The Search For A-12 Article 125
(This is a fictional photo: Original US Air Force. Intended to show 60-6928 in flight)
This is the story about the Hunt for 928. Precisely known as a/c 60-6928 or labeled by the CIA as Article 125. Workers at Groom Lake referred to her as Ship 28.
She was lost on January 5th, 1967 while returning to Groom Lake better known today as Area 51. You can read the crash report here. http://notreally.info/transport/planes/blackbird/a-12/60-6928/.
I started my fascination with military aircraft decades ago while my father was serving in the United States Air Force. Growing up on military bases changed me for life and it was the motivation for starting this website.
The Blackbird Family, with its black paint and futuristic shape was way ahead of its time in the Sixties. Remember the first A-12 flight happened on April 30th, 1962. Flying as fast and as high as the Blackbirds did was unbelievable for the day. It out climbed and out ran SAMs over hostile territories. Every one has read stories about its designed capabilities and to this day there is still questions about its true max speed (M3.5-3.6?)
And as I once read on another website “If it’s CIA and it flew from Groom Lake..then it’s gotta be cool!!??”
I have visited many Aviation Museums around the country and I have seen a few static displays of the Blackbirds. Visiting them at the March ARB museum in California, The Museum of Flight in Seattle, The Air and Space Museum in San Diego and PASM in Tucson Az. There is a side by side display of both an A-12 and a SR-71 at the Blackbird Air Park in Palmdale, California.
One of my greatest pleasures was meeting Bill Weaver who was a civilian test pilot for Lockheed for many years. He was a pilot early on in the A-12 program. He also survived an in-flight break up of his SR-71A (http://roadrunnersinternationale.com/weaver_sr71_bailout.html). I met him while visiting the Orbital Sciences crew in Mojave, California. I tell people that I have shook the hand of the luckiest man in the world. Forget winning the lottery…go read Bill’s story.
There are many resources for locating the now retired Blackbirds. Many of the A-12’s, YF-12’s and the SR-71’s are all in museums or displayed publicly and you can find websites directing you to where you can visit them. I stumbled upon a site that also listed where some of the aircraft crashed. One such aircraft #953 (61-7953/Article 2004) that crashed outside of Death Valley Park near Shoshone California. It came down on public land after suffering an in-flight explosion. (http://www.thexhunters.com/xpeditions/sr-71a_953_accident.html). This was one of the first Blackbird crash sites that I visited. It’s an easy 5 minute walk off the highway to the POI.
A lot of people have read Tom Mahood’s story of his two year quest to find an A-12 Oxcart that crashed in the Nevada desert. A lot of time and money was spent on this endeavor by him, coming out to the Nevada desert from his home in Southern California. I have to say his story first got me interested in finding this crash site. Living in Nevada and learning that a secret spy plane crash site was less than a hundred miles from my house…made me want to find it!!
While living in Nevada for the last twenty years, I have done a lot. The usual weekend treks to Lake Mead, hiking in Southern Utah, and visiting Death Valley. There is a lot to do within a few hours’ drive of Las Vegas, but somehow central Nevada never got any attention from me.
I researched all I could about the crash site and read several reports of people who have traveled into the Meadow Valley near Moapa, to get near the rail lines of the Union Pacific.This is train spotters paradise!! There are train lovers, just as there are plane lovers!!
But not having been to the area I did lots of planning/studying on Google Maps. I thought the best way might be thru Caliente, Nevada as the roads thru rainbow Canyon are paved for the first twenty miles or so. It looked to be the last stop to get gas and food and drinks. Always be prepared for off-road travel.
So on December 21, 2013 I started what would be the first of many trips into Meadow Valley.
Rainbow Canyon in the winter is nice enough. It is a winding road in a river gorge that follows the wash thru breath-taking red rock formations along the UP rail lines. A throw back to the early railroad days of the 1900’s. The valley is full of Cottonwood trees that explode in bright reds and oranges in the fall. A trapper I met at a camp ground told me that he hunts wild turkeys here as well. I know this area is big for cattle ranching. The valley is deep in history and I have just discovered it.
(As I told a friend on a later visit. This looks like Gods’ Land. Where else should the A-12 Oxcart rest!)
