2009 AvAr Project: Ordway B-17F  
Oct.24,2009: B-17 Debris Field at Ordway, CO Click on photo and open up to the Expedition Report.

Oct.24,2009: B-17 Debris Field at Ordway, CO Click on photo and open up to the Expedition Report.

Description : File No: 0904-CS

Background


On January 24, 1943, at approximately 23:05 hours Mountain War Time (MWT), a USAAF B-17F, A.F. No. 42-5334, assigned to the 334th Bombardment Squadron, 95th Bombardment Group, 2nd Air Force, assigned to Rapid City Army Air Base, Rapid City, South Dakota, impacted terrain while in flight near Ordway, Colorado. All ten crew members on this flight were mortally wounded (see A.F. Form 14, 0904-CS-DO-001).

Having received a weather briefing based on earlier forecasts, 42-5334 was cleared for a local nighttime bombing mission, departing Pueblo Army Air Base at 16:54 hours MWT. At 18:50 hours MWT, weather conditions were forecast to be below minimums by 23:00 hours local. Due to atmospheric interference, 42-5334 was not contacted by Pueblo operations.

At the time of the accident, the closest official weather observation station was La Junta Army Air Base, 28 miles southeast, which was reporting the ceiling at 400 feet, with one mile of visibility and light snow.

The official findings as to cause of this accident:

Undetermined. Scars on ground and location of wreckage indicate aircraft struck ground with left wing and cart-wheeled, spreading wreckage over large area. 85% undetermined; 10% weather; 5% material.

Included in the report package are photo-static copies of: the original USAAF Form 14; eyewitness statements from three individuals, all undated; a statement concerning cause of death by the Chief of Laboratory and Pharmacy Officer, Lt. Cyril J. Anslinger, dated 01/26/1943; a statement by Lt. Herman R. Ogg, Pueblo Operations Officer, dated 01.27.1943; two obscure, illegible photo negatives from the original crash scene investigation; a page of tidbits, comprised of two handwritten and four typed notes; and four pages of redundant teletype traffic.

AvAr’s copy of the official report, though somewhat hard to read, was provided by the Pueblo Historic Aircraft Society (PHAS) to our own Len Wallace, who then offered it, in its entirety, to AvAr.

A cross-reference of this material may be found on pages 249 and 250 of Fatal Army Air Forces Aviation Accidents in the United States: 1941-1945; Volume 1, by Anthony J. Mireles.

Narrative

On 10.24.2009 I departed my domicile at 06:00 hours local, proceeding to the McDonald’s Restaurant in Limon, CO for a 08:15 hours rendezvous with fellow team members Larry Liebrecht, David McCord and Charles Stockmeyer. Also at the rendezvous was Mr. Lee White, a guest, along with our non-AvAr guide, Mr. Jim Walters. The team departed at 08:30 for the Ordway destination.

Enroute to Ordway, I stopped the procession for approximately 5 minutes near the Punkin Center P-38 crash site so as to brief everyone on the particulars of a future visit. (Reference AvAr File No. 0704-CS.)

Arriving in the vicinity of the crash site, we waited approximately 15 minutes while Mr. Walters gathered the property owner. During this downtime I conducted the required AvAr safety briefings and evaluated the terrain we would be searching.

The overall area is open prairie with a flat grade and unrestricted vision. Vegetation is sparse, consisting principally of little bluestem, switch and Indian grasses, along with sage, yucca and miniature cactus plants. A three foot berm, which borders the west side of a north and south running irrigation (dry) ditch, presents the only discernible and significant change in the topography. Bottoming at 12 feet (estimated) below surface level, the west bank of this ditch is situated 160 feet due east of the established benchmark. Defining the western edge of the debris field is a little used, two-wheeled trail, which is paralleled just to the west of that by a small irrigation (wet) ditch, approximately 12 inches deep and with standing water.

Our team was through the fence, on site and the search officially begun at 09:32 hours. Within two minutes of boots on the ground the first artifact, a non-descript, 4 inch square piece of aircraft aluminum, was discovered.

Over the next five hours our team established a benchmark for this site and registered its elevation. The entire area was covered by a pedestrian survey, along with a limited magnetic anomaly detection (MAD) sweep. Outlining what is believed to be the entire debris field circumference, team members placed 96 orange pin flags, then registered and mapped the entire site.

Identifying this debris field, which is roughly 700 feet in diameter, it was determined that the general flow of debris rests on an approximate heading of 31º magnetic (MH), which is consistent with eyewitness statements taken during the January 1943 investigation.

The area is bereft of any readily identifiable, crash related ground scarring, with the possible exception of two asymmetrical depressions, situated exactly 23 feet apart and on a 270º magnetic bearing (MB), beginning 100 feet from the established benchmark. While no official measurement was recorded, both depressions are approximately 13 inches in depth at their deepest point, and irregular in shape.

The debris field is covered with various descript and non-descript parts of the aircraft, but no complete assemblies were noted. Significant finds retained for further study included: a “cooked-off” shell and bullet (0904-CS-AR-001); segmented pieces of an oxygen control face plate (0904-CS-AR-003); the upper half of a turn-and-bank indicator faceplate (0904-CS-AR-004); a piece of structure (longeron/stringer) with part number (0904-CS-AR-002); and a rectangular aluminum piece (0904-CS-AR-005), approximately 10 ½ inches in length, found buried vertically in the two-wheeled trail on the western periphery of the debris field.

Based on a statement made by the current owner, this site definitely qualifies for third-generation status: first disturbed by the military immediately post-crash (1943); family members over the succeeding years, with special emphasis in the aluminum collecting era (1960/70’s);
and then external souvenir hunting and wreck-chasing visitors within the past two decades, including Mr. Jim Walters, among others (1990’s).

Collecting all 96 pin flags placed, our team secured the pasture gate at 14:31 hours. After pausing for a group photograph, individual team members departed for their domiciles.

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