The White's Hill B-17 Crash of 1946 | Liminal Trading Co.

The White’s Hill B-17 Crash of 1946

Fairfax, CA

On a cool and foggy night around 2 AM on May 16th, 1946, radio operators at the Oakland Naval Station received a worrying call from the crew of a nearby B-17 bomber. The crew stated that they were lost in the dense fog of the Bay Area and that they were running dangerously low on fuel. The previous day, the plane had taken off from New Mexico and was en route to Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. Along the way, the crew would land at naval bases in Tucson, Arizona, and Los Angeles, California. At the time of sending their distressed message to the Oakland Naval Station, they were en route to the Hamilton Air Base in Novato, CA.

The Oakland radio operators gave the crew the order to descend to a 1500 foot altitude and head West toward the ocean. If the crew could do this, they could be picked up on the radar and guided safely back to a suitable landing location. The crew took this order, descending to 1500 feet. However, due to the disorientation caused by the dense fog, instead of flying toward the ocean, they were heading straight into the hilly terrain of Marin County.

Unfortunately, by this time the crew was already on an unavoidable collision course. Shortly after the plane’s descent, the crew crashed into White’s Hill, killing three of the nine crewmen upon impact. Remarkably, six of the men survived the crash, most likely due to the lack of fire and explosions caused by the empty fuel tank of the aircraft. Some of the men managed to escape the wreck and wander for two miles before finding help from a man who just so happened to own the only telephone in the neighborhood.

Within 20 minutes of the men calling for help, the scene of the crash was suddenly surrounded by military personnel demanding first responders and civilian rescue crews to disperse at an instant. Suddenly, what was at first thought to just be a tragic accident turned into a conspiracy. Reportedly when a fire chief asked why they were being stopped from helping, they were told “What’s on that plane is more important than human life itself.”

one of the plane’s 4 engines which can still be found at the crash site today (as of 2021)

If the military was interested in something on that plane that was “more important than human life itself,” what could it have possibly been? From this point on, all theories and their accompanying research was done by Gary Peak and John Romer, the two most knowledgeable people on the incident.

In an interview conducted by Peak with Lloyd Patterson, a Woodacre resident who witnessed the crash, Patterson states that he witnessed the military rush onto the scene. They quickly surrounded the area, maneuvered two cranes to the crash site, lifted out two automobile-sized crates from the plane onto a truck, covered them in tarps, and left the scene just before 6 AM. The removal of the crates and the subsequent burial of the bomber afterward was confirmed by Hugh Rincon, one of the nine crewmen on board during the crash. He also confirmed that the plane had been classified as top secret, and that himself along with all of the others onboard the aircraft were part of the then top-secret Operation Crossroads.

Operation Crossroads was a military study that was conducted in 1946. The study consisted of testing nuclear weapons and determining their potential damage to warships and their effect on nearby radiation levels.

At this point, the plane involved in the crash had been confirmed to be a part of Operation Crossroads, along with all of the crew on board. This would explain the military presence at the scene. However, there was still a blaring part of the mystery that had yet to be answered. What was in the plane’s cargo? All of the previous members of the crew who Gary Peak and John Romer had interviewed were unsure. This would all change when they were able to locate Richard Beach, the 1st Lieutenant onboard the B-17 bomber at the time of the crash. In an interview with Beach in his home in Santa Cruz, he confirmed the piece of information that would bring the story together. At the time of the crash, the bomber was carrying nuclear detonators that were necessary for the detonation of the three nuclear bombs that were set to go off on Bikini Atoll in 1946.

With this newfound information, Gary Peak and John Romer decided to send a Freedom of Information Act request to Clovis Army Field, New Mexico, the original takeoff location of the B-17 bomber. Shortly after, they received a 160-page report detailing the crash and information about the cargo on board. The report also outlined how the crash put a serious dent into the future of Operation Crossroads. If the three nuclear detonators on board had not been recovered, the nuclear testing in Bikini Atoll may have never happened (who knows how different life would be today if that had been the case.)

Not long after receiving the report, John Romer was met with by U.S. military Major Martin. After Major Martin looked over Peak and Romer’s story, he informed him not to publish the story, as parts of it were still classified as top secret and would not be released at any time. Not too long after John Romer meets with Major Martin, he informed Gary Peak that he would be moving to San Francisco, and that shortly after getting settled he would reply to him regarding the B-17 story. That was the last time Gary ever heard from John.

This abrupt ending to Gary Peak and John Romer’s story and investigation leaves a lot to be desired. What was the top-secret information included in their story? What did Major Martin inform Romer of? Was he coerced into silence? At the time of writing this, it unfortunately seems that it will remain a mystery.

Gary Peak and John Romer went above and beyond investigating and putting an explanation to this mystery. To try to keep this incident report relatively short I left out a lot of details and events that lead to a further understanding of what took place on the night of the White’s Hill B-17 crash. I learned all of the information that I wrote about directly from Gary Peak’s website, where he recounts his entire investigation and all of the details surrounding it. It genuinely is one of the most thorough grassroots investigations I have ever read about and strongly encourage you to read his account of it if you are interested.