Driving south from Caliente you drive the first twenty miles on paved roads passing rural houses and ranches. There is a populated area that quickly disappears. At the end of the pavement is the Ghost town of Elgin. It was a railroad settlement with a one room school house. The school closed in 1967 and is now a State Historic Site.
U.S. 93 Near Caliente, Nevada
After Elgin the road turns into two-lane maintained dirt road. The last of the canyon scenery ends at Leith, Nevada where the U&P siding ruins lie. For a Train lover..This is paradise. Having read that this area was subject to at least three really bad floods and knowing that there was extensive damage made me appreciate the men that carved out their existence in rural Nevada. I have lived here for twenty years and I know that we get only two seasons…Hot and cold. Life back then must have been incredible in this area. I was glad I was here for only a day trip.
The canyon was beautiful, but as I left it behind and drove further south on the Carp/Elgin road I focused back on what I came to search for. Imagine my surprise when I rounded a turn to see ranch land laid out in front of me complete with Harvester and Irrigation. But it was a defunct operation with people pulling out many years before. There were signs of vandalism as a small fire had been set in the old sheet-metal barn and the harvester had spray paint on it. At least now I felt better seeing that there was civilization this far out.
Strange as this seemed, all I could think about was finding 928. This is after all (or was) Blackbird Country. As I drove along I looked upwards to the open blue sky and tried to imagine what it was like 40 years ago. You might have spotted a Blackbird headed to or from Groom Lake and not known what it was. Remember 928 came down only 70 miles due East from the tarmac at Groom Lake. It might have been low enough and slow enough for people to see. I was quickly approaching what I thought might have been the intercept point of the flight path that 928 was on heading back to Groom Lake that fateful day. I was getting more excited!!
I was on a mission to find the resting spot of 928. Armed with the best GPS coordinates I could find and already having spent half the day sightseeing, I knew in winter that it gets dark around 4:15 so I had better get a move on. My planned exit would be a shorter route out, I did not want to be out there after dark and the game plan was to be back on pavement by night fall.
After a few weeks of intense research I was convinced this would be a ‘walk in the park’ I assured myself that I would not come out without a piece of titanium. I was on a mission. So when you think that you know something and it turns out not to be true that is a big let down especially when you don’t find anything. I knew where 928 was, but finding it on the ground proved to be the hardest part.
I failed to locate the crash site on this day. I was close, and I was searching a wash in the general area but I came up empty. The day had proved to be exciting and I think I caught the bug and the need to locate 928. If for no other reason, I was enjoying my time in the desert (if you can call it that) and this was starting to intrigue me. A few other parties have been to the crash site before me and I wanted to be one of those parties that could say “I have found it” Jeremy Krans first visited the area way back in 1998 and has made some wild discoveries out there on his many trips. He was bit by the bug and was one of the first to discover the crash site. http://roadrunnersinternationale.com/search_125.html
To say that 928’s location is rather remote is obvious. The trip takes you down a 40 mile dirt road then once in the general location it’s still about a 45 minute hike to get to the crash site. I did not find it the first trip in. This turned out to be the hardest trip I have done off-road and some of my friends think I’m insane. Doing it alone guarantees me that I protect the location and I have only taken one other person to it.
My second trip out to the site on January 4th, 2014 marked 47 years since the crash. I did locate the crash site on this day and I spent a few hours wandering around and just immersing myself in the area. I had spent a lot of time looking at Jeremy’s photos and I had a sense of “Deja Vu” once I was actually in the area. It all sort of laid out. I found my first piece of 928 outside the main arroyo where the POI is located. Finding a camp fire ring also showed me signs where previous searchers had been. When the Air Force cleaned up the crash there was a camp site left there. Roads into the general area were closed with armed guards for a week, while the USAF trucked out the remains. They left trash that is still there after 40 years. Rusted cans are in one of the arroyos.
In my excitement I had hiked past the arroyo that contained the POI. I had found skin panels outside the crash area. Seems 928 had tumbled in hard and there is mention in the official crash report that a “Lower Wing Fillet” had separated from the aircraft before it impacted. The Official Crash Report uses the words “COMPLETE DISINTEGRATION UPON IMPACT” so there is debris everywhere but nothing very large in the debris field. The USAF (or whomever) did a good job cleaning up the site. I can only imagine the effort required to clean up a crash site in this remote area. Obviously there was no burn scar as there had been no fire. But getting the remains onto a flat bed trailer with a crane must have been an enormous effort. Removing the larger pieces would have been easy…Getting all the small items seemed impossible.
