MARCH 11, 1943
NORTHEAST INDIA OVER THE HIMALAYA MOUNTAINS TO CHINA
The CNAC Web Editor would like to thank Fletcher Hanks for providing the following information.
By Fletcher Hanks
The wreckage on a World War II vintage freight plane has been located in China, just 100 yards from the Burma border, that crashed March 11, 1943, while flying the supply route from northeast India over the Himalaya Mountains to China. Jim Fox, from Dalhart, Texas was captain, L. Thom, was the Chinese co-pilot and K. Wong was the Chinese radio operator.
(see top left of map below)
After the crash, the plane showed little damage from the air and there was a hope that the crew would walk out. When they did not show up, it was assumed that they were killed in the crash. However, when the plane was recently reached, no human remains were found, except for one right shoe. Since the Japanese held that part of China at the time, it is possible that they became POWs.
The China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC) plane was a C-53, the first stripped down version of the famous DC-3. The C-47 version soon followed the C-53 and these planes were the mainstay of the fleet to fly the treacherous supply route over the Himalayas to China, the most dangerous transport flying anywhere in the world.
Jim Fox's plane crashed on his return trip from Kunming, China to Assam, India. It was snowing and there was a solid overcast at 10,500 feet which had violent turbulence and severe icing. Because of those dangerous conditions, he stayed underneath the clouds and flew the passes. As he went through the lowest pass, he was suddenly hit by a down-draft as a head wind funnelled through the pass at 60 miles per hour. There were three other CNAC planes within sight of him. He applied full power and put the plane in maximum climb, but it was too late. The plane's propellers started cutting the tops of the trees and the plane finally settled in on it's belly just short of Burma and safety. Because CNAC #53's ground speed was estimated at around 25 miles per hour when it skidded in, it made a relatively soft landing largely intact.
The plane was found very much as shown in the pictures that were taken from Peter Goutiere's plane, by General Chennault's photographer, in May of 1943. The fuselage, the right wing and tail section were largely in one piece. The left wing was ripped off just outboard of the engine in landing.
CNAC #53 is the largest piece of a plane that is left from the famous "Hump" flights. It represents the joint effort by China and the United States in keeping China supplied during WWII and thereby keeping the Japanese troops occupied on the Asian continent instead of in the Pacific Islands. It will require the joint effort of both countries to preserve this piece of Americana in the wild mountains of western China.
Ge Shuya, a Chinese WWII historian, and Yang Shunga, an expert on western China, accompanied local authorities to the site and confirmed that this was CNAC #53 by its Douglas Aircraft identification tag. Pima Pass local authorities have put the plane under protective custody to discourage looting. Ge has been working in close contact with Fletcher Hanks, a former CNAC pilot and visionary who has believed all along that the plane would be found in much the same condition as when he last saw it in 1945. he believes the plane can be rebuilt where it is an serve as a memorial to both the Chinese and Americnas who served together in China in WWII on the important mission.
Now that this historic plane has been discovered, it is important to protect it from being looted or lost through neglect. A "C-53 CNAC #53 Fund" has been established to work with local Pima pass authorities to continue to protect the plane and to fund restoration and construction of a proper memorial. The fund has been established and is appealing for donations from $25 to $100 from individuals to help preserve this airplane either in it's current location or move it to Kunming for a permanent memorial for those 1800 crew members who lost their lives flying supplies over the "Hump" to China during WWII. The fund is maintained in the US by Fletcher Hanks. The address of the "C-53 CNAC #53 Fund" is Box 560, Oxford, MD 21654.
(Web Editor's note: More to follow about CNAC #53)
FROM: Fletcher Hanks, Box 560, Oxford, MD 21654
DATE: March 14, 1997
Now that I have received all of the 73 pictures that Mr. Ge took when he went to CNAC #53 the end of January 1997, my opinion of the demise of the crew has changed. I think that both that pilots were killed in the crash. The radio operator may have survived the crash because his seat was about 5 feet back from the pilots. The pictures do not show damage to that area. I will give comments on the pictures that are reproduced on the following pages.
Pictures #1 and 2 were taken from Pete Goutiere's plane the first of May 1943. The tail section was then attached to the fuselage and the right wing was in one piece and attached to the fuselage. The cockpit was to the right of the fuselage but I did not know it was inverted, during the crash, until I received Ge's entire collection of pictures.
