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Posted: Jan 8 2006, 05:51 AM
Adventure Novelist...no, really!
Group: CCForum admin
Member No.: 2,724
Joined: 10-September 04
There were 6 entrants in the 2006 Sea Hunters Writing Contest, or rather, let me say that there were six professionally written, extraordinarily researched and very entertaining stories of maritime adventure and mystery from some very underappreciated talent.
The stories were judged on the basis of:
Originality of Concept
All of the stories met the basic task of highlighting the fate of some real shipwreck or plane crash, and all of the authors found subjects that have become wrapped in folklore and legend. Some chose to bring in the traditional cast of NUMA heroes, while others used the "Real" NUMA organization as the protagonists.
In the final tally, only one point separated first and second place, and the remaining stories were in a dead heat for third place. All of them deserve praise and I certainly hope to see more from these authors. And while there are no losers here, there can be only one winner.
And the winner is....
SeaHunter Writing Competition
Air Force T-33 “Thunderbird” SN 52-9232
Hero to Villain
Sierra Nevada Mountains, May 9, 1957
The Air Force Lockheed T-33 “Thunderbird” shot across
the clear western skies. Its distinct contrail could
be seen from both eastern California and western
Nevada, if anyone was interested enough to look up.
It climbed to 35,000 feet as it turned southeast
toward Arizona. The plane had the crystal heavens all
Inside the jet, Lt. David Steeves wriggled his body
position to make himself more comfortable. He gazed
east over the large fuel tank mounted on the end of
the wing, as he flew south along the spine of the
Sierra Nevada Mountains. The bright California sun
reflecting off the semi-thawed alpine lakes nearly
blinded him. He then looked to his right over the
other wing and fuel tank, where he knew the range
eventually became low foothills and then agricultural
plains of the long San Joaquin Valley. He returned
his gaze forward, checking his airspeed, altitude, and
heading. He looked up and out the canopy at the
snow-blanketed granite peaks as they marched away to
the south, where they would finally disappear into the
State’s great southern deserts.
He thought about the thick forests of pine and fir
that filled the valleys, nestled between the ridges
below him. Some of the other pilots he worked with
told him about how the mountain range hosted the
highest point in the continental United States; Mount
Whitney, and the world’s larges living thing; the
Sequoia Redwoods. Having been raised a ‘city boy’ in
Trumbull, Connecticut, Steeves never really spent too
much time exploring in the woods. All around him were
some of the most spectacular vistas imaginable.
When the 23-year-old Lt. Steeves wasn’t in a jet
aircraft flying along at hundreds of miles an hour, he
was speeding around the streets of San Francisco in
his open top Jaguar XK-140-MC. He would rather spend
his time in the city with his friends and family than
lacing up boots to scramble up some rocky trail. In
fact, his fellow pilots often remarked that it seemed
Steeves’ was born to fly jets, and everyone who knew
him thought that someday his name would be famous
among Air Force pilots. His natural good looks and
his Errol Flynn moustache only adding to the mystique.
It was an image that Steeves did nothing to dispute.
The T-33 was a bright silver plane that was very
popular with pilots because of it performance. It was
reliable and handled well. It was the training
version of the more famous T-80 combat aircraft.
Developed by Lockheed’s famous ‘Skunk Works’ team, its
heyday was the Korean War and was now mostly used to
train pilots who were ready to move up from propeller
aircraft to jets. Because its length was only 2
inches more than its wingspan, it gave the appearance
an X when seen from directly below. In fact, one of
the daughters of Lt. Steeves’ fellow pilots once
commented, “It looks like a jack,” referring to her
schoolyard toy. The plane could fly at well over 500
miles per hour, but Lt. Steeves was keeping it closer
to 300, to conserve fuel.
Steeves was alone in the aircraft that normally sat
two. He was supposed to deliver the plane to Craig
Air Force Base near Selma, Ala. from Hamilton Air
Force base near San Francisco. The first leg of his
trip would take him to Tucson, where he would refuel.
He had been airborne for just 20 minutes.
Ahead of him, Steeves could see a rugged valley with
pine trees marching up to the sheer cliffs like
soldiers laying siege to some ancient city’s
battlements. Dotted here and there were lakes and
small streams. It was a harsh and beautiful world,
carved by glaciers millions of years ago. And it was
the last place one would want to be stranded and lost.
Below, a deer looked skyward upon hearing the gentle
scratching sound of the far away jet. The animal’s
keen eyesight easily found the mercury tinted aircraft
in the cloud-free blue canopy, even though the sound
and the visual location of the plane didn’t match.
After watching for a few moments, the deer moved on in
her search for food, picking her way around the few
patches free of snow in the valley between the tall
peaks. The sight of the jet meant nothing to her.
She bent down to nibble on some scrubby grass; ever
wary for predator, she kept an ear listening for the
soft snap of a twig or the gentle slap of a bent
branch whipping back from and animal’s passing. When
she heard the low thud from above her she wasn’t sure
what it was, so not taking any chances she bounded off
into the deeper parts of the forest. She didn’t look
up at the jet again.
Lt. Steeves could feel he stomach slowly moving up
into his throat. It was that gentle sensation one
gets when in an elevator on its way down. He looked
through a strange yellow haze at the three vertical
columns of buttons on the elevator’s panel to try and
figure out what floor he was on. As he watched, the
three columns slowly rotated until they were three
horizontal rows. He looked closer and realized they
weren’t buttons after all; they were dials, with
numbers and needles. They had transformed into the
instrument panel of his T-33.
His eyes snapped open. He had heard a loud thump
right before he blacked out. The cabin was filling
with bitter yellow smoke, making it difficult to not
only see through the canopy, but even the instruments
in front of him. When he did finally focus on his
altimeter he saw the dial slowly rolling
counter-clockwise. He thought to himself, I’m
His controls would not respond. It only took seconds
for him to realize that he had not only no control,
but just as importantly no power. His engine had
blown out and rattled the silver plane so much that it
had knocked Steeves unconscious. He was lucky to have
awakened before the plane crashed.
He tried to restart the engine but it was no use. It
was then that he saw through the thin yellow smoke
permeating the cockpit that his plane was heading for
a shear face of a mountain. At this point he might
as well have been sitting in a kitchen chair, speeding
along at still nearly 300 miles per hour, straight at
a concrete wall. With the cliff face coming up so
quickly, and without power, he would also never be
able to regain the altitude he would need to get over
it. Even if he could control his aircraft, he didn’t
have the time to turn; it, and his luck, had run out.
