December 22, 2002
On Thursday, December, 19, 2002, Barbara Halverson Henry received an E-Mail with a clipping
of a newspaper article originally published in 1945 in Thones, France -- (in French) -- detailing
the discovery of the remains of her Father's plane and its crew.
On December 22, 2002, after some fast translation help from Ed Wilbeck, Jr. -- Barb now has the full story.
WHEN THE AIRPLANES CRASHED ON OUR MOUNTAINS 1944
at Thones - Crash of an American airplane
November 7, 1944, around 11 AM, several people heard a loud noise coming from the side of la Tournette, then nothing more. The snow storm whirling in the hills made no effect on our countrymen, who were fortified with the hope for peace. With change happening so quickly, they forgot this episode.
They had dim thoughts about a plane crash but with the onset of Winter they gave no thought to conducting a search at that time. It wasn't until June of 1945 that anyone understood what had happened.
Two young men from Clefs, Aime Bastard-Rosset and Louis Favre, were exploring the mountain in spite of the snow. And there, at 1500 meters altitude at the base of (neve), near Varots, they found on the grey snow some helmets and backpacks, then some twisted metal and a wheel 105 centimeters around and 35 centimeters thick stuck in the ice.
They questioned what had happened here seven months before. The first two witnesses climbed down into the valley and alerted the local authorities: municipal, the Thone police and the military base at Vegrier-du-lac. The mayor of Thones, Louis Haase, delegated the mountain rescue to be led by Jo Quetand and Sylvan Jacquet for them to conduct the difficult search.
A team or volunteers, from left to right Jean Depoisier,-?-,
Jean Thevenet, Henri Guichenal, Marius Curt
Some volunteers accompanied them, such as Bernard de Colmont, who had explored the canyons of Colorado and who resided in Thones for many years. Moving quickly, they were convinced that the machinery laying crushed in the gorge of Varots was the American C47 Dakota (transport plane) that left from Bowingdon Great Britain and flying in a North to South direction toward lac du Borget was reported missing November 11, 1944.
From the begining of July through August, upwards of thirty volunteers returned to this tragic place. Consequently, from Thone and passing through Montremont there was Rene (either the last name was left off or a line from the article didn't fit when you sent this page) and many others.
1945 at Varots: some German prisoners at work
Of assistance, when the searchers were near an important area, was a detachment of German prisoners guarded by two men of the 27th B.C.A.
Another team passing by Belchamp and Rosairy sometimes accompanied by American soldiers, was made up of Edmond Bastard-Rosset, Camille Lambersens, Camille Binvignat, Marius Curt, Francois Daviet, Emile Perillat, Sylvain Jacquet, Raymond Bigoni, Jean Depoisier called "Grabi" and Louis Favre, the first to have discovered the wreckage.
It was they who noticed the body of a pilot, hanging from a rough rock outcropping. The tons of debris strewn about allowed them to reconstruct the accident. The twin motor (C47), no doubt heavily loaded with pharmaceuticals and boxes of provisions and machinery parts, fell into the passage of Valots and crashed into the rock and (neve), tracing an impact of 20 meters. If the aircraft was flying 30 meters higher, it would likely have cleared the hill. Later an avalanche carried the wreckage and four passengers 600 meters down the hill.
The first victim at the begining of July was the officer K.R. Gauthier of the American Air Force.(The recording of his death is enscribed at the entryway of Thone's town hall N 38) After gently lowering the body a distance of 100 meters, they enclosed it in a cloth bag carried in a hammock by two men and they descended into the valley.
On July 4th 1945 at 7:30 PM, a ceremony was held at the monument to the dead, respect was paid to him with the assistance of the municipal brass band of Thones. Above, the investigations continued for two months with utmost care. Rene Bozon placed a star on the branches of a fir tree. The teams encamped near a guard house, excavated more than 10 meters deep into the layer of packed snow. The Americans supplied the rescuers of Montremont at the house of Madam Matelon and all ascended to the top as far as the camp of the investigators.
At the end of August, one of the two propellers was recovered at over 800 meters from the impact point, it was placed in the museum at Thones. A second victim, some days later, a third, were extricated from the ice; these were of the pilot, lieutenant K.V. Halverson and Lieutenant Malcolm Campbell. Enclosed in sacks, they were brought down to the Haase hosiery business where a detachment came looking to transport them to Veyrier-du-lac.
Two other bodies were removed before the laborious excavations were finally abandoned on October 10, 1945. These military victims had been first intered at the temporary American cemetary at Loynes(Aix-en-Provance) then a second time at Draguinan (US cemetery). In recognition of their diligent efforts, the volunteers each received 11,000 francs from American authorities.
With the snow of the Fall of 1945 came a closing of a tragic page of the last war. A number of tools, wheeels, tires, pieces of cockpit have been found since, voiceless proof of a drama enscribed in the pages of history of the area of Thones.
Update: On Friday, January 17, 2003, Barb Henry received the following E-Mail:
From: Office de tourisme de Thônes
Sent: Friday, January 17, 2003 8:13 AM
Subject: from Jacques Golliet to BARB Henry
I am the person who was contacted (after several detours and intermediaries...) by the Tourist Office in Annecy to provide the information concerning the air crash in wich your father died in 1944.
I am a retired university teacher of English, a language that I taught for the most of my life in french Universities. As you may guess, we can indeed communicate in your language (but I am largely out of practise particularly with the american pronunciation...).
I grew up in the village of "Thones" (not "Thorens" as I explain further) near wich the crash took place. I am now 71 years old wich means that I was 13 at the time of the crash and very clearly remember the ceremony that was organized in honour of the dead airmen when their bodies were handed over to the American authorities, who had dispached a liaison officer and the necessary transport.
But all the information we have is contained in the paper I have already sent you through the Tourist Office of Annecy. Some of the men who went to search for the dead bodies are still living to-day in our village. If you can come to France (the nearest international airport in Geneva or Lyon), I would very happy to take you up to the precise spot where the plane crashed. It is about two hours walk from the foot of the montain. I also could be your interpreter if you wish to visit the museum (wich is in the village and shows one of the propellers of the plane) and to meet the men who took part in the search.
Perhaps I should emphasize the fact that the plane hit a high and absolutely vertical mountain cliff, obviously at full speed. The shock must have been so sudden and violent that the plane immediately broke into pieces that fell about one thousand meters to the ground. The men were killed instantly. It was the beginning of winter and the whole scene lay under the snow until the beginning of the following summer when it was discovered by sheer chance.
Unless there is a difficulty of the transmission of this mail, youl will find a copy of a post-card showing the valley (and some information on our village wich is a small summer resort with hotel accomodation). But please note that this place is not Thorens! We are the village of "THONES". If you can manage to pay us a visit, I can see with our local tourist office (adress : this mail) how they can offer a suitable accomodation.
It would be a real pleasure to welcome you. I shall certainly be here all the coming months (except the last week in may and the first two of june). The best season to see the spot is from the end of june to the end of october. So I hope to meet you some day here... Since I do not have a personnel access to the "web", you can contact me by fax.Yours sincerely. Jacques GOLLIET.
P.S : Sorry I do not have a photo of the mountain where the crash took place... but the local tourist office has a web site that will give you plenty of information on the valley, the village...(but not on the precise subject of the crash) : www.thones-tourisme.com - mail : firstname.lastname@example.org Can we have your full address? Thank you.
For reference, here's a picture of Thones as it is today . . .
In Memory of 1LT Kenneth V.
311th Ferrying Station, 27th Air Transport Group
Father of Barbara Halverson Henry