During World War II the Army Air Forces lost more than 4500 aircraft in combat against the Japanese. Between 1942-1945 the AAF lost over 7189 combat aircraft and 5317 training aircraft in the United States to accidents in training and transportation, claiming the lives of over 15,530 crewmembers and ground personnel in over 52,000 accidents. The US Navy and Marine Corps experienced 3632 aviation combat deaths during the war and 3257 non-combat aviation deaths. Such stories, accounting for these losses due mostly to accidents, have been largely forgotten

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In the early morning hours of December 6, 1943 a B-24 Liberator bomber #41-28463 and its crew of six disappeared between Tucson, Arizona and its base at Hammer Field in Fresno, California.

Of a squadron of ten B-24s sent to find 463, a second aircraft, named Exterminator, crash-landed and sank into the reservoir at Huntington Lake. Only the copilot and radio operator survived when they managed to bail out at the last moment. Not until 1955, when the reservoir was drained so repairs could be done was Exterminator found.

In 1960 two US Geological Survey researchers and a National Park Service ranger discovered the wreckage of 463 in a lake at 12,255 feet in the High Sierra of Kings Canyon National Park. The copilot's father had spent the previous 15 years looking for his son, only to die of heart failure in 1959. The lake is named for the father and the son he never found: Hester Lake.

Beneath Haunted Waters is the story of the two airplanes, the crews, and generations of people who would not let this story be forgotten.


PRAISE FOR BENEATH HAUNTED WATERS

"Poignant and gripping, Beneath Haunted Waters reminds us of a side of war we seldom hear about, the high toll it takes outside of combat. Flying into a mountainside at night is just as deadly as flying into a hail of enemy gunfire and just as painful for the families of those killed. Perhaps even more so, because in the two cases Peter Stekel expertly reconstructs here, years passed before the survivors knew how their sons lives ended."

Adam Hochschild

Lecturer at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley and author of To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 and Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939.

 

"Peter Stekel has written a fascinating and highly-readable account of two military training accidents that but for his and the efforts of others profiled in his book, might have fallen into obscurity. Any disaster takes place at the intersection of multiple paths, each one of which has contributed. Beneath Haunted Waters is a highly-readable tour down these side roads that lead us to new ways of thinking about history, warfare, aviation, journalism and civics in mid-20th Century America."

Christine Negroni, author of The Crash Detectives Investigating the Worldís Most Mysterious Air Disasters.

 

"In this book Stekel has successfully overcome the most difficult obstacles in writing about aviation disasters. He has coupled deeply detailed research with the best of storytelling. The crewmen in these stories would be proud to know how well their stories have been captured in this book.

"The stories Stekel has written about in this book have begged to be told for decades. Finally, we can now know the in depth details that have never been told with such depth and clarity.

"Just when one thinks there is nothing further to write about on old military plane crashes a book like this comes along. Stekel has captured both the facts and spirit of these crashes in the most readable manner.

"It is a little recognized fact that thousands of American fliers died in aviation accidents during training for World War Two. In this book Stekel tells the fascinating stories behind two of the crashes whose wreckage evaded discovery for decades. This is a unique book about military aviation and the fates of crews who never made it to combat.

"The waters of the world still hold the wreckage of many missing airplanes whose fates remain a mystery. For once, in this book, we can finally know so many answers that have hung out there for seemingly endless decades on two of those crashes. Stekel has used extensive research and great storytelling to close the books on these two bomber crews.

"The fates of far too many World War Two bomber crews still remains a mystery seven decades after the shooting stopped. Finally, because of Stekelís in depth research and storytelling skills, we can now read the rest of the story for two of these crews. Mystery solved."

Brian Linder

Aviation Archeologist

 

"The B-24 hidden for 17 years in what is now Hester Lake has fascinated me since 1961, the year after it was found. I was then working on a summer trail crew only a mile or two from this wreckage, and heard the story of its discovery from the park ranger, Leroy Brock, who stumbled onto it. So interesting was it to me, I later visited the grave site of its crewmen in Arlington National Cemetery. In Beneath Haunted Waters, Peter Stekel recounts the history of these plane wrecks with an historian's eye for detail and a story teller's gift for touching the human heart."

Butch Farabee, author of Big Walls, Swift Waters: Epic Stories of Yosemite Search and Rescue.

 

"Peter Stekel has achieved a penultimate success with this compelling must read work about two B-24 Liberators that vanished in California during World War II. The Hester and Huntington Lakes B-24's are part of High Sierra lore. The author has provided an in-depth understanding of what happened and why. He pays close attention to the suffering of the next of kin, and the determined heroism of one crewmanís father in searching for his lost son. Itís an expertly written tale about two long missing World War II era B-24's, and the High Sierra Lakes that held them. The fate of their crews, a troubling mystery, is fully described and explained by a master story teller."

G. Pat Macha, aviation archeologist and author of several books about airplane crashes in California including Historic Aircraft Wrecks of San Diego County, Historic Aircraft Wrecks of San Bernardino County, and Aircraft Wrecks in the Mountains and Deserts of California, with Don Jordan.

 

"In Beneath Haunted Waters Peter Stekel unfolds four equally gripping and poignant stories. He takes us into the cockpits to experience the dread of two World War II bomber crews struggling with uncertain navigation and aircraft malfunctions. He leads us into the world of aircraft wreck hunters captured by the mystique surrounding these bombers in the lakes. His deep research illustrates the often forgotten fact that America lost significantly more aircrews during the Second World War in training accidents than in combat in the Pacific Theater. And, finally, he makes us relate to those lost flyboys and grieve for them."

Randall Peffer, author of The Hunt for the Last U-Boat and Never to Return.

 

"In Beneath Haunted Waters, author Peter Stekel recovers a compelling story of bravery and unspeakable loss from the icy vastness of Californiaís Sierra Nevada. This wartime story of youthful bravery and the desperate times that put these men at risk deserves to be read and remembered by us all."

William C. Tweed, author of, King Sequoia: The Tree that Inspired a Nation and Uncertain Path: A Search for the Future of National Parks.

 

"Peter Stekelís Beneath Haunted Waters tells the story of the discovery and investigation into the mysterious disappearance of two Liberator bombers lost in Californiaís Sierra Nevada Mountains during World War II. Stekel expertly brings to life the personal stories of the bomber crews and those who uncovered these lost aircraft. A great read!"

Nicholas A. Veronico, author of Hidden Warbirds: The Epic Stories of Finding, Recovering, and Rebuilding WW IIís Lost Aircraft.

 

"Peter Stekel has, once again, penned a meticulously researched account that pays homage to America's Hidden Battle, that of the rigors, dangers, and incredible number of lives lost in training.

Michael Sledge, author of Soldier Dead: How We Recover, Identify, Bury, & Honor Our Military Fallen.

 

 


Listen HERE to an MP3 audio sample from Chapter 1 read by Ron Welch Jr., grandnephew of 2nd Lt. William Cronin, navigator on 463.


Thank you for visiting this website. I hope you enjoyed reading Beneath Haunted Waters and it will inspire you to contribute and support veteran's issues from all our wars. They gave their best, fighting and sometimes dying for us. The very least we can do is give our best to support them. Thank you.

 

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