A Navy F4U-4 Corsair pilot got a little too low in bad weather while approaching Moffett Field in northern California. The flight of five Corsairs departed San Diego, California for the routine flight up the coast to Moffett. The flight leader, Lt. Anthony Shea crashed near the top of a fog shrouded mountain top. A second Corsair in the flight would also crashed a few minutes later while trying to let down for a landing.
The remaining aircraft landed safely with only a few gallons of fuel left in their tanks. Bad weather, low fuel and long flights are a bad combination for any pilot. Some with survive, some will not!
After encountering bad weather near Monterey, California on November 15, 1952, Lt. Shea, in aircraft BU# 81256 radioed to the other members of his flight,
"This is Shea, stay calm everybody and the first on top call on top altitude."
With that, the other members of the flight broke formation and started a climb looking for better weather. Two broke out on top at 8,200 feet and rejoined. They were soon joined by a third, and started making plans to get back down and into Moffett Field. While discussing their dwindling fuel situation, they heard another radio call from Lt. Shea,
"This is Shea, I'm at 5,500 feet and I'm going to try and let down."
Soon after that, a resident on the mountain
"heard a terrible roar go over the house from the north." A
later, at 5:35 P.M., they heard an explosion and went out
investigate. Visibility was just a few feet due to the thick
After going just a short distance from their home, they could see an
glow just over the side of the road and down about one hundred
Because of the heavy fog, they had to retreat to the house where they
authorities and reported the accident.
Figure 1. Impact point.
|Lt. Shea's Corsair hit the mountain a hard glancing blow while on a southerly course. It bounced back into the air and exploded with such force that the airplane was reduced to widely scattered pieces of aluminum. The engine itself broke into several large and hundreds of small pieces. Due to the foliage and roughness of the terrain, no attempt was make to remove the wreckage. It's all still there, scattered in the underbrush.|
Figure 2. Nose section.
|The largest engine piece found was the nose section from the giant radial. All propeller blades were broken off and gone. The brush was so thick, we did not see this piece until Craig Fuller of A.A.I.R stumbled upon it by accident. Our resident guide to this site said that years ago he found the rest of the engine farther down in the ravine. The round item is part of the Corsair's wheel break system.|
Figure 3. Re-assembled tail section.
|Craig and Heidi Fuller inspects the tail section after we re-assembled it for a photograph. Interestingly enough, this tail section was farther along the debris trail than the engine.|
Figure 4. Right main landing gear.
|As I was crawling under the heavy brush, I fell onto this main landing gear leg. Part of the Corsair's spoked wheel is visible. The brush in the area is so thick that you can not see this piece of wreckage until you are right on top of it. Surprisingly, the bearings in the hub were free, and the wheel still turned on the axle.|
Figure 5. Main landing gear strut.
|A better view of the main landing gear strut, still attached to the wing section. Note the lower part of the strut is still as shinny as the day it was made. The Corsair had a huge engine and propeller, so it needed the inverted gull wing design and long legs to maintain the propeller to ground clearance.|
Figure 6. Landing gear attachment point.
|This is a small section of the wing and the main gear attachment point. All of the linkage and push rods to raise and lower the gear are still in place. On this wing section, you can just make out the inverted gull wing feature.|
Other items found (but not pictured here) were the rudder with blue fabric still attached, radio equipment, four bomb racks with dark Navy blue paint and several items from the cockpit. The cockpit items included some very damaged instruments and a pre landing check list placard. The original crash report stated the impact was so violent that they never did find the pilot's seat and other main parts of the fuselage. Perhaps on a future trip to the site we can do a better search of the area, and find these items.
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