TOWNSHIP 8 RANGE 10, Maine — The retired U.S. Air Force captain who ejected more than 50 years ago from a B-52 bomber over Elephant Mountain was reunited Saturday with the man who rescued him, according to Michael Gleason of Bangor.
Gleason, a retired member of the Maine Air Guard, was one of about 75 people who attended a memorial Saturday at the crash site. He said Sunday that family members of three of the seven men who died in the crash on Jan. 24, 1963, were able to attend the event.
Survivor Gerald Adler, 81, of Davis, Calif., for the second time met former medic Eugene Slabinksi, 83, of Hanover Township, Pa. The first time the two men met was in January 1963, when Slabinski dropped out of a helicopter to take the plane’s navigator to safety.
The other survivor, Lt. Col. Dante E. Bulli, 90, of Omaha, Neb., was unable to attend, Gleason said. Bulli piloted the aircraft, which was on a training flight when it crashed.
The B-52 Stratofortess had left Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts as part of an Air Force test of the eight-engine jet’s handling in low-level flight, a key element to Air Force explorations of using the B-52, a high-altitude craft, as a low-level bomber capable of penetrating Soviet and Chinese radar cover, a previously published report stated.
The jet was at about 300 feet and traveling at 300 knots, or about 345 mph, when it encountered severe turbulence as it sped into the Greenville area. Bulli climbed to avoid the choppy air when the plane’s vertical stabilizer tore from the tail section, according to a story published last year in the Bangor Daily News when an ejection seat was found.
Bulli, co-pilot Maj. Robert Morrison and Capt. Gerald J. Adler, a navigator seated in the electronic warfare officer’s position, managed to eject in the short time before the B-52C trainer banked right, curved around the mountain and crashed at about 2:50 p.m.
Morrison was killed after leaving the plane when he hit a tree. Bulli suffered a broken left leg, and frostbite eventually cost Adler his left leg. The two men endured about 18 hours in subzero temperatures — it was 29 degrees below zero that night — before rescuers contending with about five feet of snow could get to them, story said.
Crash wreckage remains strewn through the area, Gleason said Saturday.
Ten years ago during the 40th anniversary of the crash, Wayne Campbell and his younger brother, Steve, traveled to the memorial site in January 2003 on the same snowmobiles that Wayne Campbell and his father, the late Earlan Campbell, had used to search the area the night of the crash. One colored red and the other powder blue, the antique Polaris Snowtravelers, which are normally on display at the Northern Timber Cruisers Snowmobile Museum, putt-putted to the location and had to be stopped by brute force, since the vehicles have no brakes.
“When you get up there [to the crash site] it’s a very solemn feeling; it just makes you realize how insignificant you are,” said Wayne Campbell, who was a 19-year-old home from college at the time.
Officials at Dow Air Force Base in Bangor asked Earlan Campbell, who owned a snowmobile dealership, to assist in the ground search, according to a story published on Jan. 20, 2003. While others canvassed the ground on snowshoes, Wayne Campbell, his father and two local men scoured the area on snowmobiles.
Wayne Campbell said they initially searched the Katahdin Iron Works region, where officials first believed the airplane had crashed. When the wreckage was spotted from the air later, the snowmobilers altered course and went to Elephant Mountain, where debris from the airplane was still burning, he said. The foursome ended up hauling the bodies of the dead from the wilderness to a waiting ambulance.
“It had a profound impact on me; I had never seen anything like it before,” Wayne Campbell recalled.
The crash site and the plane’s wreckage are part of a memorial established several years ago by the Moosehead Riders Snowmobile Club in in Greenville in recognition of all the servicemen and women who serve and protect the country.
Also killed in the crash were: Lt. Col. Joe R. Simpson Jr., Maj. William W. Gabriel, Maj. Robert J. Hill, Capt. Herbert L. Hansen, Capt. Charles G. Leuchter and Tech. Sgt. Michael F. O’Keefe.
BDN reporters Diana Bowley and Nick Sambides Jr. contributed to this report.