1946. Primi ritrovamenti

Bourg Saint Maurice 1947
Autorità a Bourg Saint Maurice 1947

Nothing more was heard of the aircraft until July 25th 1947, when a French Alpine patrol of the 99th Alpine Battalion, under the command of Lt Noël Mollard, climbing on the Aiguille des Glaciers, on the south-east side of Mont Blanc, found the remains of an aircraft at around 3,750 metres ASL (about 12,000 ft). 

Following a difficult and often hazardous search in which they found various human remains, documents and crew personal effects, they were able to identify the wreckage as belonging to the B-17 which had gone missing the night of November 1st 1946.

The French conducted a further expedition on August 1st to enlarge the search area, in particular to search for human remains, personal objects, parts of the plane and documents. They found mainly personal objects, but very few human remains. In the meantime, news of the discovery was passed back through official channels to the American authorities.

A further expedition took place on August 4th, this time with American participation. They found engine parts, a propeller and a life jacket. Further searches on August 7th and 8th 1947 were made, bringing the total to 32 ascensions under increasingly perilous conditions. It was by now clear that the heavy winter snowfalls had already buried many items near the top of the glacier, and they were now encased in ice, rendering further recovery at the crash site impossible. An estimate of 30 to 40 years was made for such artifacts to emerge from the bottom of the glacier.

On August 6th 1947, a telegram (Ref J) formally stated that wreckage found high on the southeast of Mont Blanc by a French Alpine Patrol had been identified as the EATS B-17 missing since November 1st 1946.

On August 8th 1947, ComGen EATS issued a Supplemental Missing Aircraft Report (Ref K) by telegram, adding some details concerning the crash site and the weather conditions at the time.

On August 11th 1947, at Bourg St. Maurice, France, a ceremony was held to honour the deceased US personnel. The impressive ceremony saw troops of the 99th Bataillon d’Infantrie Alpine in full dress, while commemorative addresses were made by Brigade General Collignon and Brigadier General Powell.

In attendance were the following US representatives:

  • Brig. Gen. James F. Powell, OC EATS
  • Capt. Robert L. Lovelace, HQ EATS
  • Capt. Donald W. Allen, HQ EATS
  • Capt. Clarence S. Parker, HQ EATS
  • Capt. Fon E. Johnson, HQ EATS
  • 1st Lt. William F. Shimonkevits, HQ EATS
  • 1st Lt. John R. Walker, HQ EATS
  • 2nd Lt Hazel Langdon, HQ EATS
  • Pvt. Billy J. Norman, EUCOM Mortuaries.

The remains were then brought to Chambery and thence flown to Rhein Main Air Base where they were met by an honour guard headed by Col. Walter S. Lee.

On August 18th 1947, with Special Order Number 118, the Chief of Air Staff, Colonel Alonzo M. Drake, appointed a six-man Aircraft Accident Investigation Board. 

The Board’s composition was listed as:

  • Maj. Charles G. Ferran (President)
  • Capt. Bernard R. Peterson (Member)
  • Capt. Clarence S. Parker (Member)
  • 1st Lt. Robert E. Brunke (Recorder)
  • Capt. Fon E. Johnson (Ex-officio Member)
  • Capt. William P. Doremus (Ex-officio Member)

The Accident Investigation Board was very thorough. Its report with 15 enclosures was released on December 12th 1947. Enclosures included the aircraft Clearance Form and Flight Plan, details and testimony regarding the weather briefings given to the crew for the period 31st October – 1st November 1946 (Ref L and Ref M), the testimony of an officer who decided not to go on the flight that night (Ref N) and the complete French Army report of July 1947.

This was followed up by a formal update to the AAF Form 14 (Report of a Major Accident).
Section M (Description of the Accident) from this document is attached as a transcript (Ref O).