Just outside of McCall, Idaho is Loon Lake. It is a beautiful area, and it draws hikers, bikers, and lovers of the outdoors from all over the state. But the draw isn’t just the beautiful forests, scenery, and lake. Within the woods lies a ghost from over half a century ago. It has become a part of the forest, twisted and broken metal melting into the green trees surrounding Loon Lake.
This ghost is the remains of a B-23 Dragon Bomber that went down during the late winter of 1943. Today, it has become a part of Loon Lake, and is a large reason why so many people come to the lake to hike, bike, or just enjoy nature. This downed bomber is a piece of history, and a harrowing story of bravery and rescue.
The B-23 bombers never saw combat; instead they were used solely for training missions. While the B-23 was the first bomber to include a tail gunner, the B-17 and B-24 bombers were more advanced, and became the main bombers used in combat. On January 29th, 1943, the B-23 Dragon Bomber went down with eight men aboard. It went down at Loon Lake. The bomber was returning from a training mission in Nevada and heading home to McChord Field in Tacoma, Washington. However, the plane hit a severe snow storm right outside of Pendleton, Oregon.
The pilot was unable to maintain altitude in the severe weather, and made the decision to attempt a landing in Boise, Idaho. However, the approach failed. Hampered by the buildup of ice and malfunctioning radio, an order to prepare to abandon the plane and parachute was given. They were at 13,000 feet. Before they could bail, they flew into a hole in the cloud cover, and they spotted a frozen lake. They made the call to attempt a landing.
The storm didn’t let up, and ice build up and frozen flaps caused their first attempt at landing to be abandoned. But they didn’t give up. They tried again, and this time the B-23 landed on the frozen Loon Lake. The plane slid across the ice and into the trees, where both wings were sheared off. The Dragon Bomber finally came to rest in the forest, 150 feet away from the shore of Loon Lake.
Survival and Rescue
Even though the landing was rough, and the plane was destroyed, all eight men aboard survived. There was only one injury: a broken kneecap. The crew had radioed for help, but the pilot wasn’t where he thought they were. He assumed they were near Boise, and had given incorrect information to any potential rescuers. They waited five days for help or sign of a rescue, but when none was coming, they decided to seek out help themselves.
They selected three men to leave the plane and go searching for help. The three crew members set out on February 3rd, with only a shotgun and chocolate rations. It was all the food that they had. But they set off, hiking through waist deep snow down the Secesh River. Through the snow, they hiked over the Lick Creek Summit, at an elevation of 6,700 feet, almost 1,500 feet above where their plane had crashed. After hiking 42 miles through waist deep snow over the course of 14 days, with nothing but a shotgun and chocolate rations, they reached the Lake Fork Guard Station, and called McCall for help.
Finally, on February 18th, a bush pilot spotted the downed B-23 Dragon Bomber. He notified the authorities, and then made two more flights. He landed on the frozen lake to fly the crew out of Loon Lake and back to civilization and safety. It took two flights, but the bush pilot, Penn Stohr, rescued the stranded airmen. It was 21 days after the bomber had crashed, and the crew had been stranded in the harsh winter climate of Idaho, in an area completely cut off from civilization. But all eight men were rescued. They had survived.
Visiting Loon Lake
Living in Idaho provides you with incredible opportunities to visit beautiful places like Loon Lake. And Idaho is full of incredible secrets and histories, like the ghost of a dragon resting just inside the forest surrounding Loon Lake. The loop is a 10-mile hike, but if you take it, you’ll catch a glimpse of a dragon, slowly being overtaken by the forest and nature, surrounded by the incredible natural beauty of Idaho.