#6 shows the collapsed vertical tail that holds the rudder. Undoubtedly structural damage when it crashed caused it to fall after 1945. It was vertical then. It shows where the side of the plane was cut open to remove cargo. I doubt if the stone-age people would do such a neat job. Perhaps the Burma NDA (New Democratic Army) used modern tools.
When I received the first pictures (#3) of the cockpit, it looked as if Jim Fox would of survived. Today I received #4 which shows Mr. Ge's nephew standing by the cockpit. Then I realized that the cockpit was 10 feet in front of the rest of the plane and truned up-side down. Another picture, not shown because it is too dark, reveals considerable damage to the cockpit above Jim Fox's head. i can't see his seat belt. The head rest is still there, gear handle up, pitch control full forward and throttles in cut off position. I will send the picture to Pete Goutiere for his analysis, as he was an FAA inspector for many years.
#7 is of the underside of the right wing with CNAC in Chinese. The flap is full down.
#8 is of a tree that grew through the fuselage and two government workers are standing on the plane. There is a warning, written in red, in the language of the Lusi tribe prohibiting removal of anything from the wreck. Just below it shows how someone stripped the skin off the fuselage. I assume it took place before the sign was posted.
#9 Peasants who are guarding CNAC #53 for the Hpimaw Police. Wang Er, on the left is holding a bow and arrow. The arrow is tipped with liquid poison that the ethnic group left behind. The shack is where the guards sleep and eat. Ge said he almost froze at night because he had not planned on going there so he had no food or extra clothes. They arrived too late to get back to Hpimaw Pass.
We want to arrange for the guards to receive 3 guns instead of one in case the warriors come back in force. They need hand-held radios so they can stay in contact with the Hpimaw Police Station. One guear has been there for 50 days. He wants a day off to go see his family.
#10 The Hpimaw Pass (Pima Pass today) Bus has engine trouble. Apparently some one put water in the oil by mistake. Or is this just a rest stop?
#11 Hpimaw Pass (Pima Pass today) where the CNAC planes funnelled through going both ways at 10,500 feet. It was an important check point. We called it V-Pass.
#12 The Japanese pillbox (arrow) in Hpimaw Pass (Pima Pass today). Now it is a monument to remind all how far north in China the Japs controlled during WWII. CNAC #53 is approximately 4 miles south (to the left) at 100 feet less altitude. We assumed the Japs would not shoot us down because they would immediately get blown off the mountain by aerial bombs. We were right.
#13 This is the town of PimaMa. Chinese lumberjacks who cut the Burma forests live in this small town. It shows the woven bamboo cages to keep the birds that are for sale. It is a wide open town with outlaws, prostitutes, drunks, gamblers carrying pistols like it was in the US wild west. Mr. Ge writes that, "As soon as we got to the inn, several women smoking cigarettes came over". That is as far as his story went.
The bus took Mr. Ge, Mr. Yang and Mr. Ge's nephew from Lushui to PimaMa (44 miles). The next day the police took them in their vehicle into Burma 12.5 miles to within 1.5 miles of CNAC #53. Then it took them 3 hours to climb up to the plane. The west side of the mountain range is very steep. It requires more climbing than walking.
Pete Goutiere writes that, "after Jim Fox crashed, he flew over the plane every day and never saw any signs of life. One day he saw an enormous black bear near the plane". Maybe the bear explains why ther was no trace of the crew at the plane.
For 30 years, all Chinese sources had told me that it was too dangerous to go where the plane was because a dangerous stone-age ethnic group of head hunters controlled the area.
In July 1997, with the advice of a former missionary of that area, I contacted the Burma ethnic groups representative in exile, in the Washington area, to ask for safe passage through their area. I gave him the coordinates of the plane, determined by the space shuttle Columbia. He immediately made contact with his representative in Thailand and received clearance for me to travel on horse back to the plane from Thailand through the Golden Triangle (opium country). I was scheduled to go in October but I could not finance it. The Burmese undoubtedly went to CNAC #53 after receiving its exact location.
