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New Memorial Dedicated To 12 Military Aviators Who Died In Channel Islands Plane Crash 75 Years Ago

(U.S. Air Force photo)
Wreckage from a July 5th, 1943 plane crash on San Miguel Island, in the Channel Islands which killed 12 military aviators

It was a series of related, and now all-but forgotten tragic accidents along the Santa Barbara County coast which left 16 people dead. It involving two plane crashes and a boat collision. On July 5th, some of those who died are being commemorated in Santa Barbara.

It started 75 years ago, during World War II, when a B-24 bomber flying through Santa Barbara County disappeared. The bomber had apparently run out of fuel. The crew bailed out. The plane crashed in the Los Padres National Forest. Most of the crew members survived, because they bailed out over land. But two bailed out over the ocean, and died.

A second B-24 was sent out to search for the missing plane, and that flight ended even more tragically. It crashed into a mountain on San Miguel Island, in the Channel Islands, killing all 12 crew members on board.

It was assumed the plane had crashed into the ocean, until a few months later. A sheep rancher discovered the wreckage. The military sent out a team, which recovered the human remains and returned them to their families.

But, everyone forgot about the plane’s story, even the military, which opened the door to a third related tragedy. In the 1950’s, someone spotted the wreckage, and thinking it was new, reported it to the military. The Air Force also thought it was something new. A team was put on board a Coast Guard cutter to investigate, but it collided with a yacht, and two people on board that boat were killed.

In 1968, a father and son visiting San Miguel Island stumbled across the wreckage, and took home one of the plane’s propellers. When the father died in the early 1990’s, the son gave the propeller to the Santa Cruz Island Foundation, which is dedicated to preserving the history of the islands.   The foundation wanted to do something for the 75th annivarsy of the crash, and commissioned the creation of a memorial.

So, on July 5th, the 75th anniversary of the search plane’s crash, a memorial created with the propeller is being dedicated. The Thursday afternoon dedication ceremony at Santa Barbara Maritime includes some relatives of the plane’s 12 crew members.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral. 
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