Lt. David Steeves ejected.
His canopy shot up and back away from the jet. An
instant later an explosive charge propelled his chair
out of the cockpit. When he was shot up and out of
the plane, he got the illusion that his jet was
falling away beneath his feet. Then the icy blast
forced all the air from his lungs and he started
rolling over. As the plane’s canopy and chair found
their own paths to the ground, his parachute blossomed
open and snapped him into an upright position. He
quickly looked below him and saw that he was drifting
across a north and south running valley, toward the
slope on the eastern side. With the exception of a
few spots on the very floor of the valley, everywhere
he looked there was a shroud of snow. He also saw
that he was falling too fast.
When Steeves looked up to see if he could still make
out his aircraft he saw that he was under a parachute
with two panels ripped out. He searched the sky for
his plane. With the sun reflecting off the polished
aluminum skin, he quickly found it. He watched as it
headed southeast toward what he was sure would be a
fiery and explosive demise against the unforgiving
granite rock face. He could only stare dumbfounded as
the plane cleared the top of the mountain, and the top
of another ridge disappearing from view.
The only thing he could figure was, unencumbered by
his weight and that of the chair and canopy, nearly
500 pounds combined, the airplane somehow was able to
gain just enough altitude. He continued to look at
the spot where it vanished over the ridge for several
minutes, then looked down and put his efforts into not
getting himself killed on impact.
His damaged parachute was not providing enough drag
and he was falling too fast for a safe landing. He
hit the side of the eastern slope where the mountain’s
angle prevented the spring snow from getting too deep.
His legs went through and when his boots hit the hard
surface below, pain shot up from both his ankles. He
collapsed into the icy snow, rolled over on his back,
and slid an additional 60 feet down the mountain.
Steeves lay in the snow for several minutes. Then he
sat up and surveyed his situation; less than a hour
ago he was in the balmy weather of San Francisco, now
he was lost in a howling wilderness with just a
pistol, a candy bar, a handful of matches, and limited
Air Force survival training. He tried to stand but
the pain in his ankles prevented that. Both were
Steeves was taught that a downed pilot should stay as
close to the wreck of his plane as possible, but since
he had no idea where his jet finally fell, and since
the exposed face of the mountain provided no
protection from the elements, he decided to move into
the valley below. After a couple of hours of
crawling, sliding, and hobbling, he made it to the
base of the mountain. He was now in Le Conte Canyon.
He wrapped himself in his parachute and waited for the
search and rescue planes to fly over. He took out a
photo of his wife and toddler daughter and looked at
it for a long moment. He thought, They are going to
be sick with worry until I’m found. It was then that
he realized he hadn’t made any radio distress calls.
The shock of his next thought hit him like the icy
wind from when he ejected, No one knows I’m down.
But when Steeves didn’t radio in at his next
checkpoint, the Air Force did search for his plane.
For weeks they flew patterns across the rugged
mountain range but found nothing. Without knowing
exactly where Steeves had run into trouble, there was
simply too much area to cover. After thousands of
flight hours they ended their search and informed the
family that he was missing and presumed dead; sending
the death certificate to his mother and burying him in
absentia. They added T-33 Serial Number 52-9232 to
the long list of missing U.S. Air Force aircraft.
Three days after he hit the ground and three nights of
sleeping in a hallow log, when no planes had flown
over, Lt. David Steeves started making his way out of
the valley in the only direction he could think of
that would bring rescue; downhill.
He traveled south through the valley until he met a
fast flowing river, swollen by the early melting snow.
He continued down the river, sometimes crawling and
sometimes walking as best he could on his injured
ankles in the waist deep snow, until he found a Forest
Service tool shack. Steeves didn’t know it but he was
now in Simpson Meadow and although it was a very
popular area for packers and hikers, they wouldn’t
even begin to show up until mid-June at best. At
least 30 days away.
He broke into the shack and found a can of hash, a can
of beans, and a can of tomatoes. He also found some
fishing tackle, and a map of the area. He would be
able to catch food to eat and he would have shelter
other than his thin parachute. Upon scanning the map,
he discovered that the one thing that stood between
him and a somewhat populated valley to the south where
a highway terminated was a 10,000 foot high ridge. He
decided to wait as long as he could in the shack, to
let his ankles heal, then he would make the trek over
the ridge and down the other side to what he hoped
would be rescue. Basically he would have to do the
equivalent of walking out of, and then back into, the
54 days after his plane went missing, Lt. David
Steeves was in a spot called Granite Basin, sitting on
a rock, eating wild strawberries when he heard a
woman’s voice say, “What are you doing here?” For
several minutes he wasn’t aware of what he was seeing.
Then he realized it was several people on horseback,
staring back at him. The next day the first packing
train of the summer showed up at the Cedar Grove
trailhead with the thin bearded man in the tattered
Air Force jump suit.
The young lieutenant was instantly hailed as a hero
and his story of survival and determination was
printed in newspapers and presented on television
again and again.
Armed with Steeves information about his landing spot
by parachute, the Air Force renewed their search for
his missing T-33. Again all the planes and
helicopters came up empty. It was as if his jet was
never there. Then people started to think just that.
First came the questions. Why could no trace of the
plane be found? How could a man with two sprained
ankles ‘walk’ out of a snowy wilderness after nearly
two months? Why didn’t he make a distress call?
Then came the rumors. Did he fly the plane to Mexico
and sell it for parts, to supplement his fast
lifestyle? Or worse; did he turn it over to the
Russians during the height of the Cold War?
He was questioned by the Air Force again and again but
he could not help them with the location of the plane.
During his trial, even the testimony of two Forest
Rangers who had found his parachute harness and helmet
exactly where Steeves said the should be, wasn’t
enough to hold any sway. He was found innocent in the
court of law, but guilty in the court of public
They would never trust him with a plane again and a
pilot without a plane is like a sailor in the desert.
Soon the Air Force granted Steeves a discharge from
the service. Not long after, his wife took their
little daughter and left him. Devastated, he moved to
Fresno, CA where he got work testing experimental
aircraft and parachutes. Every once in awhile he
rented an airplane and flew over the Sierra Nevada
mountains, vainly searching for his lost T-33 and
redemption. He never found either.
