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Incident Name:  Magic Mountain Fire (or San Dimas Fire)
Date:  July 22, 1960
Personnel:  3 lives lost
Age:
Agency/Organization:  John Bowman Aerial Services (Anaheim) under contract with the US Forest Service
Position:

Summary:

James C. Armstrong, pilot, age 45, from Fort Worth TX
Charles A Franco, copilot, age 25, from North Holywood CA
John Bowman owner of the aircraft, from Anaheim CA

On July 22, 1960 a World War II B-25 bomber, converted for firefighting (#N3446G) impacted the earth during a water bombing run in Mill Canyon in the San Gabriel Mountains on the Magic Mountain Fire. The crew, including both pilots and the owner, were killed.

Representative image of B-25 tanker | photo credit Don Felton

representative image of a B-25 tanker, photo credit Don Felton representative image of a B-25 tanker, photo credit Don Felton

B-25 tanker drop on evaluation in 1959 at Padua Hills, LA County, CA.

B-25 tanker drop on evaluation in 1959 at Padua Hills, LA County, CA B-25 tanker drop on evaluation in 1959 at Padua Hills, LA County, CA

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Maps

Incident Location

Report: "upper end of Mill Canyon, 4500 foot level, 2 3/4 mi south of Ravenna"
This is about 3 miles NW of Mt. Gleason where Camp 16 was. It was burned over in the Station Fire, 2009.

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • SHERIFF'S OFFICE, LOS ANGELES COUNTY - Complaint Report

    Date: July 23, 1960

    Informant: SGT. LIPPERT

    Victim:

    #1 - ARMSTRONG, James

    #2 - FRANCO, Charles

    #3 - BOWMAN, John

    Location: Mill canyon, 2-3/4 mile south of Ravena

    At 9:34 AM on July 22, 1960, Sgt. Lippert of Palmdale Airport Police called re: unknown type of airplane down in the Magic Mountain Fire area. The plane was water bombing the fire and crashed at an unknown location.

    Following notifications were immediately made: Acting Captain Parnell responded to the north fire area near Ravena, Sgt. Everly of the Aero detail, Sgt. Fain and Mr. James of Sheriff's Press room and local press and radio.

    At approximately 9:45 AM it was learned that the plane was a B-25 used for water bombing and was down in Mill Canyon approximately 2-3/4 miles south of Ravena, with no survivors. Due to fire conditions, it was impossible to reach the plane at this time.

    At 5:00 AM, July 23, 1960, a command post was set-up at the Columbo Ranch, approximately one-mile south of Acton Camp.

    At 6:30 AM, Capt. Griggers and Sgt. Cooper of the Aero Detail arrived, assisted by two Marine Corps helicopters, who were on standby in case evacuation of ground crew was necessary due to the fire. Victims 1 and 2 were flown to the command post by Capt. Griggers at 8:15 AM and picked up by the mortuary at 8:30 AM. Victims 1 and 2 are tentatively identified as listed. Victim 3 is the owner of the aircraft and employer of the victims. Sgt. Cooper identified the aircraft as a B-25, serial no. N3446G.

    On return of the ground crew at 10:30 AM, posse Captain Jack Bones stated that the plane was apparently flying up the canyon southeast upon crashing. The tail section and one side of the stabilizer was intact and unburned. The fuselage was scattered for approximately 25 to 30 yards forward of the tail section. Victims 1 and 2 were lying forward, southeast of edge of debris, slightly forward of motors. The bodies were approximately eight feet apart, lying parallel to each other. As there were no identifications on the bodies due to their badly burned condition, they were marked "left" and "right", corresponding to their position with the plane.

     

  • Aerial Tanker Crash Kills North Holywood Pilot Aerial Tanker Crash Kills North Holywood Pilot
    120,000 Acres Burned Over in Disaster Area 120,000 Acres Burned Over in Disaster Area
  • Mill Canyon B-25 Crash Site Mill Canyon B-25 Crash Site

    Credit: B-25 Wreck

  • There is no NTSB Report. They only go back to 1961.
  • This crash involving a B-25 is one of three or more B-25 crashes that occurred in 1960. Two other crashes occurred on an Oregon fire on the same day and on a Washington fire several days prior.
  • Probable Cause suggested later by aviators who discussed the B-25 and B-17 airtanker crashes:

    It took a while to figure out that apparently B-25s (and B-17s) were having a problem with low pressure effects on the tail caused by the "slug" of retardant being dumped out of the bomb bay all at once; retardant was 800 pounds, approx 1/3 the weight of plane, fuel and retardant

    Pilots had to push the aircraft's nose down prior to the drop, compensating for the low pressure area or pocket created by the mass of water/retardant as it fell away.

  • Forest Service Investigation in the 1960s provides suggestions of Probable Cause for the three B-25 crashes
    • Three B-25 Incidents, 1960, Probable Cause Three B-25 Incidents, 1960, Probable Cause
    • In Spite of All Advances, Forest Fire Cost still Appalling in Terms of Money and Lives

      Sept. 11, 1960 Online Article (the rest of the article above)

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Wildlandfire.com Links:

 

 

 

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Media Articles and Reports.

San Dimas or Magic Mountain Fire, 1960 San Dimas or Magic Mountain Fire, 1960

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Photos, Videos, & Tributes

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Contributors to this article: Rick Messier, Tom Stein-Janney, Norm Silver, Tony, Dave, Chris B, Mike, and others.

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