A Sobering Visit: The B52 Crash Site In Maine
Guest Editorial written by Tricia Dunham — January 24, 1963. A United States Air Force Boeing B-52C Stratofortress was flying over Greenville, Maine for a training mission when the mission went horribly wrong. Aboard the aircraft was a crew of nine airmen. The B-52 departed Westover AFB in Massachusetts just past noon and was scheduled to fly over northern Maine, then return to Westover at 5:30pm, later that same day. The training mission was to practice low-level navigation in order to be undetected by Soviet air defense during the Cold War.
Just before 3:00pm, the bomber experienced catastrophic damage as the plane lost its vertical stabilizer in severe turbulence. The aircraft went down on the side of Elephant Mountain, six miles from the town of Greenville. Seven of the crew members were killed and the two survivors endured temperatures throughout the night which plunged to nearly -30⁰. The tragic event is forever a part of aviation and the small Northern Maine towns history.
Today the crash site is preserved by residents of the town of Greenville as an historic landmark. It’s a somber glimpse into the unfortunate ending to what should have been a routine training mission. Just north of Greenville there are dirt logging roads with signs leading to the B-52 site. I remember as a little girl, my family going there with no directional signs guiding us. My dad drove a log truck in that area and knew where it was. Today it is listed in tourist books and informational guides for visitors coming to the area.
The site is easily accessible and has a little parking area on the side of the road. Just across from the parking spot is a small trail head. As soon as you start in on the trail there are visible metal fragments everywhere. Small pieces of metal can be seen on the ground and in the trees. As you proceed further up the path the trail widens to more of a memorial. Tires from the massive bird are among the relics still lying in the wooded spot.
There are large portions of the cockpit and large wing fragments sitting in their final resting place. Metal pieces are everywhere you look; in the grass, under roots, in the trees. And wires. There are miles of wires within the site. For the most part visitors do respect the memorial site and wreckage pieces. However, there are still those few, shall we say “idiots,” who find it necessary to proclaim “I was here” and etch their presence into a timeless piece of aviation history.
The last visit I made there was on June 25, 2017. It was a beautiful day. The bright sun was breaking through the canopy of trees in a most heavenly way. Rather because of Memorial Day on May 29th or Flag Day on June 14th, there were U.S. flags placed on nearly every remnant of debris that is on that site. I’ve been to the site numerous times but this time was rather emotional, when I saw the flags displayed.
Accompanying the wreckage is a large slate slab with the names of the crew that were on board which pays tribute to the men who were lost and to the survivors. This is more than just a wreckage site. It is a reminder of a fateful flight nearly 60 years ago, a memorial to the crew aboard, an outdoor museum of sorts, and it is a tribute to ALL servicemen. Every January, members of the Moosehead Riders Snowmobile Club organize a ride to the site for a ceremony in remembrance of the crash and crew.
The annual ceremony has included one of the survivors placing a wreath at the site, a reading of the names of the crew-members, a military chaplain saying a prayer, and usually concludes with taps being played. The observance has involved representation from the Maine Warden Service, Civil Air Patrol, Maine Air National Guard, and the American Legion.
I am the kind of person who loves museums. I love the history, the education, and the detailed stories of the past they provide. The B-52 crash site is the most interactive, emotional, raw museum I have ever experienced. It literally puts you in the middle of the historical event.
Despite the fact that I have visited the B-52 site numerous times, each time I visit is like my first. I am engrossed in the history of what happened that fateful night, interested in the remnants lying in their wooded resting place, and overcome with emotions of the last flight of seven airmen. It is a very interesting location to visit. For anyone who has an interest in war planes, history, or the Maine woods, a trip to the B-52 site is a definite must when visiting Greenville. I highly recommend making the journey to see it. You won’t be disappointed.
Tricia Dunham lives in Abbot, Maine together with her husband Jim and their dog Whiskey. She enjoys the outdoors, hunting, fishing and also harbors a passion for horses. The avid hunter had her writing work featured in Northwoods Sporting Journal. Tricia and Jim have attended the International Seaplane Fly In in Greenville, Maine for many years. Submit your guest editorial via Email: [email protected], please pay attention to our editorial guidelines. Reader feedback on all of our articles are always welcome in the comments!