Le Conte Canyon, Kings Canyon National Park, July
On the western side of Le Conte canyon is a mass of
granite rising some 3,000 feet above the already 7,000
feet high valley floor. The mammoth bulk of rock
dominates the canyon, looming over the gentle stream
and grassy meadow like a castle over a protected
village. As the trees thin out on the mountain, the
incline angles upward until it is a near vertical
wall. The very center of the mountain is peaked
slightly and bookended by two massive shoulders of
rock. When viewed from below, one gets the impression
that the mountain is watching over the lush and
tranquil valley and that one wouldn’t be surprised to
find ramparts upon its highest ridge, complete with
grim faced soldiers standing a somber watch. It is
that impression of the mountain that prompted the
Sierra Club to name it The Citadel.
Because of its prominence it is used as a navigation
tool for hikers and horse packing teams traveling
through the rugged section of Kings Canyon National
Park. From miles in all directions The Citadel can be
easily seen, identifying the location of Le Conte
canyon and the popular John Muir Trail that meanders
In the sloping debris of rock at the base of the
mountain the Boy Scout was hunkered down in the short,
scrubby underbrush that grew defiantly along the slope
of the alpine canyon. The tough and tangled bushes
picked and clawed at his clothes as he tried to hide
himself among them, causing tiny rips in his pants and
shirt, a number of scratches on his exposed arms and a
good sized scrape on his right cheek. His legs ached
from squatting for so long, and his breathing was
heavy from the altitude. To make his detection less
likely, he had removed his well-worn Smokey Bear hat
and set it on the ground next to him. He was not
happy but he suffered this misery for revenge.
He sought revenge over his best friend. It was that
friend who had jumped out of the quiet darkness last
night while the scout relieved himself behind a tree.
It was that friend who pretended to be a bear or other
wild animal in order to elicit cheap thrills at the
expense of the scout. It was that friend who caused
the sprinkling on the scout’s pants and shoes.
Through the branches he could catch glimpses of the
other scouts as they moved along the trail and up and
down the slope. He could hear both their shouts and
the stern but temperate admonitions from the
Scoutmaster. With half a day’s hike behind them and
the other half to come, the Scoutmaster had given them
a short break to cut loose, and the troop had taken
advantage of it with great enthusiasm. They had been
hiking for two days now, and still had a least a week
The scout had no great plan. He was simply going to
wait until his friend had passed close enough to his
hideout, and then he would jump out and scare him.
He heard footsteps and muffled voices coming near
him. Although he couldn’t make the words, he
recognized one voice as that of the Scoutmaster and he
wasn’t prepared to give up his hiding place just yet.
He slid down to his belly and crawled further back
under the brush, inching his way through the hearty
braches and over the bed made of years of dead leaves,
until he found his way blocked. One particularly
thick branch prevented him from lifting his head to
get a good look at the roadblock. From the corner of
his eyes he could see nothing but a relatively clear
path through which to crawl. He tried again but again
was stopped short. He twisted his head around again
as he pushed his arms forward to feel whatever was
blocking his way. His hands bumped up against an
Before he could investigate further he heard the clear
voice of the Scoutmaster asking, “Exactly what are you
doing under those bushes?”
He had be discovered. His revenge would have to wait
for another opportunity. He squirmed through the
bushes until he could stand up and sheepishly said,
“There’s something down here.”
“Really.” The Scoutmaster was smiling as if he knew
exactly what the scout had been up to, which of course
It was then that the scout noticed his friend standing
next to the adult leader; the smile on his face
indicated he had sold out the scout, as his lips
silently mouthed, “Busted.”
In a vain attempt to deflect his apparent discovery he
said, “It’s like there is some kind of force field
blocking me from getting through.”
The Scoutmaster smirked and said, “Just get out of
there. Your Mom will kill me if I bring you back with
your clothes in shreds.”
“No really. There’s something here.” He bent down
and felt the area where the ‘force field’ was. His
hands again hit something he could not see. He
knocked on it twice and was rewarded with a hallow
thumping sound. Both the Scoutmaster and his friend
looked over and down at the area he was indicating.
After a moment the Scoutmaster said, “It’s no force
field, its just clear plastic. Grab a hold.” The
three of them grabbed it wherever they could and
together the muscled it out of the bushes and into the
open where the dropped it with a clunk.
When they stood back to look at what they had found,
all their brows were furrowed and all their heads were
scratched. It was a long plastic curved shape, sort
of like an upside down canoe. Along the bottom was a
metal band with something stenciled on it. The scout
squatted down and read, “U.S.A.F 52-9232.”
After a few moments the Scoutmaster said, “It’s the
canopy of an airplane.”
All three of them looked up at the granite wall
looming over them and the scout asked, “From where?”
The canopy of course was from David Steeves’ T-33.
The serial number found along the bottom edge matched
the Air Force records. He had been completely
exonerated. The Air Force sent letters to his brother
and mother in Connecticut, explaining that he had been
telling the truth all along. Unfortunately David
Steeves never got a letter. He never received an
apology or even knew that the canopy had been
discovered. He died in Idaho in 1965. In a plane
crash. He was buried for the second and definitive
The seeds of this expedition were planted when I was
at a meeting in a Hotel in downtown Fresno, in October
of 2005. I wandered into the bar and found a stool
next to an older gentleman. We were watching reports
on TV about an airman from WWII whose body had just
been discovered in a glacier in Kings Canyon National
Park. I commented that I remembered when I was a Boy
Scout back in the ‘70s, I had heard about a part of a
lost airplane being found in the national park by some
other scouts. The older man next to me said that the
canopy the scouts found was from a T-33, and it was
not the plane from which the frozen airman came.
The older gentleman turned out to be a retired Air
Force pilot who had flown some of the missions to look
for Lt. Steeves' plane both before and after he was
found. When he and his fellow pilots heard about
Steeves being released from the service and the rumors
about what ‘really’ happened to the plane, they became
very angry and felt all their efforts had been wasted.
They felt betrayed and as far as they were concerned,
Steeves was a traitor. When the canopy turned up 20
years later, he tried to look up Steeves to apologize,
and of course found that he was 12 years gone.
