This article previously appeared in the Spring 2023 Long Trail News, and contains much of the same information from the 2023 Taylor Series presentation titled “Airplane Crashes on the Long Trail in Vermont.” Both the article and presentation are by Brian Lindner.
An old Far Side cartoon showed two pilots looking out the windshield as a poor animal peers back. “Say…what’s a mountain goat doing way up here in a cloud bank?” the copilot asks.
Since the beginning of flight, airplanes and mountains have never gone well together, and it has been no different in Vermont. Our mountains are littered with crash sites, and in some cases wreckage is still on scene. The Long Trail passes near several, some of which can be seen easily from established trails, though few hikers have realized how much aviation history was nearby. A 1996 state law requires wreckage removal from all new crash sites.
In most cases, the unfortunate pilot unknowingly flew his (all males thus far) perfectly airworthy airplane into a Green Mountain thanks to weather, human error, or a combination of the two. There have been tragic deaths, but also remarkable survivor stories.
I became interested in local historical plane crashes on a hike up Camel’s Hump in the early ’60s. A schoolboy then, I quickly dug into research on that well-known bomber crash. Since then I’ve gained a reputation for knowledge of all Vermont crashes. Most state and federal files were lost or destroyed in the late 1970s, so next-of-kin, survivors, police, FAA, Civil Air Patrol, the media, and others often came to me for information. I began to create my own files from a wide variety of sources, and this article pulls from those files.
Space does not allow me to detail every known accident, but here are the more intriguing backstories and the best known remaining wreckages. Let’s take a hike traveling north along the LT.
On July 14, 1930, 19-year-old Frank Goldsborough became the first pilot to crash near the LT. The crash made national news, including page one of the New York Times. Goldsborough had become famous for setting several transcontinental and other records, and had been featured in endless news stories of his aviation adventures.
He was taking a friend, Donald Mockler, from Buffalo, New York, to Keene, New Hampshire. As they approached Vermont in their open cockpit biplane, they encountered unanticipated fog. They passed Bennington headed east, and never saw the mountain ahead. They cleared the Long Trail, but slammed into rising terrain near Stamford Meadows in Woodford.
Goldsborough broke his skull and two legs. Mockler had only minor injuries, but couldn’t remove the unconscious pilot pinned in the wreckage. Mockler heard running water, and found a stream which he followed uphill (raised in a city, he didn’t know he should follow a stream downhill). Five hours later he staggered out of the woods, but by then couldn’t provide any meaningful information about the crash site. After hours of searching the next day, rescuers found the wreck with an unconscious Goldsborough still pinned inside. Rescuers struggled for hours to evacuate him to a waiting ambulance in Dunville Hollow. He made it to Putnam Memorial Hospital, but died within hours without regaining consciousness.
The so-called “Bennington Triangle” around Glastenbury Mountain is known for strange disappearances, including at least six airplane crashes from 1948 to 1997. Seven of ten pilots and passengers perished. Almost all evidence has been removed except for the 1997 crash near Goddard Shelter, where small pieces of wreckage have been reported hidden among leaves and ferns.
Tragedy and Survival at Griffith Lake
Further north, another crash caused both horrible tragedy and a remarkable survival. In February 1972 the Zlowe family of New Jersey flew to Vermont to ski. Near Griffith Lake they hit the west side of the mountain around 11:00 a.m. Mr. Zlowe had filed no flight plan, so the family was not missed until that evening.
The pilot and his oldest son died, leaving three uninjured younger children. They survived the night, and the next morning set out for help in deep snow and sub-zero temperatures. Crawling down a steep ravine in chest deep snow, Zlowe’s 16-year-old daughter died of exposure. Her friend, Pamela Fletcher, also 16, continued with David Zlowe, nine, following as she broke trail. Finally Fletcher stumbled into a field near Route 7, and was spotted by photographers who had fortuitously chosen to stop there. She directed rescuers to follow her tracks, and they found the pilot’s younger son suffering from extreme hypothermia. He lost both legs, but survived.
The next crash site northward is in Brandon just south of Route 73. In October 1957 four U.S. Army officers were en route to Burlington in a single-engine L-20 Beaver. The pilot called Burlington to report their estimated arrival time, but nothing further was heard. Nine days later weather finally allowed an air search, and the wreckage was spotted.
Three of the officers had died instantly. The fourth was later determined to have died waiting for rescue. The Army taught flyers to stay with a crashed aircraft and await rescue. The slightly injured young colonel followed that training to the letter, and it cost him his life. He died of dehydration and exposure.
