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MishapsMISHAPs: 19 JUL 57 A/C: P2V P Neptune Location: Alps Northwest Strike: YES BUNO: Unknown Cause: Unknown

UPDATE "...I received an email from an Italian mountain guide this past week. He took the daughter of one of the crewmembers killed in that accident to the accident site. his website is in Italian and the story is also in Italian. Still, it is valuable and has some very nice pictures and they show Wendy Shermet, daughter of Commander Shermet, her son, Daniele Matiuzzo, a friend of mine who has been in contact with me for years about the accident, and the guide Enrico Maioni. WEBSITE: The tragedy of “Neptune”, the plane crashed on Fradusta..." Contributed by Ron Wheeler rwheeler002@nycap.rr.com [24MAR2015]

UPDATE "...Trying to contact individuals in VP-934 during summer of 1957 re: loss of aircraft flying from Morocco to Italy, July 1957. I've written some material about this loss and I'm looking for anyone who might know additional details..." Contributed by WHEELER, Ron rwheeler002@nycap.rr.com [31JAN2011]

UPDATE "...The Navy's Double Tragedy, July 1957, Italy...(VP-23 and VP-934)..." WebSite: VPI International http://www.vpinternational.ca/MPA_Magazine_Fall07.pdf

On July 21, 1957, a United States Navy patrol plane from Patrol Squadron Twenty. Three (VP-23), Bureau No. 140156, a Lockheed P2V-7 Neptune, crashed in the Alps in northwestern Italy, in the vicinity of the village of Bobbio Pellice. Nine of the ten crewmembers died in this accident. The surviving crewmember, Gene Forsyth, Aviation Machinist's Mate, Second Class, was seriously injured.

This tragic accident involved one of twelve aircraft that comprised VP-23. The squadron was deployed to the Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS), Halfar, Malta from May to October 1957. VP-23's home base was the NAS Brunswick, Maine.

The airplanes in service for VP-23 at the time of this accident were P2V-7 Neptunes manufactured by the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. The piston engines on the aircraft could develop, under certain conditions, 3,700 horsepower each. The aircraft were also equipped with two turbojets with a static thrust of 3,250 pounds each. These aircraft could attain altitudes of 22,400 feet (6,828 meters). The Neptune's ability to reach high altitudes made flying in the vicinity of the Alps a relatively safe operation. (The photo, at left, was taken by Bill Pauly, AE2, VP-23, of the replacement LJ-11, Bureau Number 141232.) The P2V-7 Neptunes carried a crew of ten; three flight officers and seven enlisted aircrewmen. The flight officers, all Navy pilots, are designated as the patrol plane commander, the co-pilot, and the navigator. The enlisted crew is made up of three Aviation Electronics Technicians, two Aviation Machinist's Mates, one Aviation Electrician, and one Aviation Ordnanceman. Occasionally, additional squadron personnel were carried in order to familiarize them with flight operations. Only the assigned crew was onboard the aircraft at the time of the accident. However, the crew had only two Aviation Electronics Technicians, therefore two Aviation Electricians were assigned to the flight. Still, the crew was comprised of the normal ten crewmembers.

In order to understand the accident that took place near Bobbio Pellice, it is necessary to describe another accident that took place in north-eastern Italy, which involved a U.S. Navy Reserve aircraft. A Lockheed Neptune, a P2V-6, assigned to Navy Reserve Patrol Squadron, VP-934, was reported missing on July 19, 1957. This squadron's home base was NAS Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, but it was deployed to the NAF Port Lyautey, Morocco during the summer of 1957. The P2V-6 (Bureau No. 126535) departed NAF Port Lyautey, Morocco early on the morning of July 19 for a flight to Treviso (Istrana), Italy. Weather conditions for the destination airport were forecasted to deteriorate by the estimated arrival time. Radio communications with air traffic facilities during the flight over Italy were difficult. One reason may have been the weather conditions, which took the form of thunderstorms. Also, it was later determined by the Accident Review Board that the aircraft slowly drifted west and northwest from its intended course. For example, at 1325 hours, Universal Time, the crew reported the aircraft's position as being over Ferrara when it was actually 20 nautical miles (32 kilometres) west of the station. As the aircraft neared its destination, it was flying either above or in clouds. At 1331 Universal Time, Navy 126535 was instructed to report over the Veneto VHF Omnidirectional Range (VOR) at 11,000 feet (3,353 meters), the pilot acknowledged his instructions. Eleven minutes later, at 1342 Universal Time the pilot was able to contact Istrana Approach Control. He estimated Venice at 1345 Universal Time. The pilot then requested letdown instructions. He was cleared to descend to 5,000 feet by Istrana Approach Control and to report reaching 5,000 feet (1,524 meters). Permission to descend was based on the pilot's position reports relative to certain navigational aids. Navy 126535 was actually positioned slightly more than 40 miles (64.4 kilometres) northwest of Istrana Airport, and in the mountainous terrain of the Trento Dolomites. It struck a mountain at 8,500 feet (2,591 meters) at a high rate of speed during its descent. There is no record that the pilot reported over the Veneto VOR at 11,000 feet. There were eleven fatalities. On July 23 the wreckage of Navy 126535, was discovered by Italian "Alpini" troops.