He went on to say he had been looking for Lt. Steeves’
plane on and off for decades, as a way to find
absolution, but hadn’t found a clue. By the time I
met him, he said he was too old to hike around at the
elevations one would need to reach. When I told him
that I was thinking about looking for it, he lifted
his beer and said, “Godspeed. I hope you find it.”
We talked for a while longer. He told me his theories
on where the plane might be found and where he had
searched already. I finished my beer and went back to
I never tracked the number of hours I spent at the
main county library in downtown Fresno, looking at old
microfilms of local newspapers from 1957; or from
1977. Sitting in the relative quite, reading paper
after paper from nearly 50 and nearly 30 years ago,
you can get lost. When I finally decided I had all
the information about Lt. Steeves’ bailout and the
discovery of the canopy, it came as a surprise when I
walked out into the bright sunlight of 2006. I half
expected to see a ’56 Cadillac or maybe a ’71 Dodge
Charger, cruising down the street.
In the late 50’s and early 60’s a number of
adventurers searched for the missing aircraft, but as
time went on and the story faded, and when the rumors
that the plane wasn’t there came out, the group of
people trying to find the plane grew smaller and
smaller until all but a few people just forgot.
When the canopy was discovered by the Boy Scouts in
1977 a renewed interest grew but when hiker after
hiker came back empty handed, the fascination faded
Just before I left for the trip, I stopped by the Air
National Guard base at the Fresno airport. Mounted in
front of the base are several aircraft from different
eras. Sharing the lawn with the P-51 Mustang, the
DC-3, and the F4 Phantom, is a T-33 Thunderbird,
mounted on three steel posts. I stared at the jet for
a long time before I finally got into my battered
Cherokee, and headed up towards the mountains. I
wanted to memorize her lines, her markings, and her
every last rivet.
California Highway 180, August 8th, 2006.
We met at a small restaurant in the foothills where
highway 180 met a county road just above the San
Joaquin Valley. It was a small building with a river
rock façade called Clingin’s Junction. We found a
table by the large window in front, sat down to study
our maps, and ordered breakfast.
There were three of us who were going on this NUMA
expedition to find Lt. David Steeves’ lost T-33
trainer, two men and a woman.
Duncan Shields was a 42-year-old geologist who worked
for a surveyor company in the valley. He was short,
just over 5’7” with his shoes on. He had dark tanned
skin and darker hair and moustache. His mother was
from Thailand and his father was from Bishop,
California. Because it was difficult to pin down his
exact nationality, people had confused him for;
Mexican, Armenian, Arab, and one time, Russian. He
had hiked the area we were going to search many times,
on field outings to run geological tests. He
preferred to use the more technologically advanced
type of equipment on these expeditions; among them a
handheld GPS and a waterproof digital camera. He was
wearing jeans and a T-shirt that said, “Go Climb a
Rock: Yosemite.” He was coming along not only because
he knew the area but also because he was the strongest
man I had ever met. He ordered fried eggs, sausage,
Jamie Redwine spent 20 years as a U.S. Coast Guard
officer before retiring at 39. Since she figured she
had learned as much as she could about ships she went
back to college and got a degree in Aviation History.
She was 45, divorced, with no children. Her short,
dirty blonde hair was almost spiked, and her oval face
was dotted with a handful of freckles. She was
wearing olive drab coveralls tucked into paratrooper
boots and was never seen without her navy colored
baseball cap with the words USCGC JARVIS WHEC-725
embroidered on it in yellow. It was the last cutter
upon which she had been stationed in the Coast Guard.
She had wanted to be on a NUMA expedition every since
she read the first Sea Hunters book. Now that she
finally got the chance, she remarked how ironic it was
that she spent 20 years at sea, only to end up looking
for an airplane in the mountains. She was more
comfortable with less technical tools. She brought a
topographical map and compass, a pedometer, and high
powered binoculars. She and Jake argued endlessly
over who had spent more time in the High Sierra
wilderness. She ordered fruit, a muffin, and water.
My name is Miller Pass. I’m a writer. At 47, I was
the oldest. I was raised in the area and have spent
considerable time in the high mountain passes, but I
stay out of the friendly argument going on in across
the table from me. I was wearing my usual hiking
attire; blue jeans, a blank grey T-shirt, and a
rumpled campaign hat. I convinced the waitress that
it was okay to bring me a cheeseburger and a Coke at
We spread out a topographical map of a section of
Kings Canyon in the midst of the plates and cups on
our table. There was a mark at Helen Lake, where the
newspapers said Steeves ejected. We had also noted
where the canopy was found a few miles away, to the
southeast of the lake, near The Citadel; a place all
three of us have visited one time or another.
Jamie explained that when the pilot ejected, the
canopy and the chair continued more or less along the
flight path of the jet, until they lost forward
momentum and hit the ground. She went on to say that
when Steeves’ parachute opened, his forward motion
pretty much stopped. He was then pushed by the
prevailing winds to the east-southeast and his landing
spot was probably not along the flight path of the
If we put a line on the map going from northwest to
southeast, starting at Helen Lake and make that line
cross the base of The Citadel, where the scouts found
the canopy, we can guess the general flight path of
Lt. Steeves’ plane. This estimated flight path
crossed past The Citadel, out of Le Conte Canyon, over
the middle fork of the Kings River, and then started
to cross over some new ridges.
The first of these ridges one would get to when
coming out of the canyon reaches a height of about
9,000 feet. The next ridge has two of the higher
peaks in the area, Observation Peak and the curiously
misspelled Mount Shakspere, both of which are over
12,000 feet. Since Steeves observed that his plane
passed over a mountain then we presume that it must
have made it over the Citadel. If the plane crashed
on the first ridge coming out of the valley then the
wreckage would be in an area with very few trees where
the John Muir trail meets the Copper Creek trail. The
chance that the thousands of hikers who pass through
that fork never found anything is pretty slim, so we
assumed that it made it over this ridge too. But
since the second ridge is nearly 3,000 feet higher, we
speculated that it couldn’t have cleared those
mountains, so we decided to look in the hanging valley
between the two.
What we found when looking in that valley, on a map
and in satellite photos, was an unnamed alpine lake
that was about 600 yards long, with a smaller lake we
dubbed “The Pond” at its southeast end. The two
looked like a crooked, inverted lowercase ‘i.’ But
the most interesting feature of the larger lake was
that it ran lengthwise from the northwest to the
southeast; almost exactly parallel to, and almost
exactly under the assumed flight path. Could the
reason that no one has found the plane be that it went
into this lake? Were the scattered remains of the
plane spread across the bottom waiting to be
discovered? That’s what this NUMA expedition intended
to find out.
