Wreckage of possibly decades-old airplane crash discovered on mountain near Harrison Lake

A team of UBC geoscientists discovered the twisted metal embedded in a glacier

The view from John Faulkner’s helicopter, flying over the wreckage. (Submitted photo)

The view from John Faulkner’s helicopter, flying over the wreckage. (Submitted photo)

There is precious little information available about an airplane crash in the Fraser Valley in April of 1957, but a melting ice field on a mountain towering above Harrison Lake may have revealed the 63 year old wreckage of Walter Dalton’s aircraft.

Dalton, a Vancouver real-estate executive, had two passengers on board on April 24, 1957 including radio personality and CBC reporter Fred McDowell.

He was flying from Penticton to Vancouver when his plane went down in an area that was noted for claiming aircraft. Over four months in that year alone, three planes were lost and nine people died within 15 miles of each other in the Hope-Princeton corridor.

READ MORE: TSB to release findings on B.C. plane crash that left two people dead

READ MORE: RCMP identify wreckage and recover remains of November plane crash near Revelstoke

With today’s airplane technology, it is relatively safe for a knowledgeable pilot to navigate over and through the wind-whipped peaks of the Cascade mountain range, but in Dalton’s day it was regarded as treacherous territory, described by some as the ‘graveyard of lost planes.’

Some wrecks and bodies were recovered. Many were not, with rescue/recovery crews thwarted by dense forested terrain and dangerous flying conditions.

Dalton’s plane was covered by ice and snow at 7000 feet elevation and there it stayed, defying discovery for more than six decades.

One day recently, John Faulkner of Chilliwack’s Librico Helicopters provided a ride for a group of geoscience researchers from UBC, dropping them off near the glacier field.

“We were on an archaeological trip in traditional Chehalis territory that has a lot of artifacts and historical/cultural significance,” said the expedition leader Adam Palmer, a mountain skills teacher at Sts’ailes Community School. “As we were moving from one location to another, I saw something in the distance that looked like plane wreckage.

“As we start walking towards it, we saw this tangled mess of aircraft in the ice.”

Palmer has been up there many, many times and not seen the wreckage, but on this trip the timing was perfect.

“The snow level is at the lowest point it’ll be all year,” he said. “When we got closer we could see that, over time, it’s embedded in the ice. Over the years, the sun hitting the wreckage at certain times of the year has been heating it and causing it to melt further into the ice. Then it re-solidifies in the colder months.

“And because a glacier is a river of ice flowing down, it’s been stretching and pulling and twisting it within the ice, to the point where the glacier and the aircraft have kind of become one.”

The sight, Palmer said, was an eerie one for many reasons.

Who knows how many times he’s walked right over top of the airplane during his expeditions, never suspecting it was there.

“We’re on this archaeological expedition looking for ancient artifacts, and everyone was more interested in trying to dig to the bottom of the aircraft to see if there were remains of any survivors,” Palmer said. “Your automatic response when you see something like that is, ‘What happened?’ It’s human nature that you want to know.”

When Faulkner and his helicopter returned three days later, Palmer’s crew told him about the wreckage. They snapped plenty of pics and video on the ground, and Faulkner took more photos from the air as they flew over the site.

When he got back, he told Blair Edlund.

Edlund operates an airplane repair business (EA Structures Ltd.) at the Chilliwack airport, and the story piqued his interest.

“Luckily enough, the registration on the airplane tail was still there, as clear as day,” Edlund recalled.

Faulkner thought the wreckage looked ‘fairly fresh,’ but when Edlund tried looking up the registration in the Transport Canada database he got no hit.

“So either this plane was really old or it was not registered for some nefarious reason,” he surmised.

Shifting into ‘amateur sleuth’ mode, Edlund started digging.

The only reference he could find to an airplane crash in that area came from a MacLeans article published in January of 1958, appropriately titled ‘The Toughest Flying Country in the World.’

It references an airplane going down in the region.

While he can’t be 100 per cent certain this airplane is that airplane, it’s a very strong guess.

“Transport Canada’s digital archive only goes back to the late 1980s, so the MacLeans article was how I determined that yes, it was a recorded crash and there was loss of life,” Edlund said. “I spent hours trying to get this info.

“A lot of these crashes from way back when, they never get resolved. They just get frozen in time.”