Prior to the discovery of the wreckage of Navy 126535 from VP-934, aircraft from VP-23 departed Halfar, Malta for the Aviano Air Base, Italy, to assist in the search and rescue efforts for the missing aircraft. The Aviano Air Base is located in the north-eastern part of Italy, at the base of the Italian Alps. It became a base for some of the aircraft participating in the search operations. On July 21, at 0923 hours, LJ-11 and two other aircraft from VP-23 departed Aviano to commence a search in the Po Valley area and the mountainous terrain west of Torino in northwestern Italy. At about 1150 hours, LJ-11 was directed to leave the three plane group and search an area from seven miles west of Torino, south to Cuneo, then eastward along the foothills to Voghera, and to search the Po Valley between those points.

The final leg of the search pattern would place LJ-11 on an easterly heading to return to Aviano. However, early in the search, the aircraft commander turned west into the Pellice Valley, a valley that narrowed as he flew west, and which ended in the mountains near Bobbio Pellice.

Witnesses in the area of the accident described LJ-11's path from over Pinerolo, to Bricherasio, Torrre Pellice, Villanova, and up the Pellice Valley at extremely low altitude estimated to be about 150 meters above the ground (about 500 feet), then the pilot proceeded over the Willy Jervis Refuge, a small hotel for hikers, not far from Bobbio Pellice, to a point where it struck three trees and crashed at 1306 hours at an altitude of 7,000 feet (2,134 meters) on Monte Grane. Upon impact the aircraft overturned, exploded and burned.

Witnesses stated that it appeared that the pilot attempted to climb out of the valley prior to the crash. Eight crewmembers died upon impact. One crewmember, Lincoln Tripp, Aviation Electrician First Class, died on the way to the Jervis Refuge. Gene Forsyth, Aviation Machinist's Mate Second Class, survived but received extensive burns to his body and was seriously injured. Tragically, Gene Forsyth was blinded later in life as a result of a civilian airplane crash. Some of the bodies were recovered by Italian Carabinieri. The American accident investigation team recovered the remaining bodies.

The weather in the area at the time of the crash was clear with all mountain peaks visible. There were heavy winds coming off the mountains which could have contributed to severe downdrafts in the vicinity.

If, in fact, severe downdrafts were present, they would have made it difficult to climb rapidly enough to avoid the rising terrain. Despite warnings in a preflight briefing, the pilot of LJ-11 continued flight into a valley, which was dangerous under normal circumstances.

The Accident Review Board could not determine why LTJG Kloepping, the patrol plane commander, flew into the mountain valley. They concluded that there was not enough room in the valley to turn around, and there was not enough distance remaining to climb over the mountains, some of which attain an altitude of about 9,000 feet (2,743 meters.

The Accident Review Board interviewed Gene Forsyth but he was unable to provide any detail regarding the accident. Forsyth was not able to provide any information as to why the aircraft was flying in the valley, nor were there any radio reports to explain the track of the aircraft. He did indicate, however, that there was an increase in engine power immediately preceding the crash.

Notes from Ron Christensen, VP-23 Ronald Christensen, Aviation Electronics Technician, Second Class, VP-23, was part of the American team that hiked the mountains near Bobbio Pellice to recover bodies and sensitive electronic equipment.

His diary, as written, is partially reproduced below with his permission.

The LJ-11 crash happened on July 21, 1957 [1] at 1305 hours while searching for another downed Navy airplane. The crash happened in the Alps on the Italian side of the French-Italian border near the town of Bobbio Pellice, Italia.

The pilot flew the plane into a box canyon from the open end. The upper end of the canyon makes a dog leg (a turn) to the left. The mountains rise so steeply after the dog leg that there was no room to turn around and not enough power to climb out.