After breakfast we finished the drive to the end of
highway 180, double-checked out packs, and started
almost due north on the Copper Creek Trail that would
take us over Granite Pass to Simpson Meadow. From
there we would veer to the northeast as the trail ran
along the Kings River (retracing some of Steeves’ path
in reverse). Since there is no trail to the unnamed
lake, we would be looking for the stream that ran out
of the lake to feed the river. Then we hoped to
follow that stream uphill from there. Our best guess
was that the total distance from the trailhead to the
lake would be 33 miles. We planned three days to get
to the lake so that meant just over 10 miles a day.
One the first day Duncan and Jamie argued over who
should take the lead. Since I was probably the
slowest of the bunch, I decided that it would be me.
Almost immediately we found ourselves in some
switchbacks that would lead up to Granite Pass, the
highest elevation we would get to on this trip; 10,673
When we got to the top we rested and had a quick
snack. Duncan took a reading from his GPS and
verified that we were indeed at Granite Pass. Jamie
rolled her eyes. We had come just over 8 miles and
still had plenty of daylight. The view was nothing
less than spectacular. Far above the tree line, the
ground was bare, wind swept rocks.
The trail down from the pass went much faster and
when we finally stopped to set up our first camp, a
check of the GPS showed we had come 10 miles, as the
crow flies. Jamie pointed out that her pedometer
showed that with the twists and turns of the trail, we
had actually made over 12.5 miles. Not bad for the
I caught 4 pan-sized trout from a stream near our
campsite, which made for a good first dinner. I didn’t
even have to pine for my cheeseburger from breakfast.
We brought a tent with us but decided that our
sleeping bags would keep us warm enough to sleep out
under the stars that night. As I lay on my back,
staring up at the night sky, I couldn’t help but
wonder what the 53 nights that David Steeves spent in
the same wilderness were like. There must have been
times when he could have very easily given up hope.
What inner strength did he tap to keep him going? Was
it the small black and white photograph of his wife
and daughter? I’ve spent many nights in the High
Sierra, but never in the snow covered early spring,
and never without anyone knowing where I was.
August 9th, 2006
The next morning I woke up alone. Both Jamie and
Duncan had rolled up their sleeping bags and pads, and
gone off to who knows where. I was just finishing
putting my gear back in my pack when they returned.
“We just hiked to the top of the next ridge. We can
see Simpson Meadow from there.” Duncan said.
“So, how far is it?” I asked, trying to show
interest, What time was it?
Jamie answered, “No more than a few miles. We really
made great time yesterday.”
“It’s not still yesterday?”
Neither acknowledged my attempt at humor.
When I finally remembered to look at my watch, it was
7:15 and we were descending toward Simpson Meadow. It
was then that I saw the first bear tracks. “Looks
like there are some rather large bears around here,” I
said from the end of the line. This started an
argument between my two trail-mates about who had seen
the biggest bear. I kept one eye to the woods on
either side, just in case Smokey decided to make a
We got to the middle fork of the Kings River at
Simpson Meadow and turned right to follow it upstream.
We stayed on the southeast side of the river and made
good time, again.
Late that afternoon we stopped and made camp near a
stream called Goddard Creek. This time I caught 4
trout and Jamie caught 5. Duncan didn’t fish,
preferring the modern freeze-dried meals. After our
feast we sat around the campfire, staring at the
flames, and patting our stomachs.
We were treated to another crystal clear night. It
would be cool but we still opted out of using the
tent. We sat around for a few minutes, enjoying the
warmth of the fire.
Duncan broke the silence, “What if he faked it?”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“What if Steeves faked it? What if he really did
sell his plane in Mexico, or to the Russians?”
Jamie asked, “What about the canopy the Boy Scouts
Duncan thought, and then suggested, “Maybe he planted
Jamie smirked, “And what? He drug that canopy all
the way up here on his back? Through the snow in
“He could have kept the canopy and brought it up here
later in the summer. Maybe years later.”
“Still,” Jamie continued, “how did he get it all the
way up to Le Conte Canyon and drop it at the base of
The Citadel? How did he keep it hidden from other
“I don’t know. On horseback maybe.”
She just snorted as we stared at the fire.
“By plane,” I finally said.
They both turned to look at me.
I went on, “He could have brought it up by plane. He
rented planes and searched these mountains several
times in the late 50s and early 60s. He could have
put that canopy in a plane, and when he was over the
right spot, just kicked it out.”
Neither Jamie nor Duncan said a thing. They just
both stared at me like I cancelled Christmas. Finally
Duncan asked, “Do you think that’s what happened?
That he planted the canopy? Is that what you
I took a stick and prodded the fire to build the
drama. Then I said, “Believe is the perfect word. We
can’t know what Lt. Steeves did almost 50 years ago.
We have to believe that he wouldn’t sell that plane
and that he was a loyal member of the Air Force. The
only alternative is we believe that this man with
everything going for him; a wife, a child, a promising
career as a jet pilot, suddenly decided to risk losing
it all for money. A pittance really.”
“I’m sure a modern American jet would have commanded
a substantial amount of money,” Duncan interjected.
It was Jamie’s turn to show her expertise, “Don’t be
so sure. By 1957 the T-33 was on the way out. There
was no technology there that the Russians didn’t
already have. I doubt if they or anyone else would
have paid much for it.”
“What about as a propaganda tool?”
“The Russians never said a word. Even after the
Soviet Union fell.”
Duncan’s looked at me, his brow furrowed, “So why
bring it up?”
I shrugged, “I guess to let you know that I thought
about it. That I wondered, however briefly, if maybe
we were looking for a plane that was dismantled
decades ago, thousands of miles away. And that I
dismissed those thoughts.”
“And how did you do that?” Jamie prodded.
“If Steeves had flown up here and tossed the canopy
out of a plane; why did he let all those years go by
without it being discovered? He could have hiked up
here with anyone; a Ranger, reporters, Air Force
personnel, and ‘stumbled’ upon it along the trail?”
“Maybe he just wasn’t sure that people would believe
him if he was the one who found it.” Jamie again.
