I'm always deeply aware of the historical and cultural significance of many of the sites I visit - places and things that tell the story of our country and that few people will get ever to see for themselves - and I love that the subjects I photograph put me in touch with the most interesting and knowledgeable people who share many of my passions.
A few months back I had written about a trip to the Crucero region of the Mojave desert where I visited and photographed the remains of the McDonnell F-4D 64-940 USAF plane that crashed in 1968, and shortly thereafter I was contacted by Pat Macha, California's premier aviation archaeologist and wreck finder. Pat is the author of "Aircraft Wrecks in the Mountains and Deserts of California" and host of the History Channel's "Broken Wings". Best of all, he lives right here in Orange County. If you are fascinated with finding or learning about these lost plane wrecks in the most remote regions of California, I highly recommend a visit to his website Aircraft Wrecks in the Mountains and Deserts of the American West.
Of special note to my friends in M.I.A. - Military in Action, is the dedication on Pat's website -
"This site is dedicated to the memory of those men and women who lost their lives in service to our nation, especially those who remain missing and unaccounted for, in the vastness of the American West and the Pacific Ocean."
Pat wanted to use some of my photos in the newest edition of his book, but he also wanted to talk about my visit to the wreck site. Seems there was another wreck very nearby and he was researching and planning a field trip to verify exactly which wreck site was which. And ya'll know how much I love to talk about exploring the desert! Pat was kind enough to keep me informed as his research progressed, and he recently made his trip out there to verify the wreck sites. He confirmed that the site I visited was the one I believed it to be, but shared some sad news. With his permission I am posting his note -
I finally got out to the three crash sites including the one that you visited, and it is the F-4D USAF aircraft that was described in Bill Mann's book. Since you were there however, the outer wing panel with the X on it has been removed by persons unknown. Your photo of the wing section with the X is now very important to me as it's no longer there.
The USN F-4B is very close to the F-4D, but it is widely scattered with no large parts remaining. The accident sites are unrelated and happened in different years.
Thanks to you a piece of aviation history will be preserved.
and in a follow up note - "Your photo has become very important to the historical record!"
I suppose the real surprise is that the remains were untouched for over 40 years and I'm glad I had an opportunity to photograph them before someone began salvaging. Deep down inside when one does documentary photography there is always the hope that you may create an image of significance, no matter how small. Pat gave that opportunity to me and for that I sincerely thank him. To me that is more important than fame and fortune.
You can see my original blog post with some of the photos here.
If you are fascinated by lost plane wrecks and military aviation history, be sure to buy the new edition of Pat's book when it is released. After all...you know one of the photographers! ;)