Gene Forsyth was the only survivor. He was in the tail of the plane and was thrown out while strapped in the aft station chair and landed in a tree. He was badly burned while trying to help someone in the crash. Matczak, Igoe, Fearing (Crewmembers from Ron Christensen's crew.) and I visited Forsyth in a Turin hospital. He is still alive living in Michigan. He was blinded in a crash of a private plane.

The crash (of LJ-11) happened …in sight of a Carabinieri outpost. At the time it was stated that Kloepping's crew reported something shiny (later identified as a creek) while searching for another downed Navy Reserve plane. Mr. Kloepping flew into the canyon to get a better look. The accident was chalked up (attributed) to pilot error. Sederquist (The pilot of Ron Christensen's crew.) stated that Kloepping was given explicit instructions to stay away from the mountains [3]. Wreckage was strewn everywhere.

There were 3 photographs in STAMPA SERA [4]; One on the front page showing Carabinieri at the site removing one of the dead; second, on the second page showing Gene in the hospital; third, on the last page showing what's left of the wreckage including a smashed engine, a main mount with wheel and tire (still inflated), a portion of the radar; and part of the tail standing upright. There were 2 rows of stone dust where the propellers had bit into the rock. The propellers were bent, detached from the engines, but were in one piece.

This was the first time I had seen anything like this and I was having trouble controlling my stomach. Sederquist told me to go off to the side where I couldn't see what was going on. The Squadron (VP-23) was short a nose wheel and since Lockheed built one per plane (no spares were built at that time) we needed to recover the nose wheel. A muleskinner and mule were brought along to carry the nose gear out. We tried to get the skinner to balance the mule's load with the full body, but he wouldn't as he said the mule would object. We started down the mountainside with 2 stretchers. We took a different route than what we took going up.

The area was very beautiful - too bad this was to view a crash, gather data, and recover the dead and plane parts. We passed through a small village consisting of less than a half-dozen summer houses. Some of the women came out and put flowers on the body bags. It was a very nice thing for them to do. The Carabinieri marched up to us [6] and relieved us of the stretchers. They marched down to their outpost where helicopters would pick up the bodies. On our way up we were fed a lunch of spaghetti at this same outpost [7]. (See note 7, below, for an odd happening years later.)

Don Wernimont (a pilot on Ron Christensen's flight crew) did not go to the crash as he was a good friend to Windorf (One of the pilots killed in the crash of LJ-11.) and Sederquist thought it would be better if he didn't go.[8] I went even though (Richard) Betzler (One of the enlisted crewmembers killed on LJ-11.) was a very good friend of mine as Sederquist didn't know that we were good friends.


    [1.] My personal log and the newspaper STAMPA SERA, dated Lunedi, Martedi, 22-23 Luglio 1957 (Monday Tuesday 22-23 July, 1957) Turino, Italia (Turin, Italy).

    [3.] Private communication from Sederquist to Christensen.

    [4.] Op Cit

    [6.] We were not used to such altitudes and were breathing heavily and struggling with the stretchers.

    [7.] In 1976 I was at a professional conference in Philadelphia where I met an Italian man who was saying the same things about the professional organization that I was. In order to encourage him to continue toward his goal, I arranged to have breakfast with him. I asked him what part of Italy he was from. He said that he was from a very small town on the western border. I continued to ask him until he told me he was from Bobbio Pellice. I said: "I have been to Bobbio Pellice." He said: "No one goes there. It is literally at the end of the road. Why were you there?" I told him about the crash. He stated: "We have met before; I was one of the Carabinieri that helped you."

    [8.] Private communication from Wernimont to Christensen.
Much of the information included in this narrative was taken from two accident reports obtained from the Department of the Navy; Naval Historical Center, Washington D.C. Ron Christensen's diary is much more extensive. Some items in his notes and in the accident reports are omitted because they would be disturbing to members of our deceased brothers' families who might view them. -Ron Wheeler

[Ron Wheeler is a former Aircrewman who served with VP-23 from late 1955 to September 1958. He was an Aviation Electronics Technician, Third Class, on Crew 2 and the new Crew 11. Crew 2 was assigned to the replacement P2V-7, Bureau No. 141232, LJ-11, when it arrived in Malta. Dick Betzler, AT2, invited Ron to join LTJG Kloepping's crew a few days prior to their departure from NAS Brunswick for Malta. Obviously he declined, but ironically, became part of Crew 11 anyway. He holds an Air Transport Pilot Certificate, Flight Instructor Certificate (Instrument and Multiengine), Advanced Ground Instructor and Instrument Ground Instructor Certificates. Email: rwheeler002@nycap.rr.com]

I would like to thank all of our Maritime airmen who have contacted me and helped me in my task of ensuring that we do not forget anyone. They all deserve to be remembered.

