This article was first published in the June 27, 2008 edition of the New Hampshire Union Leader.
WOODSTOCK – On a long ago January night, mere weeks after the United States was drawn into World War II following the attack on Pearl Harbor, life in the small mountain communities of Lincoln and Woodstock went on as normally as was possible in a country at war.
A basketball game was being played in Woodstock on the night of Jan. 14, 1942; a card game was in full swing at the Lincoln Hotel.
And then came the explosions.
Just before 8 p.m., on a remote mountainside 10 miles away in Kinsman Notch, the frigid night erupted into flames and fear in the valley that this little corner of New Hampshire was under attack.
In the drizzling rain yesterday, more than 66 years later, a small ceremony and unveiling of a memorial plaque took place, remembering the night a B18-A Bomber and its crew of seven crashed and a survivor who never forgot the unforgettable night.
“People had thought they were being attacked,” said Carol Riley, librarian at the Lincoln Public Library and past president of the Upper Pemigewasset Historical Society. “The people who headed up the mountain, they had no idea why they were going up there and what they would find.”
Nonetheless, dozens of men who knew the rugged woods, headed up Lost River Road, following the fire and enormous explosions that shook china cabinets and windows all the way to Plymouth.
When you see something like this, you wonder how the hell you got out alive.
Co-pilot Woodrow Kantner
Three hours later, they discovered the plane crash and five men who survived the slam into the side of Mount Waternomee.
Over the next few days, the story would unfold. The bomber, which had departed from Westover Air Field in Chicopee, Mass., had been on patrol for German U-boats 250 miles into the Atlantic Ocean. Late that afternoon, as weather conditions deteriorated, the plane headed back to the base.
But it went off course in the stormy darkness and crew struggled to find bearings. Lights they spotted through the clouds they thought were Providence, RI, but were instead Concord, NH.
Out of the darkness, co-pilot Woodrow Kantner thought he spotted dark clouds and flicked on the landing lights. But the clouds turned out to be snow covered trees. Although Kantner pulled up on the controls, the aircraft crashed into the snow, shearing off the wings and destroying the fuel tanks. A 300 lbs. bomb survived the crash, but was later exploded at the site.
The five surviving crew members were taken for treatment to Grenier Field in Manchester. Because of the steepness and remoteness of the mountain, the wreckage was never recovered.
Life went on for the crew and for the two towns.
Kantner, the co-pilot, never forgot that night. He hailed from New Jersey and went on to make his fortune in Florida as a developer. The first property he purchased, in 1960 in Stuart, Fla., he christened Lost River Ranch, after the name of the road his rescuers came up that long ago January night.
Kantner, who, if not for the crash on Jan. 14, 1942, would have been on the fateful flight two days later that killed actress Carol Lombard, the wife of Hollywood legend Clark Gable, according to an account of the bomber crash in Floyd Ramsey’s book, Shrouded Memories.
Through his Kantner Foundation, he made a contribution to the Upper Pemigewasset Historical Society years later.
“His dream was to communicate the event and the reverence of what happened that night – two people died that night,” Riley said. “It was very important to him – it was an event he lived through.”
Two years ago, the U.S. Forest Service conducted an archeological survey of the crash site and made plans to establish a kiosk telling the story of the bomber.
“Without this, there would be no wonderful opportunity to tell this story and connect people with the land,” said Molly Fuller, chief of the Pemigewasset District Ranger Station as the kiosk was unveiled.
Kantner died in January 2007, just one week shy of the 65th anniversary of the crash.
The wreckage remains on the slopes of Mount Waternomee, slowly being reclaimed by the woods. There is no trail to the site, although through the years, hikers have bushwhacked their way to see the remains.
“It’s very steep,” said Ranger Tom Giles, who hiked up to the site in 2006. “That those men trudged up there in the middle of winter – that’s what left an impression on me.”