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McCall, Idaho

B-23 'Dragon Bomber' Wreckage

The secluded site of a 1943 plane crash and amazing rescue is only accessible by hiking through the woods. 

Wedged within the trees and tall grass near the shore of Loon Lake in Idaho’s Payette National Forest is the wreck of a Douglas B-23 “Dragon Bomber,” a military aircraft that never actually made it to any aerial battles. The small plane crashed over 70 years ago and has remained at its wooded, lakeside landing spot ever since.

In late January of 1943, eight men were aboard the bomber on a training mission. Though they were supposed to land safely in Tacoma, Washington, a massive snow storm foiled their plans. The plane began sinking, a slew of heavy ice causing it to break down while flying through the frigid air.

The radio had stopped working, leaving the crew cut off from outside contact while trapped within the confines of the deteriorating vehicle. The men were forced to choose between parachuting into the snowy wilderness or attempting to land. The pilot somehow spotted Loon Lake through the cockpit’s ice-covered windshield and decided to use its frozen surface as a desperate, makeshift landing strip.

It took him two attempts to successfully bring the plane to the ground. When the bomber finally hit the ice, it shot across the slippery surface and slid through the forest, finally stopping around 150 feet from the lake’s shore. The trees ripped the wings from the plane’s body.

Fortunately, all eight crew members survived, though one suffered from severe injuries to his leg. They spent days huddled within a makeshift shelter they’d ramshackled from digging into the snow and covering the icy hovel with parts of the wrecked plane, facing freezing temperatures and a shortage of food. Eventually, three of the most able-bodied men set off to seek help.

Though the military sent out planes to search for its missing members, the stranded survivors weren’t discovered until the pilot of a backcountry bush plane noticed the wreck and alerted authorities about his discovery. After nearly two weeks, the five men who had remained at the site of the wreckage were finally rescued. A search then began for the three who had gone walking in search of help. They were eventually located after making contact with the outside world at the Lake Fork Ranger Station, after spending two weeks hiking 40 miles through waist-deep snow.

All that remains of the mangled plane is still at the original crash site. Finding the wreck requires trekking through the woods on an approximately 10-mile roundtrip hike that blends multiple intersecting trails. 

Know Before You Go

The wreck is on the south side of Loon Lake.