Norm Donovan
Compiler VPI Book of Remembrance

The crewmembers of P2V-7, LJ-11, who died as the result of the accident, were:
    Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Herbert E. Kloepping
    Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Allan K. Norberg
    Ensign Alexander B. Windorf
    Richard R. Betzler, Aviation Electronics Technician, Second Class
    Robert E. Bourget, Aviation Electrician's Mate, Third Class
    Edward L. Hoey, Aviation Machinist's Mate, First Class
    Robert G. Mason, Aviation Ordnanceman, First Class
    Franklin B. Watkins, Aviation Electronics Technician, Second Class
    Lincoln H. Tripp, Aviation Electrician's Mate, First Class

The crewmembers and Navy personnel who died in the accident of the P2V-6, Bureau No. 126535, VP-934, were:
    Lieutenant Nicholas A. Vassalotti, USNR-R
    Commander Robert M. Shermet, USNR-R
    Harry E. Duffield, Aviation Machinist's Mate, first Class, USNR-R
    LT. Morton C. Lyle, USNR-R
    Richard C. Gramm, Aviation Electronics Technician, Third Class, USNR-R
    Charles W. Habbersett, Aviation Electronics Technician, First Class, USNR-R
    Leo R. Killen, Airman, USNR-R
    Bennie W. Maycheck, PHAC, USNR-R
    LT. John A. Rolle, USNR-R
    George Y. Taylor, Jr., ADR2, USNR-R
    William J. Vogel, Jr. Aviation Electrician's Mate, First Class

UPDATE "...Today, also honor noncombat deaths - By RON WHEELER - First published: Monday, May 28, 2007..." WebSite: TimesUnion.com http://www.timesunion.com/AspStories/story.asp?storyID=592743&category=OPINION&newsdate=5/28/2007 [29MAY2007]

My thoughts on this Memorial Day go back 50 years, to when I was a young crewman on a Navy P2V-7, a Lockheed Neptune patrol plane, deployed for five months to the Royal Naval Air Station in Halfar, Malta, in the Mediterranean. Our squadron designation was Patrol Squadron Twenty-Three (VP-23) and our home base was the naval air station in Brunswick, Maine.

On July 21, 1957, our squadron lost an aircraft that was on a search mission in northwestern Italy. It was looking for a Lockheed Neptune, P2V-6, assigned to Navy Reserve Patrol Squadron, VP-934, that had been reported missing. That plane was en route from the naval air station in Port Lyautey, French Morocco, to Treviso, Italy. In clouds, and flying on instruments, the pilot, Lt. Nicholas A. Vassalotti, commenced a descent to 5,000 feet. Unfortunately, the position of the aircraft was slightly off course and in the mountainous terrain of the Trento Dolomites. The aircraft struck a mountain at 8,500 feet at a high rate of speed, instantly killing all 11 crew members. The wreckage was found on July 23 by Italian "Alpini" troops.

Before the wreckage was discovered, aircraft from VP-23 departed from Halfar for the Aviano Air Base in Italy to assist in the search and rescue efforts. On July 21, one of our search aircraft, designated MA-11 and under the command of Lt. jg Herbert Kloepping, commenced a search in the Po Valley in the mountainous terrain of northwestern Italy. At about 1150 hours, Kloepping turned into the Pellice Valley, a valley that narrowed as he flew west, and which ended in rapidly rising terrain near an obscure Italian town named Bobbio Pellice.

Witnesses described MA-11's path as flying up the Pellice Valley at an estimated altitude of about 500 feet above the ground. The plane proceeded into the valley and rising terrain not far from Bobbio Pellice. It struck three trees and crashed at 1306 hours at an altitude of 7,000 feet above sea level on Monte Granero. Upon impact, the aircraft overturned, exploded and burned. Eight crew members died upon impact. Two crew members who were positioned in the after station of the aircraft survived the impact.

One of them, Lincoln Tripp, aviation electrician mate first class, died on the way to a hiker's hostel. Gene Forsyth, aviation machinist's mate second class, survived but received extensive burns to his body.

I knew the MA-11 crew and had flown with Kloepping. I had flown with Gene Forsythe and still recall how he would get airsick early in a flight, but continued to fly because he wanted the hazardous duty pay or "flight skins" that we received each month for being in flying status. At our age, we didn't see anything hazardous about flying.

