Reed Lakes Redux: Bomber Glacier

After inadvertently doing the Reed Lakes hike a couple weeks ago while trying to hit another trail off of the same trail head, it was time to do the regularly schedule hike. This time around the goal was to make it over the ridge top onto Bomber Glacier. The unofficially named glacier gained it’s title from a B-29 that crashed while returning from a ground radar calibration mission from Elmendorf Air Force Base.

Found this summary at :

15 Nov 1957:   A TB-29, 44-70039, assigned to the 5040th Radar Evaluation Flight, 5040th Consolidation Maintenance Group, Elmendorf AFB, crashed 39 miles southeast of Talkeetna at around 1822. The crew had taken off from Elmendorf AFB at 0954 under instrument flight rules on a flight path to the Aircraft Control and Warning radar stations at Campion nearGalenaand then Murphy Dome north ofFairbanks. It was on a ground radar calibration mission.  The flight covered 1,800 nautical miles with an estimated ten hours in the air.  The training bomber carried fourteen hours worth of fuel and a crew of eight  plus an instructor pilot.  It was on the final leg of an approach to Elmendorf AFB when the crash occurred.  The glacier on which TB-29, 44-70039, went down became known a “Bomber Glacier,” and became a popular hiking destination with the scattered wreckage still visible. Officially, the area remained unnamed.  Of the crew, four survived the crash, three with major injuries  and one with a minor injury later  upgraded to major. Those with major injuries were: Lt. Claire Johnson, navigator; TSgt Manuel Garza, flight engineer; and SSgt Robert J. McMurray, flight mechanic.  SSgt Calvin K. Campbell, flight mechanic, received light injuries.  Those deceased were: Maj Robert A. Butler, senior pilot and instructor; 1Lt William J. Schreffler, pilot; Capt Erwin Stolfich, copilot; Capt Edward A. Valiant, navigator; Capt Richard O. Seaman, navigator; and AB James Roberson, radio operator. (Air Force Form 14, Report of Air Force Aircraft Accident, TB-29, 44-70039, 15 Nov 1957.)

An SA-16 Albatross crew from the 71st Rescue Squadron located the downed bomber at 1012. Two SH-21 helicopters were also dispatched from the  squadron to assist in the search and recover the survivors.  SSgt Calvin K. Campbell, a 34-year old fromSan Antonio,TX, received credit for saving the lives of the other three survivors of the crash.  SSgt Campbell and Lt Claire Johnson and SSgt Robert J. McMurray were located in the aft section of the  bomber, which received the least amount of damage.  Those located in the nose section, except for TSgt Manuel Garza, were killed.  SSgt Campbell pulled SSgt

McMurray from the left observation blister where he had been pinned between the fuselage and observation post.  Lt Johnson managed to crawl out before collapsing.  SSgt Campbell covered both men in parachutes and put Lieutenant Johnson in a sleeping bag. He was unable to get Sergeant McMurray into a sleeping bag due to his extreme pain.  SSgt Campbell then climbed up the glacier where TSgt Garza was trapped in the nose section.  After freeing and wrapping TSgt Garza in a parachute, SSgt Campbell carried

him down to the main section of the bomber and placed him in a sleeping bag.  Lt Johnson described SSgt Campbell as “like a mother hen with a brood of chicks.” Lt Johnson had moved from the front of the plane to the rear section before the crash. The two helicopters landed shortly after the down bomber was sighted

while the Albatross orbited overhead.  The four injured men were flown to theElmendorfAFBHospital. (Air Force Form 14, Report of Air Force Aircraft Accident, TB-29, 44-70039, 15 Nov 1957; Bill Prochnau, “Heroism Shown In B-29

Tragedy,”AnchorageDaily News, 18 Nov 1957.)

What a difference three weeks makes. What Upper Reed Lake looked like last time:


From here it was over the ridge you see in the background (a much more daunting task than it looks) and onto the glacier.

The only way up is  through the boulders.

A look back at the way we came.

View from the top of the ridge. At this point the camera on my phone somehow got set to “blue tint” without me knowing it.

View of the glacier from the ridge top with the B-29 in the center-right.

On the glacier.

Nice view of the moraine with landing gear in the mid-ground.

The bulk of the fuselage. The cockpit was further up on the glacier. Everything was amazingly well preserved after 54 years.

Some short videos to get a feel for what the environment actually looked like on the glacier.

Several parachutes frozen in the ice.

About mtlawson07

I'm a meteorologist living and working in Anchorage, Alaska
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2 Responses to Reed Lakes Redux: Bomber Glacier

  1. Shaun Davis says:

    thanks for the aewsome photos. how long does it take to hike to the downed bomber? take care

    • mtlawson07 says:

      Total time from the trailhead to the bomber and back was about 9-10 hours or so. Definitely a full day if you want to do it. Very physically demanding hike in spots. Mainly from the Upper Lake to the bomber and back.

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