As more and more visitors discover the beauty and recreation opportunities of the Moosehead Lake region in Maine, the county is improving access to and helping folks navigate the sometimes rugged terrain.
One site that is worth visiting is the B52 bomber crash site on the side of Elephant Mountain, not far from the center of Greenville. Clear, bright blue signs guide visitors to the location for viewing an unusual scene.
In January 1963, a crew from Westover AFB in Chicopee, Massachusetts set out on a training mission to practice low level flying. Terribly cold temperatures and howling winds created turbulence that took advantage of a weak tail vertical stabilizer which broke off and cause the B-52C Stratofortress to lose altitude and crash. Only two crew members survived — Navigator Captain Gerald Adler survived an ejection in his seat without the parachute deploying, and the pilot, Lt. Col. Dante Bulli, who was suspended in a tree in subzero temperatures until he was rescued. Seven other airmen were killed in the crash.
The Strategic Air Command, or SAC, was so afraid of a nuclear sneak attack at the time that it had bombers flying 24 hours a day and practice missions were common in the US while missions with thermonuclear warheads were flown close to Soviet airspace overseas. It was the Cold War. The bomber was an enormous aircraft stretching the length of three tractor trailers and sporting wings that were so long “Boeing had to put little wheels on the tips to keep them from dragging.”
Several B-52 crashes happened in similar conditions in very close succession, forcing the Air Force and Boeing to reexamine the plane.
The crash site is eight miles in on maintained dirt roads, well signed, and has a small parking area, though no restroom facilities at this time. The land is owned by Weyerhaeuser, who recently purchased much of the logging land in the area from Plum Creek Timber. Care for the site is shared by several groups including the Moosehead Riders Snowmobile Club, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the American Legion, the U.S. Airforce and the Maine Air National Guard.
It is both haunting and interesting to walk among the debris, some strewn in trees and other large pieces on the ground. Though the area was cleared years ago, much of the debris has been returned and carefully positioned and the site remains a memorial to the airmen who lost their lives on that mission. No tree harvesting is allowed on this part of the mountain and people are asked to not touch any of the artifacts.
Small American flags have been placed around the site and some remains of floral memorials are evident. Interestingly, a Maine forest ranger found one of the ejection seats on a remote logging road in 2012, and it was confirmed that it was the pilot’s seat.
In addition to the crash site, several artifacts are on display at the Center for Moosehead History courtesy of the Moosehead Riders Snowmobile Club right in downtown Greenville.
So, the next time you find yourself up at Moosehead, be sure to plan to swing up to the crash site and pay tribute to the airmen and remember an important time in our country’s history.