Saturday, February 4, 2012

"We the People"...Mel's Replies!

In His Own Words...
My dear husband brought to my attention that my last post about The Lost Plane was sadly lacking.  He said "I enjoyed reading about the invitation from "We the People" radio program...but you only posted the questions they asked Grandpa Mel...not his answers. I wanted to read it in his own words."  So I will repost the questions from the "We the People" letter of January 1938...and Mel's handwritten replies.

"Dear Mr. Bass..."
Yes, I am willing to come to New York and appear on your program, if all my expenses are paid.  As far as I know now, I could make the trip any time within the next month or so.

The Western Air Express passenger plane was lost Dec. 15, 1936, but wasn't found until June 6, 1937--nearly 6 months later.  I will try to answer the questions to the best of my ability.

Q. What were you doing on December 15th?
A.  I live up Fort Canyon, 3 miles north of Alpine, Utah, and almost at the foot of Lone Peak.  Alpine is about 8 miles east of the regular Los Angeles-Salt Lake air route.  On Dec. 15, 1936, at about 3:30 a.m. we were awakened by our boy's coughing.  About 4:05 we hadn't gone back to sleep.

Q.  Did you notice the plane in the air?
A.  No, I did not see the plane in the air, but at 4:10 or just before, we heard it coming.  We knew it was off the route.  As it roared past, we jumped to the window to see it, but snow was falling.  The window rattled it was so loud.  The all of a sudden the sound was cut off.  All was silence.
Q.  When did you first hear of or see the wreck?
A.  About 12:30 p.m. that day, a large plane came around the mountain, flying just under the clouds.  We wondered then if the plane we had heard had not reached Salt Lake City. I went to Alpine and reported hearing it at the store about 1 p.m.  Returning to the store at 5 p.m., I was informed by Sheriff Durnell of Utah County about the plane being lost.  But I didn't see the wreck itself until June 11, 1937.

Q.  Exactly when did you first reach the plane?
A.  I saw parts of the plane at the scene of the crash about 8 a.m. June 6, 1937, when I first reached the crash.

Q.  What first met your eyes?
A.  Letters, found by Frank Bateman and Will Healey of Alpine [on] May 25, 1937, localized the search in the Lone Peak area.  I had spent 20 days since Feb. 13 searching.  On the morning of June 6, Emory Andrews and I left my home at 5 o'clock to continue looking.  We proceeded up the mountain, until we reached the region where it was thought the plane would be found.  Andrews climbed one ridge, while I took another.  As I was climbing, I noticed a piece of metal shining in the sun.  Upon arriving at the spot, I tore a piece off the fuselage, which was buried in the snow.  This was about 8 a.m.  Mail, pieces of landing gear, and part of one propeller were lying scattered around.  

Q.  Were there any survivors?
A.  There were no survivors.

Q.  Give us a full description of the wreck.
A.  The plane had crashed within 15 ft. of the top of the mountain near Lone Peak and had toppled over to drop 1000 ft. to rest in Hoagum [sic] Canyon on the north side of the mountain.  There it was covered  by the snow that day and all of the winter's snow.  The main body ws located June 9, 1937 and dug out of the snow on June 11.  There were no bodies found in the cabin as the floor of the plane was torn out by the crash.  The bodies were thrown clear of the wreakage [sic].  The motors were later found about 2000 ft. from the spot where the plane hit the floor of the canyon.  One wing was still intact.  The other was lying parallel with the main body.  The tail was broken off next to the baggage compartment.  The tires were found within 100 ft. of the plane.  One body was found about 200 ft. from the scene of the crash and the others were found within 100 ft.  Mail was scattered as far as three miles.

Old newspaper photos show crew members above.  Below is Hogum Basin...where the plane ended up.

Q.  How many persons were killed?
A.  There were 7 persons killed--a crew of three and four passengers.

Q.  How many people were in your party?
A.  I was given a job helping dig out the wreakage [sic], carrying out the mail, and bodies.  The first body was recovered July 3, 1937, and the last was removed August 11, 1937.  To remove all of the bodies and mail, etc. was no easy task.  We were in constant danger of rock and snow slides.  Everything had to be lifted out of Hoagum [sic] Canyon, over the pass which was 500 ft. above, and carried down the steep mountain side to the horses, a distance of two miles.  They were then placed on pack horses and carried down mountain to the Alpine power house, a distances of about 5 miles.  As the snow melted back it became very hazzardious [sic] to carry the stretchers over the piles of granite boulders [which varied] from rocks the size of water buckets to huge boulders the size of houses.  We had to step or jump over huge holes not knowing how sure our footing would be. There were ususally 8 or 9 men in the parties when the bodies were carried out.

Q.  Where did you take the victims?
A.  The victims were removed from the Alpine power house to Salt Lake City by the Joseph William Taylor Mortuary.

Q.  What was done with the wreckage?
A.  The radios, carborators [sic], instruments and propellers were removed to the offices of the Wester Air Express Company in Salt Lake City for inspection.  The rest of the wreckage is still in Hoagum [sic] Canyon.

Q.  Were you the first person to reach the scene?
A.  I was the first person to reach the scene of the crash.

Q.  What are you doing now?
A.  I am unemployed and looking for work at the present time.

More to Come...
So far I have presented the story from three different perspectives...Grandma Zetta's scrapbook, my father Tad's recollections, and now my Grandpa Mel's account.  When writing of historical events, there may be many different view points...but added all together...they often tell one heck of a story.  There are even more stories to be told pertaining to this adventure...many questions to be asked.  For instance...did Amelia Earhart give up on the Lost Plane after failing to find it in December of 1936?  And another important question...would "Pigeon Post" aid in the recovery efforts and would it revolutionize the newspaper business?  Tune in another day to find out!


Mark Walker Smith said...

You should be up at Sundance selling a screen play. I think this would make a great Movie or TV Series. An interesting play of characters. The old Alpine Mormon culture buffetted quitely in their little mountain valley juxtaposed with modern communication, 20th century Journalism and technology, Hollywood stewardess and etc.

Lori said...

What a beautiful way to remember your history. I'm following you on the new awesome Linky tool, so follow back so we can stay connected. Thanks, Lori

Lynn said...

Oh Shirley,
I just love the way you tell your stories. I agree send the story to Halmark channel. I think it would make a good Saturday night feature on the Hallmark channel!

Betsy said...

Hi Shirley,

This is truly an amazing story! I agree with the others that it would make a really interesting book or movie. And you have the talent to do it!