Outdoor Adventures and Closure

Dwight “Lee” Bates has submitted several stories to our writing contest over the years. Lee is a professional engineer with long experience with shipbuilding, auto manufacturing, and aviation – which I think holds the lion’s share of his fascination. His work directly with students, stirring their interest in math and engineering, along with the book (Due Diligence – Memoirs of the Life of An Engineer and Outdoorsman) he wrote for them, is widely recognized. He built and flew his own Light Sport Aircraft. Lee often reminds me that “outdoor adventures” are not just about hunting, fishing and camping.

Here is Lee Bates’ tale of wild places, family, and a man’s closure.

“I was looking around online and found a story that caught my eye on a website, www3.gendisasters.com, for airplane crashes.

“The story was about a guy whose father died in a 1946 DC-3 crash. He was trying to get closure by visiting the crash site on Elk Mountain, not far off I-80 in Wyoming – a site which I climbed up to on the mountain twice to find. This guy wrote, ‘I am taking a trip next week to Elk Mountain to be where the plane crashed ending my dad’s life. I was only 7 months old and I am now 68 years old. But need to finally get closure on saying goodbye to the dad I never knew! I plan on leaving him a letter on the mountain top.’

“So I posted the following on the website: ‘I read your trip report on the crash of a DC-3 on Elk Mountain in 1946. I found the crash site twice in 1960.

Elk Mountain, Wyoming (Dwight Lee Bates photo)

It was to the West of the lookout by two huge broken off trees. I first went to it with a friend of mine I hayed with, and later with my cousin Rod. I think they would have not crashed if they had not hit the two big trees. Each tree was about 3 foot in diameter. They were only about 50 feet from the top. Most of the parts were just beyond the 2 trees to the South East. I found a DC-3 access cover to the gas caps there, verifying it as a DC 3. When I showed it to my Uncle Robert, he also identified it.’ He said: ‘I recognize the access cover to the gas caps since when I have flown on a DC 3, I have seen those access covers flopping in the wind when they forget to close them.’ ‘I heard that a rancher took his pickup to the top and hauled the metal to the scrap yard to sell. This is probably why the crash site is hard to find today. Also I heard they used the electric starting motors from the DC-3s engines as electric winches for their trucks. Please call me.’

“Well, the guy called me and said he visited the crash site of the DC-3 on Elk Mountain in 2013 to get closure. He said a rancher with ATVs took him to the site, where he left his letter. He said they used a road made by the University of Wyoming to access their cloud seeding building on the top of Elk Mountain. He said that he took a picture of the crash site, but there was not much metal left. I said there was not much metal also left in 1960 when I visited the crash site. I can verify that this is the crash site since I can see the two broken off trees that they hit far in the distance in a photo of the mountain. Also I remember this is what the crash site looked like when I found it twice. I told him I had just talked to my Uncle Fred that day who helped bring the bodies down after the crash in 1946.

“I am glad that the guy who lost his father found closure. I asked him if his dad was the pilot but he would not tell me. My uncle said they could not find the pilot’s body for quite a while until they dug through the snow drifts. He was thrown clear of the wreckage through the windshield. My uncle said the stewardess who was found in the tail section did not have a scratch on her – she may have survived the impact only to freeze to death. It was January so it was hard to get to the wreckage in the deep snow. They slid the bodies and themselves off the mountain and used dog teams to retrieve them. The DC 3 was flying alongside another DC3 that belonged to the same airline. The pilot of that DC 3 tried to raise the other plane after he saw a flash of light coming from their direction. When he did not get a response, he knew they hit Elk Mountain. I think that the airliner was supposed to use the Cheyenne ADF [Automatic Direction Finding] to avoid hitting Elk Mountain at night but he must have wrongly used the Laramie ADF which put him off course. Evidently the pilot could not see the other DC3 running lights to warn him.”

An aside: “Jim, I believe you know Elk Mountain from your Antelope hunts. My cousins own four 30K acre cattle ranches in Elk Mountain area. My uncle is still alive. The ranchers in Wyoming are strong people and will go out of their way to help someone, and have helped me a few times. My grandfather’s dad, my great grandfather, was killed in a 1902 gunfight in Medicine Bow, Wyoming. The fight was over a woman. We recently cleaned up that great grandfather’s grave in Medicine Bow.” Lee Bates


Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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