Tucked into the Highland region on Elephant Mountain, a B-52 crash site Maine honors stands in silent salute to the sacrifices made during the Cold War.
A well-marked trail guides hikers to the remote location, where the debris lies scattered and weather-worn across several acres. The surrounding forest blankets the wreckage where seven men perished and two survived against all odds.
The B52 crash site is located on the southern slope of Elephant Mountain, which is about eight miles into the woods from Moosehead Lake. The crash occurred on January 23, 1963, during a low-level radar mission.
The crash site is marked by small placards at every fork and junction, and visitors are asked to treat the area respectfully and leave it intact. The site is accessible via a trail and the first fragments of debris are only about 20 steps deep.
About the B-52 Crash Site in Maine
As rare as this crash site might seem, more than 800 military planes crashed in Maine between World War I and the Cold War. In fact, Maine had two plane crashes, each being the “worst in Maine history,” just four hours apart. That was in 1944. The Maine B52 crash site would be another nearly two decades away.
Maine’s Role in Military Operations
Maine’s location along the coastline provided ideal access to Europe during the wars but also left it vulnerable to enemy attacks. One research study estimates that more than 10,000 military aircraft flew over the Pine Tree State, which doesn’t include training missions.
Maine’s geographic location was as beneficial as its remote nature for training flights, with routes known as Pokerdecks. That’s where we catch up with the ill-fated B-52C Stratofortress on the blustery cold morning of Jan. 24, 1963.
The B-52 Crash Maine Will Never Forget
B-52Cs are known as BUFFs (Big Ugly Fat F**kers), and it’s no surprise why. With a wingspan and length both larger than half a football field and weighing more than 92 tons before it’s even equipped with weapons, B-52s are behemoths.
The sheer size made it ideal for carrying nuclear-grade bombs while offering in-flight refueling, high speeds, and eight engines to propel it up to 600 mph.
The 1963 nine-man crew had an important mission as they departed Westover Air Force Base at 12:11 p.m. — to test the BUFF at low elevations while avoiding the Soviet’s upgraded radar that now made the B52 a flying target at higher elevations.
Flying at 520 mph and below 500 feet, the B-52 struggled in the 40-mph winds while scoffing at the negative-14-degree Fahrenheit temperature outside. About 90 minutes into the flight, the astute pilot noticed turbulence and attempted to rise above it.
“The instrument panel was vibrating so badly that I couldn’t read the dials. I couldn’t interpret the radar returns because it was juggling so badly. It was the worst turbulence I had ever encountered.”Pilot Lt. Col. Dan Bulli
The fatal blow came from the vertical stabilizer being ripped off in the winds. Lt. Col. Bulli ordered the crew to eject. Three men could do so, but the remaining six went down with the plane.
- Major Robert J. Morrison, the co-pilot, fatally struck a tree after ejecting.
- Lt. Col. Bulli, tangled in a treetop, survived.
- The navigator, Captain Gerald J. Adler, had a parachute failure, and his ejection seat crashed into 5 feet of snow. He survived but lost a leg during recovery.
How to Reach the B52 Crash Site Maine Memorial
For those worried about treading on sacred ground or having to navigate “No Trespassing” signs, that’s not an issue.
The trail to the crash site is well-marked and easy to find, a novelty among Maine’s complex logging roads in the remote Highlands region. In fact, the Maine Office of Tourism and the Piscataquis County Chamber of Commerce encourage visitors.
Directions to the Memorial
The GPS coordinates to the crash site memorial are 45° 31′ 40″ N, 69° 26′ 5″ W.
- From Greenville: Drive 7 miles on Lily Bay Road from the Moosehead Marine Museum in Greenville Maine before reaching Prong Pond Road. Turn right down the gravel road.
- From Lily Bay State Park: Drive 2 miles from the State Park Road entrance at Lily Bay State Park to get to Prong Pond Road on your left. Turn left down the gravel road.
Once on Prong Pond Road, it’s still 8 miles to the crash site, which is a tough final trek. The gravel road gives way to logging roads, which are bumpy and uneven.
“B-52 Memorial” signs guide the way. When Prong Pond Road turns into Scammon Road, take a left. Stay on the road for about 2 miles more, and you can park in the small lot on the right and cross the road to the trailhead.
Frequently Asked Questions About the B52 Crash Site
Does Elephant Mountain have an entrance fee?
Elephant Mountain is free and open to the public with no entrance fee. The memorial and crash site is also free, but you are encouraged to pay your respects and proceed with caution and care.
How difficult is the drive to Elephant Mountain?
