7-27-19 Parsons-wreck of the DC 3 on Mount Success

The wreck of the DC 3 on Mount Success. (ED PARSONS PHOTO)

I took this hike a few years ago in mid-July. It is worth revisiting.

After the rainy spell and before the hot spell, there were a few amazing days of clear skies with temperatures in the 70s that begged for an outdoor adventure. On the second of such days, I managed to accomplish one.

I had been leafing through my copy of “50 Hikes North of the White Mountains” by Kim Nilsen. I was looking for a hike that was not too far north for a comfortable day trip.

Mount Success (3,565 feet) in the Mahoosuc Range fit the bill perfectly. Not only did it have a couple great vistas, but there was a mysterious plane wreck from a commercial DC-3 crash about half-mile from the summit. A walk down the herd path to the wreck would round out the adventure.

I had been to the Mount Success summit years ago with Sue Marvel and her son from Kearsarge, and 80 year old Dick Martin. I knew approximately how to get there, so instead of reading Nilsen’s description thoroughly at home, I threw the book in my pack and headed north. It was a large trade paperback, the same size as others in the “50 Hikes” series, and not one that I would normally carry on a hike. But I knew that Nilsen’s writing was enjoyable, so I brought it to add to the experience.

Driving north on Route 16 in Berlin, I bore right on a bridge over the Androscoggin River just before the center of town on Unity Street, continued on Hutchins Street, and at a small sign turned right onto the dirt Success Pond Road.

One could say that the long Success Pond Road accesses God’s Country, but isn’t very wild itself. Many people on the east side of Berlin own four-wheelers, and shoot out the road for a spin on one of the woods courses out there.

The rough road itself is covered with small rocks, which keeps your speed down. The wide flat area north of the road is not national forest, and has been aggressively logged. Much of it has been clear-cut, and is in the process of re-growth. As one longtime hiker told me, “The T.R. Dillon Company has really hammered the area.”

On the other hand as you drive in, the green Mahoosuc Range appears above on your right. The Appalachian Trail goes along the top of this ridge. By driving in 5.4 miles on the Success Pond Road and climbing the Mount Success Trail for 2.4 miles you find yourself up on the quiet Appalachian Trail in the middle of a 26-mile ridge. Depending on the time of year, the people you meet are likely “thru-hikers” on their way north from Georgia.

In my opinion, the best viewpoint on this hike is not up on the ridge but halfway up the trail.

After perusing the guidebook again in Berlin, I drove out the road and finally at a sign, turned right on a rutted road to its end at the trailhead.

The trail was gentle, then steep. In 1.6 miles I turned right on a loop to the Overlook, a fabulous lookout on top of a substantial cliff halfway up the mountain.

It was only 8:30 a.m. and the quality of the light was good. The view contained all the elements, from the sweeping drop of the Mahoosuc Range, to the endless horizon to the north and west.

Here was my reward after weeks of rain. I felt liberated.

Then I continued for another 1.2 miles up to the ridge. I headed south on the Appalachian Trail, where a steep climb for 0.6 miles would bring me to the top of Mount Success.

I met a young backpacker headed my way. He was a thru-hiker. His trail name was “Man-Child.” He was looking forward to reaching the Maine border in another mile or so.

I reached a ledge on the open top of Mount Success, and enjoyed the 360-degree view above stunted trees. Another thru-hiker approached from the south. He had ear phones on, and didn’t hear my first greeting. He didn’t tell me what kind of music he listened to but perhaps appropriately, his trail name was “Pounds the Ground.” He quaffed some red drink and headed north.

I sat and read the guidebook. A quarter-mile further south on the trail I was supposed to look to the left for a freezer-sized boulder 70 feet from the trail in the tundra. A herd path would start there down into the woods to the plane wreck.

It was easy following the herd path, which had grown with use over the years. Soon, I was at the wreck. It was broken in a few sections, and I wandered around it for 20 minutes before moving away and sitting down on moss for lunch and my last section in the guidebook.

Early on Nov. 30, 1954, a Douglas DC 3 designated Flight 656 left New York for Boston and Laconia, where it continued north towards Berlin as Flight 792. The weather worsened as it approached the Berlin Airport, located in the outlying town of Milan.

The pilot approached the airport on instruments. But a combination of factors, including a possible instrument failure that gave him the impression that he was already above the airport, plus extreme rough air, caused him to fly much lower than the glide path and the plane crashed into the east side of Mount Success. It broke apart and came to rest 200 vertical feet below the summit.

The cockpit section hit first and shattered. It broke from the main cabin. The tail came to rest further down the mountain. All seven people aboard survived the crash, but two in the cockpit died of their injuries that night.

Despite his severe injuries, the pilot William Carey survived. In the cabin, the three passengers and flight attendant survived without injuries.

Soon after the crash, the crew sent out a weak message, initiating a search.

A search plane spotted survivors on the summit of Mount Success. All were lifted out by helicopter.

As I found out years ago when I accidentally bumped into remains of a plane wreck near Grafton Notch that were from a tanker plane that blew up high over the town of Bethel, Maine, during World War II, aluminum plane bodies don’t rust. I didn’t know how old the remains were until I walked out to a nearby store and asked about it.

On Mount Success, the wreckage is crumpled yet bright, with rust only on steel interior parts. A couple sections are fairly intact. You can stand in the main cabin section and sign the logbook, kept in an ammunition box that is left on the flight attendant’s food preparation shelf. You can look into the restroom where the metal toilet is intact.

At the same time, it had been so long since the tragedy that death didn’t seem to linger. It is an interesting story, and a shiny anomaly in the midst of a stunted forest.

Nilsen’s guidebook notes that it is easy to get off the herd path on the way back to the ridge above, and if that happens, just climb upward and you will be back on the Appalachian Trail soon. It happened to me, and I found a beautiful mossy opening with a southern view towards the Carter Moriah Range. Then I kept bushwhacking upward, soon reaching the Appalachian Trail.

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