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Olympic Peninsula, Wa

A Hidden Tragedy in the Olympic Mountain Range

The Olympic Mountains from Mount Ellinor

The Olympic Mountains from Mount Ellinor

 

 

On March 20th, 1975 the weather was like any other March day in the Pacific Northwest. With a high of 47 and a low of 35, Port Angeles was having another grey, dreary day on the Olympic Peninsula. Only .02 of an inch of rain fell, a very typical amount in the rain shadow of the Olympics. The winter of 1975 had so far been a bust, but the local paper was telling residents that snow was finally on its way. Far above the city, a storm was whipping around with fierce, hurricane force winds. At sea level, the residents of the sleepy hamlets on the Strait of Juan de Fuca had no idea what was going on.  Things were calm that night in Port Angeles, but all that was about to change.

 

USAF_C141_nd

Air Force C-141A Starlifter over Tacoma, n.d.
Courtesy U. S. Air Force

 

6,500 miles away, a C-141 aircraft was leaving Clark AFB, in the Philippines. With a stop off in Japan to pick up a few more soldiers, this flight was a homecoming of sorts for the troops. Some were being transferred to different areas, but some were ending a long deployment. 16 service men were on board this flight, but the next hours would prove to be their last. At approximately 11:05 PM, their plane dropped off of radar and slammed into a peak located between Warrior Peak and Mt. Constance.

 

Image from http://www.berettaconsulting.com/

Image from http://www.berettaconsulting.com/

 

All 16 service men were killed, though many of their bodies were not found until the snows had melted and rescue crews could go back up and search. Between the peak being so isolated and the weather being so difficult, recovery of the bodies took nearly 3 months. Later, we would learn the accident was due to human error, as an air traffic controller out of Seattle gave the wrong coordinates to the already exhausted flight crew. While this accident could have been obviously been avoided, it did bring a bit more attention to the remote and unexplored the Olympic Mountains. Rescue crews battled weather, avalanches, landslides and pouring rain, just to locate the wreckage. It ended up taking until June 16th to locate the final bodies because of dangerous, unpredictable weather. In typical accidents at this elevation, rescue crews can be launched and find the bodies in a matter of day, in the wilds of the Olympic Peninsula, it took months.

 

 

The nose of the plane on the Peak, Courtesy of Google

The nose of the plane on the Peak, Courtesy of Google

 

 

C-141 peak was first climbed in 1974 by P. Carney, R. LaBelle, and M. Martin. Before that time, it was just a rugged outcrop that had always been assumed was a part of Mount Constance, however, after the 1975 accident, it was reclassified as it’s own mountain and named C-141 peak. At 7,339ft it is the 15th tallest peak in the Olympic Mountain range, but it is one of the hardest to get to. With approach routes up the Lake Constance trail,  just getting to a place where you can climb proves to be difficult. C-141 peak is on the list of the top-15 tallest mountains on the Olympic Peninsula, and had it not been for an unfortunate plane crash, killing all on board, even fewer people would know of its existence. C-141 peak needs to be climbed, needs to be remembered and needs to be respected.

 

Front page, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, on U.S. Air Force C-141A Starlifter crash into Mount Constance that occurred on March 20, 1975 Courtesy Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Front page, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, on U.S. Air Force C-141A Starlifter crash into Mount Constance that occurred on March 20, 1975
Courtesy Seattle Post-Intelligencer

 

 

Exotic Hikes will be climbing C-141 peak this year, in hopes to document the route. If you are interested in joining us on this advanced climb, please contact us!

 

Exotic Hikes

With thanks to Historylink.org

 

Mount Washington from Mount Ellinor

Mount Washington from Mount Ellinor on the Olympic Peninsula

One Response so far.

  1. Did you ever make this hike? I did back in college–only to find out all wreckage had been removed.

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