June 16, 2017

High Desert Hangar Stories with Bob Alvis

Bob Alvis
Special to Aerotech News

Robert Hester

For the love of a son
On Dec. 5, 1943, the crew of B-24E #41-28463 — an Army Air Corps Liberator — was coming to the end of a night navigation mission that had started at Hammer Field near Fresno, Calif., the day before.

At 2:10 a.m., the plane made its last transmission stating that it was 50 miles east of Muroc and with a hop over the Sierra Mountains would be back at the field before sun up. Earlier when they had taken off the weather report for the mission gave no indication that any major weather event, except a cold front moving across Northern California, was in the forecast.

Climbing to cross the Sierras high winds caused the crew to seek out a better altitude. The unexpected winds had managed to blown them off course, thus setting the table, along with a sudden increase in cloudiness, for the impending disaster.

Second Lt. and Pilot Charles W Turvey and his copilot, 2nd Lt. Robert M Hester, watched the instrument panel with glimpses of gray engulfing the wind screen when the crew and their plane disappeared into what many call “The Sierra Triangle.”

With a loud explosion the sounds of the engines fell silent and the lives of the crew came to an abrupt end as the howling winds and blowing snow quickly erased any evidence of the scene.

The Hester family, like many other families during the war years in America, were about to receive the dreaded notification that a son was listed as missing, but not missing in action but missing in training.

Crew photo early on in training

For Clint Hester, Roberts’s father the news was unacceptable and calls were made wondering how the Army Air Corps and their mass resources could lose a four-engine bomber in the State of California and not find it. For a while he held on to the hope that the crew and his son would be found alive. or that the wreck would be found and the bodies returned so families could have a proper goodbye. As the war continued on the Army had to finally close the book on #41-28463, its crew and the mystery that surrounded it.

Clint’s love for his son was what we would call legendary and at nights when he would lay his head down to sleep we can only imagine that his last moments of thought were always of his son. The heart and soul of Clint was hurting and a decision was made that no matter what it took or cost he would find his son Robert.

Starting in the late spring until the late days of fall you would find Clint hiking and searching the Sierras looking and hoping for that discovery that would bring him to his son and his final resting place. Clint made this journey for 14 years straight. Camping and sleeping at nights in the High Sierras is not for the weak of heart but the motivation for the love for a son can be very powerful. In 1959, Clint’s personal journey in life came to an end as he passed away never finding his son. We can only hope that the many nights in the Sierras gave him the peace of mind he was seeking being close to his sons final resting spot.

1960, at a nameless lake in the Sierras a National Park employee noticed something shiney in the waters and, with some creative fishing, managed to pull a piece of it out of the water.

A piece of an airplane — but what airplane? After notifying authorities, it wasn’t long until U.S Navy Divers were making the dangerous dives onto the lake and the aircraft that had eluded Clint Hester for 14 years. The lake he had hiked around many times was identified as the final resting spot of his son, one year after Clint’s death.

Navy divers at the crash site, 1960

Research showed that the B-24 had flown directly into the sheer cliff above the lake and disintegrated upon impact with the debris falling into the lake below then being hidden from view by the winters snows that followed.

Thanks to a dry winter and an abnormally warm period, the snow had melted down in the early 1960s and the lake level had dropped to reveal its mystery. With the water being at glacier temperatures and after two very dangerous dives over two years the partial remains of the crew were recovered and the final flight of 41-28463 and finally come to an end.

With the sounds of a 21-gun salute echoing in the confines of Arlington National Cemetery, the crew was laid to rest in a common grave less one whose family had decided on a home town burial. Staff Sgt. Bussey was laid to rest in Rutland, Vt.

Dec. 5, 1943, will always be remembered by family members that for so many years lived with the unknown of sons and brothers lost but on this day they had their closure unlike the father that gave his all to not only bring his son home but help these families find closure.

For the love of a son, Clint Hester and his remarkable story will never be forgotten. And complete strangers will never hear this story but traverse the High Sierras may at times pass the lake and wonder of its name “Lake Hester,” — not knowing the incredible power of the human spirit and its desire to remember a son and a lost crew of American Airmen.

Till next time, Bob out …

Crew and final  resting spot excluding the one sergeant .

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