I often went on liberty with Dick Betzler, an aviation electronic technician. We had dinner in Brunswick a few nights before we left for Malta. He invited me to join the crew of MA-11 because they were short one aviation technician. I declined because my own pilot was more experienced. I admired Dick's large aviator-type wristwatch that evening as we continued to down a pitcher of beer after the meal.

A day or so after the recovery of some of the bodies from Monte Granero, I saw a picture in the local Italian newspaper of the accident scene. An arm was protruding from a stretcher, from under a sheet. I recognized Dick's wristwatch and quickly moved down the street because I didn't want to see the paper anymore. I didn't want to think of the crew's last minutes.

Ron Christensen, another squadron buddy, went to the crash site to help recover the remaining bodies and to destroy sensitive electronic equipment. He found a scene of carnage and had recurring nightmares for sometime thereafter.

About a year after the crash, the Italian Alpine Club built a stone monument at the site of the crash, with a brass plaque listing the names of the dead crew members. The club did the same at the crash site of the Navy Reserve plane.

In the past five years, I've received e-mail from some people in Italy who were interested in the events surrounding those crashes. They also have sent pictures of the two small monuments. The VP-23 monument is in a state of disrepair as result of harsh winters in the mountains.

Arturo Rigotti of Bobbio Pellice, who at age 19 witnessed the crash of my squadron's aircraft, is attempting to refurbish the monument for VP-23's crew. Arturo does not speak English, but through another acquaintance in Italy, Daniele Matiuzzo, some former squadron mates and I have been able to ship a brass memorial plaque that lists the names of the dead and the one surviving crew member, Gene Forsyth, to Arturo for placement along with the original plaque. We hope this can be done on July 21, the 50th anniversary of that fatal crash.

On July 23, 1957, within days after these two crashes, a Navy P2V-5F crashed 300 yards off Barbers Point, Hawaii, killing all 10 crew members. Fifty years ago, within a span of a less than one week, 30 Navy air crewmen died in horrific crashes not related to combat. These young men, in the service of their country were as dead as if they had been cut down by a Japanese machine gun, a German artillery round, or an IED in Iraq. Their families' grief was, and may still be, as strong as if the loss of these men was in combat. There were no counselors for us in those days, no large turnouts, no stone walls listing names to be touched, no long lines of uniformed personnel participating in annual remembrances, no speeches; just a simple memorial service carried out in within a few weeks after the accident. We climbed into our aircraft and continued our patrols recording Russian naval activity, gathering electronic intelligence, and performing search and rescue missions.

Although I'm considered a Korean War veteran, I never call myself that out of respect for those who slogged through combat in Korea. We were the Cold War veterans, the Cold War casualties, and although we may be lost in the mix of all of the other conflicts and wars, we continued on with what our country expected from us, dedication to duty.

These losses are but a few that took place during the Cold War. I didn't record the number of Navy aircraft and crewmen who were shot down by Russian and Chinese aircraft and Chinese shore artillery. Nor did I cite the loss of members of a Coast Guard air crew during an attempt to rescue some of these naval aviators -- all during the Cold War.

So, my mind drifts back 50 years to remember those who died in carrying out their duty. Perhaps this Memorial Day, their families can obtain some satisfaction -- not closure, because I don't believe there is any such thing -- knowing that their sons, husbands and fathers died honorably serving their country in a forgotten period of world tension.

I also hope that our VP-23 plaque finds its way to a windswept mountainside at the end of the Pellice Valley, not far outside of Bobbio Pellice, a name I'll always remember.

Ron Wheeler lives in Albany.

UPDATE "...On July 19, 1957 a VP-934 Reserve Squadron P2V-6 crashed into a mountain side in the Alps Northwest and some 35 miles away from its destination airport of Treviso-Istrana, Italy. All crewmembers died in this accident. It took five days to locate the wreckage of this aircraft which was at an altitude of 8,500 feet in the mountains. On 21 July, 1957, a P2V-7 from VP-23 was conducting a search for the P2V-6 from VP-934 when it entered a valley in the Alps. The valley, North of a small town named Bobbio Pellice, had no escape route and terminated in rapidly rising terrain. LJ-11 crashed with the loss of nine of the ten crewmembers. Any VP-934 former members who want to know more about the accident involving their aircraft can contact me. I have the accident reports. Remember, they are concise and to the point..." Contributed by Ron Wheeler rwheeler002@nycap.rr.com [29MAY2005]

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