February 1959 Plane Crash, Pemi Wilderness

Memorial for Dr. Ralph E. Miller and Dr. Robert E. Quinn in the Thoreau Falls valley of the Pemigewasset Wilderness in Lincoln, New Hampshire. The doctors successfully crash landed their plane on February 21, 1959 in this location along the abandoned railroad bed of the East Branch & Lincoln Railroad. They survived for four days before dying of exposure.
Abandoned Section of the Thoreau Falls Trail – Pemigewasset Wilderness, New Hampshire
 

February 1959 Plane Crash, Pemigewasset Wilderness – On Saturday, February 21, 1959 a Piper Comanche airplane took off from the Berlin, New Hampshire Airport, around 3:30 p.m., destined for Lebanon, New Hampshire Airport. The pilot was Dr. Ralph E. Miller and his passenger was Dr. Robert E. Quinn. Both were doctors affiliated with Dartmouth Medical School.

Unfortunately, they ended up crashing in a remote area of the Pemigewasset Wilderness on the abandoned North Fork Branch (at the time, a section of the Thoreau Falls Trail) of the East Branch & Lincoln Railroad, near “New” Camp 22. The doctors successfully crash-landed and survived for four days before dying of exposure. It wasn’t until months later in May that the crash site was discovered by a plane flying over the area. At the crash site, the search party found the bodies of the two doctors and a journal they had kept during the four days.

Thoreau Falls Trail near the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River at North Fork Junction in the Pemigewasset Wilderness of New Hampshire. This trail utilizes parts of the old East Branch & Lincoln Railroad (1893-1948) bed. And straight ahead was the start of the railroad trestle that crossed the East Branch of the Pemi.
Thoreau Falls Trail (at the East Branch of the Pemi River crossing) Minutes From Forest Service's North Fork Cabin
 

With medical supplies, the doctors were able to build snowshoes out of tree branches. They attempted to follow the railroad bed (Thoreau Falls Trail) south until it appeared to abruptly end, so they turned around and went back to the plane. Unknown to them, the spot where they turned back was only a short distance from the US Forest Service's fully supplied North Fork Cabin.

The US Forest Service's North Fork Cabin was located along the Thoreau Falls Trail a few minutes south of where the Thoreau Falls Trail crosses the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River (above). The above photo, looking south from the northside of the river crossing, shows how the railroad bed looks to just end.

Memorial to Dr. Ralph E. Miller and Dr. Robert E. Quinn in the Thoreau Falls Valley of the Pemigewasset Wilderness in Lincoln, New Hampshire. The doctors successfully crash landed their plane on February 21, 1959 in this location and survived for four days before dying of exposure.
Abandoned Section of the Thoreau Falls Trail – Pemigewasset Wilderness, New Hampshire
 

Since the plane crash, the Thoreau Falls Trail has been rerouted to avoid water crossings, and it no longer follows the section of abandoned railroad where the plane crashed. The US Forest Service's North Fork Cabin is no longer standing. And this section of the Pemigewasset Wilderness is mostly visited by backcountry hikers. However, a memorial plaque (above) along the abandoned railroad marks the location of where the plane crashed.

Today, only locals and history buffs know the story Dr. Ralph E. Miller and Dr. Robert E. Quinn. And even less visit the memorial located deep in the Pemigewasset Wilderness. I encourage you to read the full story of these doctors at the Trustees of Dartmouth College website, and in this article by Mike Dickerman, owner of Bondcliff Books.

Happy image making..


 

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Bibliography:
Dickerman, Mike. “Fifty years have passed since the tragic plane crash.” Fosters Daily Democrat, March 2009.

Donovan, Erin Paul. East Branch & Lincoln Railroad. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2018.

Morton, John. “Unforgiving Forests.” Dartmouth Medicine, Winter 2000, pp 28-35.

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Erin Paul is a professional photographer, writer, and author who specializes in environmental conservation and historic preservation photography in the New Hampshire White Mountains. His work is published worldwide, and credits include; Backpacker Magazine, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the Appalachian Mountain Club, and The Wilderness Society.

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4 Responses to “February 1959 Plane Crash, Pemi Wilderness”

  1. Steven S. Hall

    I personally owned and drove the J-5 Bombardier that salvaged the Doctors' Plane. I personally overnighted in the North Fork Cabin. It was stocked with firewood, blankets, dry food, stove and had a crank phone to the outside world. There were two river crossings and two brook crossings between the North Fork Cabin and the crash. I believe that the Drs got puzzled by the rotted out trestle at the brook crossings where the trail of today goes out around through the woods and the roadbed disappears between the two end pier of the trestle. The crash was very close to the manure piles of new Camp 22. If you go up to the Forest Service building at the bridge across the East Branch, you will see several framed photos donated by me.

    Reply
    • Erin Paul Donovan

      Hi Steven,

      Thank you for sharing this information; its very interesting. I will take a look at your photos next time I am at the Lincoln Woods Trailhead (I don’t think I have seen them before).

      Reply

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