Clobbered Turkey Plane Crash

Six men standing and five men kneeling in front of the Clobbered Turkey.
Crew of the Clobbered Turkey posing in front of their plane.

NPS Archives Photo

 

The crew of the Clobbered Turkey never expected to find themselves spending Christmas huddled
together awaiting rescue in a makeshift shelter constructed from the pieces of their own plane.
However, that was their situation when they crashed in the current boundaries of the Bering Land
Bridge National Preserve in 1947. Against all the odds, the crew survived the crash with only minor
injuries. In the days to come, the story of the Clobbered Turkey held the attention of the country, as
the American public waited anxiously for news of the downed plane. The crash of the Clobbered
Turkey not only brought the preserve to the attention of the country for a short time but also affected
the way the Air Force handled arctic rescue in the years to come.

On December 23rd, 1947, the Clobbered Turkey crashed in the current boundaries of the preserve. The
F-13 Air Force plane was carrying eight men on a 15 hour photo reconnaissance mission from Ladd Base
in Fairbanks, Alaska. Near the end of the mission, the tired crew members had already been flying for
hours in difficult weather conditions with reduced visibility. The mountain must have appeared out of the
winter weather with very little warning. The pilot made an effort to raise the plane up and over the mountain,
but the tail section of the plane still crashed into the side of the mountain, breaking the plane in two.

All of the crew members survived the crash with only minor injuries. As the days passed with no sign of
rescue, the crew of the Clobbered Turkey started to lose hope. Two men, Vern H. Arnett and
Fredrick E. Sheetz, weighed the lives of the crew against the harsh weather conditions and decided to
risk hiking to the village of Shishmaref. Unfortunately, they miscalculated the distance to Shishmaref,
and tragically died from exposure to the elements. Meanwhile, those searching for the Clobbered Turkey
also started to feel the situation was becoming desperate. On December 27th, an aircraft located the plane
and spotted survivors standing among the wreckage. Realizing that at least some of the crew was still
alive, but also potentially injured and in need of supplies, the Air Force made the crucial decision to
parachute paramedics to the crash site.

Three men bravely jumped from a plane into the arctic winter weather of December. Tragically, all three
men, Leon J. Casey, Santhell London, and Albert J. Kinney, died in the attempt to save the crew of the
Clobbered Turkey. At the time of the jump, the temperature was forty below zero and the wind was a strong
thirty knots. The men were not experienced enough to jump from a plane in such harsh weather conditions.
The next day, another rescue attempt failed when an Air Force plane crashed a couple of miles from the
Clobbered Turkey. All six crew members of the second plane survived the crash, and like the crew of the
Clobbered Turkey, had no choice but to hunker down and await rescue. Now faced with seventeen men
either in need of rescue or unaccounted for, the Air Force decided to ask assistance of local pilots and
dog sled mushers.

The local community banded together to help rescue the stranded men. Local bush pilots, William Munz
and Frank Whaley, made a daring landing at the site of the crash on December 30th. In the days to come,
local pilots and dog sled mushers, who had extensive knowledge of the area, would help rescue the
survivors and located the bodies of the deceased. By December 31st, the survivors of both crashes
had been rescued. The Clobbered Turkey incident forced the Air Force to review their arctic rescue
procedures. After the incident, only experienced paratroopers were used in arctic rescues and plane
crash survivors were required to stay near wreckage. The remains of the Clobbered Turkey rests in the
stillness of the preserve as a reminder of the crash more than fifty years ago.

Last updated: April 14, 2015

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