Some Wreckage Remains
In the Breadloaf Wilderness a hiker wandering a bit off the LT could stumble across the most complete aircraft wreck in a Vermont wilderness. Except for the engine and electronics, the plane sits intact, a brand-new barf bag still in the glove box. The Cessna CE-150K went down in 1984 when a couple flying down the ridgeline toward Cooley Glen shelter hit a downdraft that knocked the plane into the trees. The occupants opened the door and walked down the mountain.
Farther north is another Cessna sitting mere feet from the LT on the summit of Mount Abraham. Photos of this wreck are everywhere on the internet – often with inaccurate information about the crash. Under a low cloud ceiling the plane was unable to safely descend into the Mad River Valley, and settled into the trees on the foggy ridge and bounced on the LT at a right angle. The pilot and two passengers survived minor injuries and walked down the mountain.
As the LT passes the top of Sugarbush ski area there is a crash site on the ridge. The twin engine craft had five on board, including a professional pilot and two boys on their 11th birthdays. Flying south at night in 1969 they apparently realized they were too far east, then turned right and flew into Nancy Hanks Peak. Nobody had a chance. Although within a stone’s throw of the LT, this small amount of wreckage isn’t visible until one is five or six feet away.
Camel’s Hump has seen three airplane crashes. In 1946 a single engine crashed and hung in trees on the Monroe Trail. The pilot was uninjured, and the wreckage was quickly removed. In February 1961 a pilot and his mistress crashed into a snow-covered area off the Bamforth Ridge Trail. The pilot left his passenger in her skirt and street shoes while he slogged down the mountain in deep snow. He was charged with negligence, his cold passenger was rescued, and his wife sued for divorce.
The most famous of all Vermont plane crashes was the U.S. Army Air Force B-24 Liberator bomber that crashed on Camels Hump on Sunday, October 16, 1944, killing nine of the 10-man crew. The weather was near perfect but the night moonless when they hit the west side of the summit. Today if you stand on the LT at its southern junction with the Alpine Trail, you are on a large flat rock. The 30-ton bomber scraped this rock clean by bouncing on it as it careened around the Hump’s south face. A bronze plaque at the base of the Monroe Trail in North Duxbury was dedicated in 1989 with the survivor and most of the victims’ families present – including two elderly mothers. Both large wings still rest near the Alpine Trail, and the site is marked on GMC’s Camel’s Hump maps.
Northern Long Trail
At Tillotson Camp a curious hiker can easily find the nearby swampy area whose edge holds the remains of a World War II F-51 Mustang. (For aeronautical readers – “F”-51 is indeed correct.) For unknown reasons Lt. John Arburn from Ethan Allen Air Force Base in Burlington lost control and came straight down onto a ledge while practicing aerobatics. One of the pristine machine guns from this crash is displayed at the Vermont Veteran’s Museum at Camp Johnson in Colchester.
Jay and North Jay Peak each have multiple sites. One crash near the LT took place on May 11, 1968, when Dr. Herbert and Dorothy Crouce flew from Quebec City to Newport in marginal weather, despite a briefing advising against flight. We can only imagine their sudden terror on North Jay in thick fog, suddenly facing a rock wall with a five-foot-wide crack. The plane flew directly into the crack, peeling off the wings and leaving the tail at the entrance. The engine and the Crouces continued through the crack and out the other end. Neither person survived.
Part of Trail History
A Long Trail hike follows a path of historic aeronautical tragedies and survivals. I tell these stories only to provide a new perspective and a deeper understanding of the history of our trails. Out of respect for family members who have lost loved ones, and Vermont’s natural environment, I do not encourage hiking to most of the crash sites described.
But if you are keen to see a crash site, the B-24 Liberator bomber crash site on Camel’s Hump, the Cessna on Mount Abraham, and the F-51 near Tillotson Camp are easy to find, and locations are marked on some maps.
If you do venture to one of the crash sites, please keep these precautions in mind:
- Avoid hiking off trail in the alpine zones (summits of Mount Abraham, Camel’s Hump, and Mount Mansfield) in order to protect rare alpine vegetation.
- Please respect Vermont’s wilderness and historical sites. Do not disturb crash sites, touch or remove materials.
- Hiking off trail or “bushwacking” requires competent use of map and compass. If you must bushwhack, consider going with a companion and giving a friend back home your detailed plan. Remember, there is often no cell service in the backcountry.
Brian Lindner is a historian and foremost authority on plane crashes in Vermont. He is retired from National Life Group in Montpelier though he continues to study the organization’s history. View a recorded version of Brian’s plane crash presentation, part of the 2023 Taylor Series, on GMC’s YouTube channel.