Army Bomber Crashed on Wolf Mountain in 1942

By Steve Lent, Museum Historian

Early in February 1942 four Douglas B-18A bomber planes left McClellan Field in Sacramento and were headed for an Army base in Spokane. Three of the planes reached Spokane on schedule. The fourth plane was reported missing. A search was made by the Army but it was not known where the plane may have come down.

Wolf Mountain on the Paulina Ranger District of the Ochoco National Forest is a high peak in rugged country. Snow was still deep on the slopes near the head of Black Canyon in early February and the site was very isolated. No sign of the plane was discovered until August 13, 1942 when L.A. Humphries, a sheepherder, discovered the wreckage of the plane while traveling a trail on Wolf Mountain looking for sheep. Humphries immediately climbed up to Wolf Mountain lookout and reported the wreck.

Three men were on duty at the lookout. They notified the Forest headquarters through a phone line system consisting of wire strung through the forest. The forest placed a guard at the crash site and soon sent other guards to block road traffic to the area. Army officers in Redmond and Pendleton were notified and the Army sent officers to the crash site. It was discovered that the plane had struck a tree near the summit of Wolf Mountain and had approached from the south and crashed. At the time of the year of the crash no one was at Wolf Mountain and the deep snow prevented a fire that started from the crash expanding. The plane sheared off several big trees and crashed into a steep slope after scattering debris for several hundred feet.

Three bodies were found in the wreckage and a fourth was found under a nearby tree. The crash site was only about one-half mile from the lookout but was in heavy timber and over a ridge and could not be seen. A fence crew had been repairing fence only a few hundred feet from the crash site earlier in the summer but had not noticed the crash site. The four dead men were Lt. Walter B. McShane, Lt. R.J. Heiderstadt, Staff Sgt. D.R. Kirkland and Tech. Sgt. Michael Bittner. It is reported that they were killed instantly when the plane struck a lone tree near the summit and plunged into dense timber a quarter of a mile below the initial contact. The bodies were taken to the Redmond airbase and shipped to their homes.

Even today some signs of the wreckage can still be seen even though most of the plane was removed by the military. Ironically the site became known as Boeing Field even though it was a Douglas aircraft that crashed.