TOWNSHIP 8, RANGE 10, Maine — An ejection seat that helped save the life of a U.S. Air Force crewman involved in the crash of a B-52 bomber in 1963 has been found, officials said Tuesday.
Maine Forest Service District Ranger Bruce Reed found the piece of Maine history on a logging road on Elephant Mountain last fall and returned to it Saturday to log its coordinates for collection on Thursday.
“The seat was lying upside down in the middle of that road,” Reed said in a statement released Tuesday. “I had a pretty good idea of what it was, and it was kind of eerie finding something like this in the middle of the wilderness, knowing what happened almost 50 years ago.”
The ejection seat has held up “remarkably well for being there for 49 years,” Reed added. “Once we get it off the mountain and in the presence of those who know its true history, it will generate significant interest.”
The only degradation or damage apparent to the seat was on the top part near the head rest, he said.
Lt. Jeff Currier of the Maine Forest Service said that although the terrain where the seat was found — an area also known as Bowdoin College Grant West — is very rugged, Reed was surprised at his discovery.
“People are generally drawn to the memorial site and for some strange reason this particular piece was never found,” Currier said Tuesday.
The B-52 had left Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts at about noon on Jan. 24, 1963, and was on a routine training mission when a malfunction caused the unarmed plane to go down in the Greenville area.
The crash killed seven airmen and left two survivors. Three crew members, including the pilot, Lt. Col. Dante E. Buli; the navigator, Capt. Gerald J. Adler; and the co-pilot, Maj. Robert J. Morrison, had time to eject. Six crew members were killed in the actual crash; Morrison was killed when his parachute hit a tree.
Reed and members of the Moosehead Rider’s Snowmobile Club, which has spearheaded the creation of a permanent memorial for the crash remains, believe the seat carried the plane’s navigator to safety, but they won’t know until a member of the crash survivor’s group identifies it, Currier said.
The crash took place as the B-52 Stratofortress-C crew was practicing routine low-level navigation — part of its training to avoid Soviet radar — in bitter winter weather, officials said.
The huge jet was at about 500 feet when it encountered turbulence. Buli tried to climb to avoid it. A loud noise like an explosion was heard, and the jet went into a 40-degree right turn, its nose pointing down.
Buli tried to level the plane, but when he couldn’t, he ordered the crew to eject, officials said.
Buli and Adler endured a night in the wild despite serious injuries and temperatures that reached minus 28 degrees Fahrenheit. The crash was found to be caused by a structural flaw with the B-52, officials said.
The ejection seat is a significant distance from the memorial site, where most of the plane’s wreckage came to rest. It also is far from the area where the survivors are presumed to have come down because of the way the ejection system was designed, Currier said.
“The chute deploys and then the chair separates from it” and from the chair’s occupant, Currier said.
Presumably the chair fell to ground somewhere between the plane’s crash area and the area its occupant landed in. Club members will make the seat part of the permanent memorial they are creating that honors the sacrifice of the crewmen.
Currier, who will be among those traveling to the site Thursday, expects the journey to be illuminating.
“It is going to be one of those times where you have to reflect that people died there,” Currier said. “This was a very scary time. It was at the height of the Cold War, and we know what they were training for. It causes pause and causes one to think about the sacrifices people make to defend their country.”