Recently found parachute may be tied to 1956 crash

Posted Sept. 21, 2009, at 9:04 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12:13 p.m.

HOPKINS ACADEMY GRANT, Maine — A U.S. Air Force parachute found near Nollesemic Lake in this remote part of the Katahdin region might have come from a C-45 cargo plane that crashed in 1956, state police said Monday.

Looking surprisingly intact, the fully packed and unopened parachute bearing a 1952 tag was discovered by or turned over to a game warden about two weeks ago, said Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.

The Air Force suspects that the parachute came from a C-45 cargo plane that crashed in the Millinocket area in 1956, state police Lt. Wesley Hussey said.

“They said it was a C-45 and as it was going down, the pilot and co-pilot were throwing stuff out of it,” Hussey said Monday. “The pilot died in the crash. The co-pilot survived.”

Newspaper records show that on Dec. 20, 1956, Air Force Capt. Campbell M. Potter, 31, was killed and his co-pilot, Lt. Donald N. Stacey, suffered minor injuries when their C-45 crashed near a knoll beside Route 157 on the eastern edge of Millinocket very close to an airstrip, possibly as Potter tried an emergency landing.

The aircraft burst into flames upon impact. Stacey extricated himself from the plane, while Millinocket police freed Potter’s body after the Rev. Paul Bourne, pastor of St. Andrews Episcopal Church, administered last rites to Potter.

The crash occurred at about 6:15 p.m. as the plane flew from Boston to Loring Air Force Base in Limestone. Potter was a member of the 42nd Field Maintenance Squadron; Stacey, the 42nd Armament and Electronics Squadron. Both were stationed at Loring.

It was unclear from the newspaper account whether Potter and Stacey were throwing items from the twin-engine craft before it crashed.

State police were concerned that bones found near the parachute were human remains, possibly of someone who came down with the unopened parachute, but an examination by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner revealed that the remains were moose bones.

“Unless the thing came down and hit the moose in the head, I don’t think the two are connected,” Hussey said. “I think the moose died afterwards.”

Notice of the eerie find has sparked media inquiries from throughout most of New England, McCausland said.

“It was a nonevent, but for some reason the rumors have gone down to Boston and back again,” McCausland said. “There are dozens of cases here of animal bones being examined by the medical examiner [upon suspicion of their being human remains]. It happens quite often. The only difference here is that this was a very old parachute that was near the bones.”

The Air Force will send someone to pick up the parachute, Hussey said, and has offered to send state police a report on the crash.

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