Long-Ago Crash Remembered

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The Delbert Worcester Plane Crash - Part 3 of 3

The incredible story went on as Jan Clark shared the background of how she was able to locate and contact the Worcester family. This was after she had put together Bill Osier’s crash site discovery with the mysterious letter that had hung in her family’s cabin since the early 1950s.

Next, was the arrival of the members of the See Canyon expedition.

Del’s two sons had returned to Jan’s cabin with the evidence. The third member of the group and their guide, Bill Osier, had to return to Payson. There was considerable excitement over the plane parts the fellas brought down from the wreckage.

Del inspected each piece and told about them. A section of exhaust manifold, aluminum cowling to bring manifold heat to the cockpit, a fairly large section of wing frame, again aluminum, were all examined. Del then explained how the air frame was fabric-covered and there were 20 inspection ports sewn into the fabric. “Then you could open them caps and look in to see the cabling inside,” he was explaining, “but the thing is the caps were painted red, the same color as the plane; so that’s it, that’s from my plane. But, when I left it, it was in lots better shape.”

The emotion was evident and it was, perhaps, at that moment that he had come full circle.

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Crash site area on the northeast side of See Canyon on the Mogollon Rim.

They were all exhausted, both physically and mentally, first from the long trip in a motor home from Ohio. They spoke of their exciting trip from Heber, down off that mountain. Then the two sons, who were both in the high side of their 50s, had just made that arduous scramble up and down the steep side of the Rim. Finally, in all of them, there was the emotional investment in the journey here to relive Del’s Arizona adventure.

The session adjourned with the fellas announcing a return trip to the crash site the next morning. Jan went on to give the family a tour of the large family cabin where the framed letter had hung for 63 years. They spent some time on the deck behind the old cabin relaxing and reliving events of the day.

On Saturday, Tom, Alan and Bill left for a second trek to the debris field on the side of the Rim.

Dale Ashby and his wife, Nancy, came to meet the family. Dale has lived in Christopher Creek most of his life. He told of finding the wreckage around 1960, when he was 11. He was part of a group of four or five who went searching for the site. Local lore was all they had to go on. They knew “about” where it was. When they found the plane he recalls that a number of pine trees to the northwest of the crash had their tops sheared off. He describes the wreckage with no remaining fabric, wings were off and the engine block was gone. The plane had not fared well from the first 10 years clinging to the side of the Mogollon Rim.

A bit later, Dale and Nancy took Del, Shirley and Charlotte for a ride. As they crossed Christopher Creek at the carwash Dale pointed out where there used to be a wooden bridge for vehicles. They turned toward the homestead and Dale again explained there used to be a footbridge across a drainage and a path through the gate. It was another emotional moment as Del remembered crossing through the gate and recalled the barn to the west of the house.

“I remember crossing a meadow,” Del related. Dale explained that the meadow he remembered was now built up with cabins. He went on to explain that, years earlier, the Forest Service phone line ran from ranch to ranch from Payson to the lookout tower on Colcord Mountain.

Del was now convinced he had been there before, although the name of the folks who fed him still escapes him. The tour continued to the top of the Rim. Dale had hoped to drive across FR300 to near the crash site, but the snow of earlier that week had delayed the reopening of the Rim road. On the return to the Creek, Dale pulled off the road at a location where Del got a view of the whole of See Canyon. Again, the emotion was evident.

After returning, the Worcesters to the Bible Camp, Dale and Nancy bade them farewell. Within the hour, the mountain climbers returned with another collection of airplane parts. After hearing of the severe summer updrafts and winter downdrafts on the face of the Rim, they were convinced the plane had rolled down mountain from the crash point. The debris field substantiates the theory. A portion of the engine cover they had retrieved had evidence of having melted in a forest fire. Fire burned that area, the last time just a few years back. Spars, or struts, some more aluminum sheeting with rusted staples, and another identifying red inspection port were some of the parts retrieved.

Bill Osier, when asked how he had happened upon the plane wreckage a year prior, said, simply, “Hey, this is our back yard.” He was quite instrumental in the success of Del’s return visit.

Shirley told us, “When Del told me the story after we were married, I told him, why, you might have been killed. You would doom me to being an old maid because I would never have found another man like you!”

Delbert Worcester’s story had been told. The two-day conversation, which itself had been like a bumpy ride in a small plane, turned now to the family’s departure and the trip back home. Information was exchanged and a promise to send back to Ohio copies of the Payson Roundup with the article chronicling the return to Rim Country of a young pilot 63 years after his first death-defying visit.

... and that’s another week in the Creek.

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