I looked at her and asked, “If you planted a piece of
evidence that would completely exonerate you of all
suspicion, would you be able to just sit there, year
after year, waiting for someone to find it?”
Duncan suggested, “Steeves was a professional pilot.
A fighter pilot. You have to have a cool head and
granite fortitude for that. Maybe those same traits
kept him from agonizing over the canopy’s discovery,
or lack there of.”
I answered, “Those are the very same traits that make
me ‘believe’ that Steeves didn’t sell the plane.”
Duncan looked at Jamie and said, “Well, I guess
that’s goodnight then.” He lay down, rolled over, and
apparently went right to sleep. Something he seemed
to be able to do anywhere.
Jamie and I talked about other things for a little
while then, when the fire died down, we too went to
But I again spent a long time staring up at the
stars. I wondered if Lt. David Steeves could have
planted the canopy. And if he did plant it, how long
before its lack of discovery ate at him, like the
Telltale Heart, until he broke? Maybe long enough for
a plane crash in 1965 to end it.
Sometime in the middle of the night I woke up to the
sound of a large animal moving through the brush, not
far from our camp. I listened until the sound faded
away. If it was a bear then there is no way it didn’t
know we were there, so I guess it wasn’t interested.
The brown bears and the black bears in the High Sierra
usually don’t bother people. And I wasn’t worried
about grizzly bears. The only grizzly left in
California is on the flag.
August 10th, 2006
The next morning I spent my first hour packing up my
backpack as the others slept. Then I walked down to
Goddard Creek and knelt down on the bank near a small
waterfall. It was only after I washed my hands and
face with the icy water that I realized I had
forgotten my towel. I shook my head back and forth
and whipped my hands up and down, to shake off the
water. When I looked up is when I saw the bear cub.
The small brown bear was on the opposite bank. He
was nosing around a small placer of sand where the
stream curved around and slowed down, probably looking
for bugs to eat. There is a saying that hikers and
packers use, “You would rather surprise a grown bear
than a cub.” Momma bears tend to be very protective
of their young. I turned and slowly walked back
toward our campsite. I was looking down so as not to
trip. There were large bear tracks all around. I
As we started off on that day’s hike, both Duncan and
Jamie said that I shouldn’t worry about bears. I
usually don’t, but for some reason I couldn’t shake
the thoughts that somehow that wasn’t the last I would
see of bears on this trip.
Our plan for this day was to look for the stream that
comes out of the unnamed lake that would be our final
destination. With Duncan using his GPS and Jamie
using her map and compass, we soon found what we
figured was the correct one. It cascaded over a slope
with about a 30 degree grade, then it continued down a
shallower incline until it crossed the trail and went
on to join the Kings River. Jamie held out her
topographical map and pointing at the spot where we
stood and said, “It’s fairly steep at first but I
looks like it levels out and gets pretty flat after
that. Once we get over the top of that,” she said
pointing at the spot where the water flowed over the
edge, “it will be like taking a stroll along the
We climbed up along the stream, using rocks and trees
as handholds and footholds. It was difficult and
strenuous, but not so much as to make it unpleasant.
When we reached the top of the cliff, we were rewarded
with a much more level way. Jamie smiled and starting
off ahead of us two men said, “Just like I said, a
stroll along the beach.” With my heart pounding and
my breath coming in gasps, I was wondering why I
didn’t go on this expedition 10 years ago. Maybe 20
After I caught my breath and we walked another mile
or so, we emerged out of the pine trees to the rocky
plane that comprised the floor of the hanging valley.
To our right we could see Observation Peak, to our
left was the lower of the two ridges, directly in
front of us was Mount Shakspere, and spread out at its
base was our lake. From our angle it was dark blue,
almost navy. Surrounded by the bleached granite, it
looked like ink spilled on paper. Beyond the south
end was The Pond.
We made our way to the shore and stood there for a
few minutes looking at the impossibly clear water.
Duncan picked up a rock and threw it out toward the
center. It went in with a plunk sound and the ripples
spread out to us and the other shores.
“How deep do you think it is?” Jamie asked.
Duncan looked around at the geology of the area and
said, “There’s no telling. It could be anywhere from
just 10 or 20 feet to over 100. The water is so clear
that a plane any closer to the surface than 50 feet
would be visible from the air.”
We moved around the lake to find the best spot to set
up our camp. Because the east and north shores were
covered by a talus of rocks from the mountains that
bordered them we decided that it would be on the
southwestern shore, using a fairly level patch of
hearty grass to provide some padding.
This time we went ahead and set up the tent. It
would be used not only for sleeping but as sort of an
office/workshop, out of the elements. By the time the
sun dipped behind the mountains to the west of us, we
had bags rolled out in the tent and dinner cooking
over the fire. Tonight it was Chinese noodles with
bits of freeze-dried chicken and vegetables. I tried
to catch some fish in the lake, but didn’t get so much
as a nibble.
August 11th, 2006
By 7:00 in the morning we had laid our all of the
equipment we would be using in our search for Lt.
The search would be in two parts; Duncan and I would
concentrate on the lake, while Jamie would search the
slopes of the mountains and the area around the lake.
For the lake search Duncan had brought along the
waterproof digital camera and the GPS. I brought a
small fish-finder sonar unit, several hundred feet of
strong cord with a small grappling hook, and a two man
The plan was to use the raft and the fish finder to
get the depth of the lake, then lower the digital
camera, face down, to just above the bottom on a wire
and cage setup that Duncan had specially built. The
wire attached to the custom cage had been marked off
at every 10 feet so we could gauge how far down we
were lowering it. If any pictures reveled something
that looked like part of an airplane, we would try to
bring it up with the grappling hook. We had no plans
to search the smaller lake to the south; Duncan said
that it was too small to be deep enough to hide an
The plan for the mountain search was much simpler.
Jamie would find a spot to set up her high-powered
binoculars on a tripod, and then she would pick a
starting point on a slope, scan that spot, then move
on to the next.
Duncan and I, the fish finder, the digital camera and
cable, and the cord with the grappling hook made for a
pretty snug fit in the little boat. We paddled back
and forth across the lake like we were mowing a lawn,
with Duncan using the GPS to keep us on track. At
each stop I would call out the depth from the fish
finder and use the paddle to keep us in place, and
then Duncan would set the timer on the camera and
lower it to about 15 feet above the bottom. We would
wait for the picture then bring it back up move to the
next spot and start over.