In the main area you will find a lot of small debris located in a 800 ft wide by 500ft long blast cone directed out from the center of the POI. I was told that 928 tumbled in and ‘splattered’ at the top of the arroyo and that debris showered down over the next two ravines. My discoveries are based on that info and by actually mapping some of the debris pattern. As I said..finding small pieces is easy there. But the larger pieces carried more energy and I found them by walking out from the center of the POI. I recorded the GPS location of the larger pieces or any concentration of smaller pieces and mapped them out to find the borders of the debris field..
The Point of Impact doesn’t even look like a spot where an aircraft hit. The ground is barely disturbed!! It is white or more natural looking compared to the surrounding landscape. It isn’t gouged out or a big hole. I can’t imagine the force of the impact and I can’t explain what exists there. The surrounding vegetation is still there. No large swath cut down the hill. There is lots of small lite debris still intertwined in and under the vegetation. But I visited 47 years after the fact. I can assume that the USAF did some type of reclamation of the area. It is under BLM control. But this is the largest concentration of debris in the area.
Tom’s story says that he found cockpit debris across from the main POI on top of the next ridge line. His photo of the POI is the exact place I took an identical photo of the POI. I used his photo to search out this location and I also discovered wiring looms that is at the end of the debris field.
There are no know photos of the crash scene and I have limited info found on the internet. Maybe this is all speculation and I’m way off. I can only write about what I’m discovering and then put the words on this page. There is still the thrill of the hunt and I’m thinking that I need to visit this site a few more times in the cool weather before the temps climb.
As Peter Merlin says about crash sites “There is always something left”. This is true at this site. I usually just scan the surface and look under bushes and cactus. There are many small items. The signature items are torn pieces of titanium either skin or internal pieces, ninety percent of the Blackbirds were titanium. There is also the usual composite insulation type board with red RTV compound. White wiring shards and broken fasteners like screws, bolts or washers. At the downhill side of the POI I found what could be parts of an engine. I had read somewhere that one of the J-58s was found in an adjacent ravine.
Forty Seven years have passed. If you believe that Tom’s discovery in 1997, was the first visit in 30 years then it sat unmolested the whole time… There are still large pieces in the POI area. I mean, I found and left in place, pieces up to six inches in length. I have visited one other Blackbird crash site and there was virtually nothing left but small fragments on the surface. I’m thinking this is the best preserved crash site of any Blackbird aircraft. Virtually unvisited!! And it should remain this way.
I hope to find something with an identifying number such as a data plate or part of the cockpit panels. But I have not found anything like this yet. After 47 years of weather I am surprised that the lite stuff is still in the POI. It seems to be unaffected by the wind.
I know that the USAF put a cleanup crew there and that engineers from Groom Lake came to the crash site to secure that aircraft. It was trucked out on a road that the USAF bull dozed thru the area. The Oxcart “Black Shield” mission was headed to Okinawa and most of the personnel left Groom right after this crash. A week hardly seems like enough time to contain the area. I can’t imagine what they missed and what others that visited before me found. I did find some amazing pieces that I brought home to photograph. Most of the items will be return to the crash site.
The photos in this story are kept small for a reason. Photographs are very informative. You could say “All the desert looks the same” but that is not true. There are very distinct landscape structures that can act like fingerprints. I found a few different areas to search by arming myself with these high resolution photos and comparing the area with the photo.
I also left out details that I think would help someone else find the location. Most stories will give you enough info to get within several miles of the crash site. Going in and actually finding it would be hard work. It is very remote and a strenuous hike. The type of trip you wouldn’t want to do in summer. Remember this is snake country!!
On February 15, 2014 I did my 5th hike in and what will probably be my last. I have discovered what I went there for and now I’m in the process of mapping out the debris field. Searching for 928 was the first mission. But the whole area needs to be searched. I feel there might be larger undiscovered pieces there. Something destined for a museum??
So the story continues……
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