F. Ahlert, Sgt. Jessie H.
Carver, Sgt. Charles R. Borrelli, Sgt. Moseley Burton, Sgt. Joseph A.
Butelho, and Sgt. Trevor Hughes. All of these young eager
airmen had high hopes of helping to win the war, and after, living long
productive lives with family and friends. But all of their hopes
and dreams would end abruptly when their B-24J did not clear Sunday
Peak on the final approach to the Muroc airfield at the end of their
The aircraft had departed Muroc at 10:16 p.m. the
before on a scheduled cross-country training mission to Barstow,
Kingman, Goffs, Lancaster, Mojave and then back to Muroc. After
returning from the cross-country, the aircraft was to practice bombing
from 10,000 feet on one of the Muroc bombing ranges. At
2:45 in the morning, while the desert and surrounding mountain
peaks were still cloaked in darkness, Lt. Bauscher and the crew
completed the cross-country phase of their training flight. He
was now leisurely circling over George AAF at 10,000 feet while
preparing for the next phase on the training program. At that
Bauscher contacted George tower, and requested permission
to begin the practice bombing stage of the training. George tower
told Bauscher that he could begin bombing on range PB-7, but only if he
could establish contact with the Muroc Bombing Range Control
tower. For unknown reasons Bauscher was not able
to establish two-way contact with the Muroc Range. So a half an
hour later, at 3:15 a.m. Bauscher once again called the George tower to
advise them of his situation, and to request further
instructions. The Tower Duty Officer at Muroc, Major
Felton, overheard 358 calling George and instructed his tower
operator, Sgt. Norman Roof, to take control of the
flight. Roof instructed Bauscher to descend to 9,000 feet
and down the Muroc Radio beam until his mission time had elapsed.
The instructions were acknowledged by Bauscher with a simple "Roger",
as he began to descend
to the assigned altitude.
The mission elapse time was approximately 3:45 a.m.,
and at that time several of the training flight's aircraft began
calling George for landing instructions back at Muroc. During the
night one of the B-24's had experienced engine failure in the number
engine. This emergency on B-24 #880 required that the aircraft be
cleared straight in to the Muroc runway. All other aircraft were
told to hold at various altitudes from 4,500 feet, to 11,000 feet,
while 880 made its approach and landed. At 3:50 a.m. ship #358,
Bauscher's ship, contacted the George tower and requested the necessary
instruction. Number 358 was told of the engine out emergency,
and asked to remain at 9,000 feet until further notice. This was the
last contact George had with ship 358 before it crashed.
Ship 880 made a successful landing at 3:55 a.m., but
just as George was about to clear the other aircraft to begin their
approaches, another ship called with a low fuel emergency. Ship
363 advised the tower that they were critically low on fuel and needed
to land as soon as possible. So the tower operator cleared 363
for a straight in approach to the Muroc runway. At 3:57 a.m. ship
363 was safely on the ground, so the other ships were called down and
cleared to land starting with the lowest ship in the group.
As the busy Muroc tower operator was handling the
landing aircraft, he suddenly noticed a large fire burning on a
about 10 to 15 miles to the southeast. Curious, Sgt. Roof
picked up his
field glasses and had a look. From that distance he could not see
what had caused the distant fire, but with so many B-24's filling the
night sky in such close proximity to the airfield an uneasy
feeling began to set in over the tower operators.
Not knowing exactly what was burning on the far away
peak, but not wanting to take a chance, Sgt. Roof called the Crash
Tower and the number 1 Fire Station at 4:06 a.m. to notified them of
the large fire burning off in the distance. At 4:10 a.m. he
notified the Officer of the Day. At 4:30 a.m. the Aircraft
Dispatcher notified the Assistant Base Operations Officer of the
fire. By now all ships except #358 had landed safely.
During this time the George tower made repeated calls to Lt. Bauscher
in ship 358, but did not receive a reply. By 5:00 a.m., with the
sun just coming up over the peak where the fire had been spotted, it
became apparent that one ship was missing. That ship was #358,
with Lt. Bauscher and nine other young men onboard.
Just before dawn crash rescue crews and fire crews
headed out in the direction of the now smoking mountain peak. At
06:59 that morning it was confirmed by the fire crews that the fire was
indeed caused by a crashed B-24. At that time only one body had
been found, but soon all ten of the airmen onboard were discovered
entangled in the smoldering wreckage. All ten had been killed on
impact with the 3,300 foot high peak just to the north of Sunday
Peak. Why this aircraft was flying so low, when its assigned
altitude was 9,000 feet, will forever remain a mystery.
The aircraft hit the very small rocky peak on the
upsweeping, eastern side, leaving small bits of Plexiglas,
aluminum and other wreckage scattered on the very top. The main
wreckage bounced over the top and went down on the desert floor about
500 feet below leaving shards of aluminum and the bodies of the crew as
it went. The elevation at the point of impact is 3,300 feet above
sea level (MSL). The desert floor at that point is a mere 2,500
feet MSL. That means that for unknown reasons Lt. Bauscher had
taken the B-24 down to within 800 feet of the ground. Why he left
his assigned altitude of 9,000 feet is an even bigger mystery.
Perhaps he was tired, and just in a hurry to get back on the ground
after the long night's training flight. Or perhaps he had a fuel
or engine problem, but didn't have time to call the tower and
report it. Surely he was flying on instruments in the black
featureless predawn sky. He may have thought that he had plenty
of altitude. After all, the altimeter was reading 3,300 feet. The
young, relatively inexperienced, pilot would have had his hands full of
airplane with such an emergency. We will never know for sure.
Fig. 2 This is the very badly
ADF control box, which was located in the radio compartment of the B-24.
I visited the crash site in the spring of 2005, and
found that there was not much left on the peak to indicate that the
big bomber had crashed there. Only a few small pieces of
Plexiglas, battery parts, and shards of aluminum marked the spot where
ten young airmen had died. From high up on the top of this
very small and insignificant peak in the middle of nowhere you can
the base at Edwards, and with the help of binoculars, you can just make
out the runway on the base. Making it to that runway was in all
likelihood the final thoughts in the minds of the crew on ship
358. Now their spirits will forever be peering down from the
jagged rocks on the desolate Mojave Desert mountain known as Sunday
Don R. Jordan
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Tales" Main Page.
ADF Control Box photo Copyright Don R. Jordan
B-24J photo courtesy of the U.S.A.F. museum.