The first couple of times when we brought the camera
up, we looked at the results. With the camera’s auto
focus and flash we had crystal clear pictures of the
bottom. At this point, all we saw were rocks and
gravel. The good news was that since the lake was
above the tree line, there would be no rotting logs or
branches to worry about.
Every once in awhile I would look up and see Jamie
sitting in the same spot, her eyes glued to the
binoculars. Instead of panning them back and forth,
she would point them at one spot, scan everything
within the viewfinder, then move to the next spot,
scan the viewfinder, and so on. It was a skill she
honed with hours and hours of searching for those lost
By noon, Duncan and I had covered nearly three
quarters of the lake, taken hundreds of pictures, and
replaced the batteries in the camera twice. We
signaled to Jamie that we were coming in, then paddled
to shore and met her at the campsite.
As we ate lunch we took turns looking at the over 250
photos of the lake bottom we had taken so far. None
of us saw anything that looked like any part of an
airplane. I didn’t see any fish either. Duncan
moved the photos from the camera to a laptop that he
only turned on for the few moments the transfer would
take so that the battery wouldn’t run out.
Duncan and I were nearing the southeast end of the
lake when we heard Jamie yelling out. We looked up
and saw her pointing toward the ridge, north of the
When we got back to shore she was waiting for us,
“Come look! I’ve found something.”
With her binoculars firmly mounted to the tripod, we
each took a look. Just above the highest point of the
talus on the ridge to the north, a cylindrical shape
was visible. It was grey and looked to be about 10 or
12 feet long. It was bent slightly and pointing
downhill. I moved away from the binoculars and looked
at Jamie. She had the biggest smile on her face and
only said, “fuel tank.”
Jamie and I walked to the top of the talus, with
Duncan back at the binoculars directing us by two way
radio. When we got there, we found that the fuel tank
was much more damaged then we originally thought. The
nose of the tank was pushed in what Jamie estimated to
be about two feet. The stabilizer fins were gone and
it was completely covered in scratches and gouges.
But is was a wing fuel tank from a T-33. We found the
first evidence in almost 30 years that the plane was
After a few minutes of studying the layout, Jamie
said, “I think I know what happened here” She looked
from the fuel tank to the top of the ridge and back.
“With the way the nose of this fuel tank is pushed in,
I’m thinking that the plane came down just over the
edge of that ridge up there. The wing hit a rock
outcropping and tore this off.” She squatted down and
pointed at one edge of the tank, “notice the ragged
edge where the tank used to connect to the wing.”
She stood up and got between the tank and the top of
the ridge, then she pointed along her best guess of
the path the fuel tank had taken saying, “You plane
I turned and looked in the direction her outstretched
arm was pointing. It was right at the lake.
“We are almost finished photographing the bottom of
the lake and so far, nothing.”
She just shrugged.
Jamie took over for me in the boat, and she and Duncan
finished with the search pattern on the lake at about
3:00 PM. Again we all looked at every photo on the
camera and none of us found anything interesting in
any of them. The two of them decided to go back up to
the fuel tank and look for more wreckage.
I moved the binoculars and tripod to the western side
of the lake and started scanning the base of Mt.
Shakspere. I was looking in the viewfinder when
suddenly it was blocked. I pulled back and found
myself nearly nose to nose with the bear cub. It
sniffed me twice then ambled off along the lake shore.
I watched it until it was about 100 feet away.
That’s where the mother came over a slight rise, stuck
her nose up, and sniffed the air.
At first the mother and the cub continued northward
together. Then for some unknown reason, she turned
and looked directly at me. We stared at each other
for nearly a minute. Then she snorted, and started my
The mother bear wasn’t running, she was just heading
directly at me. I stood up and started moving south.
We probably made a pretty comical pair; neither of use
running, both of us moving in the same direction, me
looking over my shoulder. I got to our camp and I
kept going until I went over a small ridge and moved
down out of her sight. I kept going until I came to
the smaller, round lake that was 75 yards south of
‘our’ lake; The Pond.
The mother bear got to the ridge and stood there
looking at me. She started snapping its jaws
together, making a "whoofing" sound, and put her head
down with her ears laid back. She then ran straight
at me. With my back to the Pond, I raised my arms and
started yelling; there was really nothing else I could
do. At the last second, she turned away and ran back
up to where the cub was. It was what experienced
hikers call a “bluff charge.” Then, without another
sound, both of them moved away. I sat heavily on a
boulder next to the little lake.
My heart was trying to beat its way out of my chest,
my ears had a pulse, and my legs were butter. I bent
over to get some blood back in my head and stared at
the sandy ground at my feet. It was then that I
noticed the small, round piece of metal, half buried
in the sand. I reached down and picked it up. It was
about an inch and a half in diameter and maybe an inch
long; about the size of those cans that Vienna sausage
comes in. When I turned it over I saw that the other
side was sunk in a little. I rubbed the dirt off with
my thumb and I was looking at some sort of gauge. It
had six points marked on it from the top down the
right side to the bottom, sort of like half a clock.
But instead of the points being labels 12 to 6, these
were labeled starting at the top: UP, 20, 40, 60, 80,
and DOWN. Directly under the UP were the letters
F*AP, the asterisk indicating an unreadable letter.
Under that in smaller letters was PE**ENTA*E OU*.
For about 10 heartbeats it didn’t register what I was
looking at. Then it hit me; the letter missing from
the F*AP was an L. FLAP. It was a gauge from an
airplane. The needle was gone, probably broken and
laying inside. I didn’t know what the other letters
spelled. I turned and looking at Jamie and Duncan who
were running toward me to make sure I wasn’t bear
meat, raised my arm, and holding the little gauge
aloft yelled, “its here!”
After Jamie and Duncan both examined my find, Jamie
went to the tent to retrieve a small binder with
photos of a T-33, including both the pilot and
trainee’s instrument panel. She wanted to be sure
that what I found was the same type of gauge that was
in a T-33. Duncan and I got the raft, camera, fish
finder, and the rest of the equipment we used to
search the lake.
Jamie brought her binder back and, setting the gauge
down on a rock, began to compare it to the photos.