This wreckage may get frozen once more as winter sets in and the glacier swallows it up.

“I don’t know what will happen with it,” Edlund said. “Typically, if it’s able to be removed it’s removed, but for all the time it’s been sitting up there, maybe they’ll just leave it.

“It’s probably only visible for two to four weeks out of the year, so it might be a while before anyone sees it again.”


@ProgressSports
eric.welsh@theprogress.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

The wreckage has been melting into the glacial ice for decades and as the glacier has flowed downhill the metal has been twisted and pulled into a tangled mess. (Submitted photo)

The wreckage has been melting into the glacial ice for decades and as the glacier has flowed downhill the metal has been twisted and pulled into a tangled mess. (Submitted photo)

Just Posted

Chief Robert Gladstone of Shxwha:y Village at a federal flood funding announcement April 24, 2019. (Jenna Hauck/Chilliwack Progress file)
Consortium of Indigenous chiefs seeking a way to participate in cannabis economy

All Nations Chiefs from the Shxwha:y, Cheam, Soowahlie and Sq’ewlets holding online forum Dec. 2

This home at 32228 Buffalo Drive in Mission was all lit up for the holidays in 2019. / Submitted Photo
Tell us about your Christmas light displays in Mission

Holiday-light list to be published online and in newspaper

A vehicle incident is blocking all lanes west of 216th Street on the Trans-Canada Highway in Langley on Nov. 27, 2020. Traffic is getting by only on the shoulder. (DriveBC photo)
UPDATE: New incident on Highway 1 in Langley, crashes involving 10 cars cleared

New incident is reported eastbound underneath the 216th Street overpass

Students at the Chilliwack campus of the University of the Fraser Valley. (Darren MacDonald/ UFV)
UFV asking students to voluntarily report COVID cases and exposures to the school

With COVID cases rising and Fraser Health struggling to keep up, students are asked to help

Jesse Arnett facing off against Pedro Souza on Oct. 30, 2020. Arnett defeated Souza by unanimous decision. His record stands at 17 wins and 6 losses, with 14 finishes. / Gerardo Ramos photo.
Road to the Big Show: Mission Secondary’s wrestling champ speaks about his journey through MMA

Jesse ‘Big Cat’ Arnett was Mission’s 1st National Wresting Champion, now a top-ranked 135 fighter

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry update the COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Nov. 23, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 887 new cases

Another 13 deaths, ties the highest three days ago

Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)
Two Fraser Valley churches continue in-person services despite public health orders

Pastors say faith groups are unfairly targeted and that charter rights protect their decisions

A big job: Former forests minister Doug Donaldson stands before a 500-year-old Douglas fir in Saanich to announce preservation of some of B.C.’s oldest trees, July 2019. (B.C. government)
B.C. returning to ‘stand-alone’ forests, rural development ministry

Horgan says Gordon Campbell’s super-ministry doesn’t work

Despite rumours, Surrey RCMP say they are not issuing tickets to people if they are driving in a vehicle with others from a different household. (File photo)
COVID-19 tickets: No, RCMP aren’t checking vehicle occupancies, restaurant tables

Enforcement about education, not punishment says Surrey RCMP Cpl. Joanie Sidhu

Alexandre Bissonnette, who pleaded guilty to a mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque, arrives at the courthouse in Quebec City on February 21, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mathieu Belanger - POOL
Court strikes down consecutive life sentences; mosque shooter has prison term cut

The decision was appealed by both the defence and the Crown

File
LETTER: Public should provide feedback on Mission’s proposed budget

Writer feels more community push back is needed to stop annual property tax increases

Gold medallists in the ice dance, free dance figure skating Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, of Canada, pose during their medals ceremony at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Charlie Riedel
Olympic champions Virtue, Moir and Tewksbury among 114 Order of Canada inductees

Moir and Virtue catapulted to national stardom with their gold-medal performances at the Winter Olympics in 2018

Letter
LETTER: Development will change area forever

Project on Hurd and 7th Ave. doesn’t sit well with at least one reader

Shoppers line up in front of a shop on Montreal’s Saint-Catherine Street in search of Black Friday deals in Montreal, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Black Friday shopping in a pandemic: COVID-19 closes some stores, sales move online

Eric Morris, head of retail at Google Canada, says e-commerce in Canada has doubled during the pandemic.

Most Read