The best effort our team could finance was to send Mr. Ge and Mr. Yang, in January, to the PimaMa Pass Police to request permission for a trip to the plane in the June. When they arrived there, the police knew about the plane and had it guarded to keep it from being looted further. The police volunteered to take them to the plane the next day.
Apparently, the Burmese ethnic group, in the area of the plane, tried to sell the cargo of wolfram worth $20,000 by the quotation in the Wall Street Journal and the NDA found out about it and notified the PimaMa Pass Police about it. The police took control of the plane and stationed guards on it. The Chinese government sent in surveyors who in December determined CNAC #53 was inside of China by 100 yards.
Lushui is planning a celebration for having found CNAC #53 in their counrty. Also they'll have a memorial service for the crew members. Among those who are expected to be there are:
1- The CNAC #53 team: Ge Shuya, Yang Shunfa, Judith Mills, our interpreter and consultant, and Fletcher Hanks.
2- Pamela Smith, relative of Jim Fox. Relatives of the other two crews if we can find their families.
3- Representatives of the PROC and the US.
4- Pete Goutiere, who saw the plane crash.
5- One of the AVG Flying Tigers who stopped the Japanese in the Battle of the Salween Gorge.
6- Steve Kusak who accompanied Red Holmes and me on a walking expedition in an attempt to reach #53 in 1944.
7- Chinese mechanics who kept the CNAC planes in the air during WWII.
It is anticipated that the tour will fly from Kunming to Dali, two nights there and the following day drive by minibus, like the one in the picture, to Lushui (approximately 100 miles). Five nights in the Lushui area, including a bus trip to PimaMa Pass and the town of PimaMa. Those who want to will walk and climb the 1.5 miles to CNAC #53 and spend a night at the plane.
When we leave Lushui we take the bus ride to Paoshan (approximately 80 miles), then 18 miles on the Burma Road over the bridge at the Salween River Gorge, one night at Paoshan and then fly back to Kunming.
We'll stay at the Holiday Inn or Green Lake Hotel while in Kunming for two days. Two nights of feasts with dignitaries.
Anyone interested in learning more about this tour should contact me immediately. it will be a short tour of 8 days from Kunming. West of Kunming, the sleeping facilities are crude by Americna standards and when traveling by bus, a relief station might be the nearest tree or bush.
I realize that some of the people on my mailing list have no interest in this project. The reports are expensive and take considerable time. Therefore, those who do not send in $5 to pay for the future reports will be dropped from the mailing list. Of course, those who have supported my effort by buying T-shirts and those who have contributed to the "C-53 CNAC #53 Fund" will continue to receive all reports.
CNAC #53 will be restored as an international memorial for those 1800 who died during WWII in flying freight to China from India. It is obvious that the guards need help; please help if you can. Next report: more pictures with captions.
to be continued...
From: Fletcher Hanks
To: Tom Moore
I will attempt to upgrade and update your report on CNAC #53. The whole story hasn't been told about the Saga of CNAC #53. I will give you a little of it now and in due time all of it. However, it might not be completed in my lifetime.
The map shown in your story (top of this page) is a small section of map No. 133 which CNAC and the ATC used starting in 1943. It was an excellent map that was easy to read. When we flew north into the Gobi Desert and beyond, the maps were inaccurate and topography features difficult to find. The first time you saw the Hump, all the mountains looked the same; after a few trips they all were distinctly different which became very useful when getting only a split-second glance through a hole in the clouds. Even the deserts took on identifying marks after a few trips.
This plane was found in 1996 by tribesman of the Wa nationality, the rulers of the ridges from Thailand to Pima Pass in China. There are two strains of them: the dry heads and the wet heads. Both strains would place a line of human skulls, on poles, on both sides of the trail leading to their settlement. That seemed to be fair warning to strangers. The dry heads could be from old dead people as well as freshly killed. The wet heads were from only freshly killed people that could be identified by hair on the skull. These tribesmen had built an elevated bamboo hut close to CNAC #53 and on the Chinese side of the ridge. I rested at the bamboo hut for a while on my trip to CNAC #53 in 1997; then I realized how small were the Wa people. The hut was used while they hunted bear and other animals in the area. The Chinese had cut huge trees close to CNAC #53 but on the Burma side of the ridge. Neither had discovered the plane although the Chinese knew about it and looked for it because they knew about the valuable cargo and metal in all airplane wrecks.