“It matches” was all she said. I looked at the
picture and saw that the other text spelled PERCENTAGE
OUT. The official name of the gauge was Wing Flap
We completed our search pattern on The Pond before we
looked at any of the pictures on the digital camera.
When we finally all sat down together in the tent that
evening and started looking at the photos, we found
what we had been seeking, in picture number 378.
Lying at the bottom of the lake, 90 feet under the
surface was the fuselage and tail of an airplane. We
could even still make out the remains of a star emblem
near the back.
Both wings of the airplane were twisted and wrapped
around the fuselage. It was an odd view, as if the
plane had been spending the last 49 years lying under
the freezing water, embracing itself. Everything
forward of the wings was gone. We noted which picture
and moved on.
In photo number 420 we found the nose and most of the
cockpit. That part was laying upright at the far
south end of the little lake. Most of what was in the
cockpit was gone.
Later when we looked at the photos between the two, we
would find many other parts for the aircraft, in an
area we referred to as the debris field.
We were all surprised at the depth. Duncan explained
that The Pond was probably the hollowed out conduit of
an ancient volcano, or a vent that led to the
volcano’s core. The mineral composition of the
conduit was different and softer than the geology
around it, so while the granite surrounding the little
lake remained relatively unchanged, the core wore away
and created a small but deep hole. It probably had
water in it for eons. None of us thought the little
lake could hide a jet aircraft and we had not planned
to search it, so if the bear had not ‘chased’ me to
the Pond, we would not have found the plane.
Later Jamie speculated, “It looks like the plane was
probably either in a spin on the way down, or went
into a spin when it struck the top of the ridge on the
north end of the valley, where the left fuel tank was
ripped off. It didn’t impact in the larger lake, but
instead flew over it and went into small one to the
south. It was at the moment of impact when the
forward part of the aircraft was torn off at the
weakest point, where the fuselage was cut out to
accommodate the cockpit. As the plane corkscrewed
through the water the wings bent and eventually
enfolded it. The majority of the contents of the
cockpit were scattered across the lake between the two
We decided not to remove any of the wreckage from the
lake bottom. For some reason, we thought that was a
decision better left to someone else. We walked
around the lake to look for more debris. Duncan found
a lever with a knob that Jamie suggested was the
canopy locking handle. She found a few more scraps of
metal and the Attitude indicator.
After we notified the Air Force and showed the
photographs to the officer who responded, he
determined that there was enough evidence to send one
of their forensic units via helicopter to the site.
They gathered enough of the plane to determine that it
was indeed that of Lt. David Steeves. Our pictures
ended up in the newspapers from LA to San Francisco,
and across the country. We even made it on
The National Park service has since renamed both the
long lake and the ‘Pond’, Steeves Lakes.
August 17th, 2006
I drove my faithful Jeep to downtown Fresno and found
a spot in an elevated parking garage. I had arranged
to meet the old pilot at a baseball game in the
ballpark just across the alley. We met at the front
gate then after a trip to the snack bar, found out
seats. We shared a couple of Coors and watched the
game as I told him all about our search, and the
condition of the plane. By the fifth inning, he had
heard the entire story.
I told him how we hadn’t had plans to search the
smaller lake and how the bear changed those plans.
Just before I left, I pulled the old flap indicator
out of my pocket, the only piece of the aircraft I
removed, and handed it to him.
He stared at it for a long moment turning it over in
his hand, and then said, “So where’s the chair?”
Posted: Jan 8 2006, 06:25 AM
Group: CCForum Member
Member No.: 34
Joined: 26-February 04
Congratulations, fossgly!!! Great story, imaginative and full of adventure. A very interesting subject choice, too. I had never heard of this accident before reading this. And the simple mention of a Dodge Charger made this Mopar fan grin like a fool.
Well done, Mr. Gly, well deserved.
Posted: Jan 8 2006, 06:26 AM
Group: CCForum admin
Member No.: 3,162
Joined: 22-September 04
Congratulations, fossgly! WOO HOO!
I completely want to echo Sean's remarks about all of the entries. It was obvious that each of the authors put a tremendous amount of effort, research, and creativity into their stories. They were entertaining, intriguing, and a challenge to score. Thank you to all of the authors for their stories, and to the upper admin for letting me be a judge. It was a really great competition all around.
Posted: Jan 8 2006, 06:39 AM
Group: CCForum admin
Member No.: 3,331
Joined: 30-September 04
Great job fossgly. So when do we get to read all of the entries?
Posted: Jan 8 2006, 06:57 AM
Special Projects Director
Group: CCForum ADMIN
Member No.: 1
Joined: 20-February 04
Congrats to "fossgly"
This story grabbed me by the eyeballs and wouldn't let go! Great Stuff!
I'd like to say that the other entries were also great reads and shows that there are very talented authors here on the forum.
Contratulations on a fantastic writing competition concept, Sean and hats off to all who participated.
Posted: Jan 8 2006, 11:56 AM
Group: CCForum admin
Member No.: 48
Joined: 27-February 04
Congratulations Foss. Great story. Way to Go!!!
Posted: Jan 8 2006, 04:14 PM
Group: CCForum Member
Member No.: 379
Joined: 24-March 04
Congratulations to everyone for a job very well done and like the others I'd love to see more from all of you.
Posted: Jan 8 2006, 05:45 PM
Group: CCForum Member
Member No.: 114
Joined: 29-February 04
Congrats to all of you! Foss, terrific story! I loved it. I have always been a jet plane enthusiast and am very familiar with the T-33 so this story captivated me. Great job!
Posted: Jan 8 2006, 07:11 PM
Member No.: 594
Joined: 21-May 04
Congratulations fossgly!!! Greate story!
This post has been edited by ripper on Jan 8 2006, 07:12 PM
Posted: Jan 8 2006, 10:21 PM
Miss Vice President and Assistant Projects Director
Group: CCForum Member
Member No.: 7,033
Joined: 5-October 05
Congrats!!! Great story!!
Posted: Jan 8 2006, 11:20 PM
Member No.: 7,088
Joined: 27-October 05
Well done! Nice story!!
|Andy in West Oz||
Posted: Jan 9 2006, 12:15 AM
I think I've broken the avatar upload!
Group: CCForum Member
Member No.: 7,204
Joined: 5-January 06
Great read, mate, well done!
|Pages: (3)  2 3|
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