The ride on Lily Bay Road is paved with markings and regularly maintained. Once on Prong Pond Road, it’s gravel at best and a deep-grooved, rocky mix of gravel and dirt that gets more challenging. A high-clearance 4X4 vehicle is the safest and best choice.
What season is best to visit the B52 crash site?
Maine’s locals will tell you that they have five seasons — the standard four seasons plus mud. The spring thaw melts snow, soaking the frozen earth and leaving unpaved roads and trails deep in mud. It’s very easy to get stuck or have shoes sucked right off your feet.
Summer provides the best weather, easiest access, and longest days, but winter brings snowmobiling and cross-country skiing. Winter can also bring snow in feet instead of inches, making it hard to reach the memorial. Autumn is beautiful with the leaves changing.
What supplies are needed for the B52 crash site Maine trek?
Because of the remote landscape, you’ll want to prepare for all contingencies. Visitors should know how far a mobile signal will reach by checking the coverage map from their providers. Here are some supplies that you should take as well:
— Map & Compass: The thick brush and forest can get you turned around, especially if you go off the path to view the wreckage.
— Water: Bring a gallon of water per person.
— First Aid Kit: Stock up on bandages, wound cleaning solutions, ACE bandages, calamine lotion, and allergy medication.
— Pocketknife: This versatile and lightweight tool can come in very handy.
— Matches: Store them in a waterproof bag.
— Extra Clothing: Since the trails can be dirty and rain is common, you might want a change of clothing, or at least socks, after the hike. Always pack a sweatshirt or jacket for cooler-than-expected temperatures too.
How challenging is the hike to the B52 crash site?
The hardest part is getting to the trail on the bumpy, rugged roads. The trail is easy to navigate, with no steep inclines or scrambling required.
The trek to the 2,650-foot summit is a different story, requiring bushwhacking and some scrambling. Winter hikers should know that the winter sun can set as early as 4 p.m. in this part of the state.
Are guided tours available to the B52 crash site?
Northeast Whitewater and Rafting Tours offers guided tours to the B-52 crash site in Maine. The three-hour tour starts with a quick video explaining the somber events surrounding the crash. Then, a Registered Maine Guide leads the way.
Any rules to follow at the B52 crash site?
Don’t take any pieces of the wreckage. This is the final resting place of seven men and a sacred spot. Feel free to take all the pictures you want, but “Leave No Trace.”
Things to Do at the B-52 Crash Site in Maine
You are welcome to explore the crash site, where you’ll see parts of the plane scattered over several acres. Elephant Mountain offers stunning vista views of the region as well. Ideally, the hike to the crash site is part of a larger adventure, just soaking in the wildlife, seasonal weather, and wonderful views.
Safety Note: By going off the trail, you’ll be exposed to more ticks, mosquitoes, and poison ivy. Wear long sleeves and bug spray with DEET. Do you know how to handle a face-to-face meeting with a moose? Review the wildlife safety advice from the state before you go.
More Things to Do Near the B-52 Crash Site in Maine
The Maine Highlands is rural and remote, and the crash site is in Piscataquis County, which is as large as the state of Connecticut.
Greenville is the nearest community to the B-52 crash site, just 13 miles from the crash site trailhead. The city is a central location with a resort, inns, and lakefront cabins with fishing, hiking, ATV/snowmobiling, and stargazing at top attractions.
Because of that, it is the perfect base camp for outdoor adventures — such as exploring the Moosehead Lake area. There is the Big Squaw Mountain Area, just 15 minutes from Greenville on the west side of the lake. Tickets and rentals can be purchased ahead of time to avoid a sell-out crowd.
A couple of Maine state parks are nearby too. Lily Bay State Park is 9 miles from Greenville with waterfront camping, hiking, boating, fishing, and cross-country skiing. Mount Kineo State Park is near Rockwood, about 15 minutes from Greenville, where you can take the Kineo shuttle across the lake.
Extreme outdoor lovers can attempt the Pinnacle Pursuit, tackling six summits around Moosehead Lake.
Maine’s License, Permits, & Reservations
Many Maine outdoor activities require a license or permit. Read the rules and requirements at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife. Most campgrounds require a reservation, even in the backcountry.
The Crash That Catapulted Change in Maine
This tragic crash, and three others that year with the same failure, led to re-engineered bolts that held up against the most rigorous test conditions, allowing the B-52 to remain a powerhouse beast to this day and through at least 2050.
The B52 crash site Maine memorial reminds us of the wars we’ve fought and the sacrifices required. We also know that these men didn’t die in vain. That’s very much worth a trip to Maine’s wilderness.
More photos are available via Visions of Maine / New England.