The tribesmen did not know about CNAC #53 nor how to locate it. I met, in Washington, DC, with the leader of all the Burma ethnic border people, in July 1996. Since he said he would help me get to the plane. I told him that if they would take me to CNAC #53 they could have the $20,000 of wolfram ore, that was the cargo, and I would get the bodies and the airplane. After he made a trip to Thailand and the Golden Triangle, he said the trip was approved by the Waes and they planned to go the first of October, before the snows started. He would not go because the Burma (Myamar) Governmant had a ransom on him dead or alive. He assured me that I would be safe and I would ride a horse that I would buy in the Golden Triangle and ride it as far as the horse could travel. I would eat the food that the Waes ate which was mainly monkeys shot by crossbow with poisoned tipped arrows. They would get the cargo of wolfram ore worth $20,000 and I would get the airplane and the bodies. At first, I accepted the terms but after I thought about it, I was afraid I would die from the poison that killed the monkeys. Since there would be no interpreter on the trip, a misunderstanding by me might inadvertently insult them and provide them a reason for me to have my head end up on one of their posts. I backd out but they went on and the plane was discovered that month. If the skulls of the crew were found by them, I'm sure they are today on posts leading to a Wa village. I suspect some of the other crews' skulls, that perished in their territory, could now be found on the trails to their villages. Anyone ready to go with me?
After the tribesmen had found CNAC #53 and started bartering the wolfram ore, the New Democratic Army (DNA) of Myamar found out about it and chased them off the plane and salvaged the $20,000 cargo of wolfram and anything that they could barter off the plane. In November they notified the PORC (China) army garrison at Pima Pass that they had found a transport of WWII that they believed was in China. The PORC army hired peasants to guard it from further looting.
I had suspected that the Waes had reached CNAC #53 in October as scheduled. In January of 1997, through Judith Mills, the author of an article in the EX-CBI Roundup, I engaged Ge Shuya, a Chinese WWII historian and Yang Shunga, an expert on western China cultures to go to the army garrison at Pima Pass to inquire about the plane. The soldiers there reported that the plane had been found in October, at the location I had said it was, and that they had peasants guarding it. Mr. Ge and My. Yang were taken to the closest place to the airplane that a jeep could go. They followed the guard, who was off-duty and resting at their shack, in the valley below the plane. They arrived so late in the day that they had to spend the night in the guard's shack at the plane. They almost died from exposure that cold night. Later one of the guards did die from exposure. Mr. Ge and Mr. Yang returned with pictures confirming that the plane was CNAC #53 (see story in above block).
Since I was a former pilot with CNAC during WWII I realized the value of this particular plane as a centerpiece for a museum of memorabilia of the Hump operation of WWII. I also realized the plane could disappear by looting and planned to go to it as soon as possibl to help protect it. It wasn't until the end of June, at the height of the monsoon season, that I got to the plane in June of 1997 with leader Yan Jiangzheng, China Association of Expeditions, and Han Wen Bin, Director of the China Museum, and others.
During the winter of 1997-1998, the plane was moved to Pima, the closest town in the valley. Since then the right wing has been moved to Kunming close to the WalMart and displayed with guards to protect it. It is referred to as the "Search of the Century". It took me 53 years to reach it. The CNAC number was #53 and it was a C-53 model Douglas aircraft. This plane has been the vehicle that has educated all of China about the price Americans paid with their lives in helping the Chinese defeat the Japanese.
In retrospect, the decision not to make the trip with the Waes, in October 1996, was a mistake. I thereby lost the opportunity to learn what happened to the crew, which were never heard from after the crash. I should have bought two horses in the Golden Triangle and loaded the second one with 20 quarts of peanut butter, soda crackers and enough high energy bars to last me two months. When the food was exhausted, I would eat the weaker of the two horses. When I recall the gamble Ted Holmes, Steve Kusak and I took in 1944 in an attempt to walk to CNAC #53, this trip would have been "a piece of cake".
(WEB EDITOR'S NOTE: At his own expense, Fletcher produced a very interesting video called The Saga of CNAC #53.