Disappeared "Airacobra" And Mysteries Of "Boston": RGS Continues Its Search On ALSIB Air Route

Even today, these places sometimes seem to be a real edge of the world. Photo provided by the participants of the expedition
Even today, these places sometimes seem to be a real edge of the world. Photo provided by the participants of the expedition

These days, the third stage of the expedition of the Russian Geographical Society and the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation to explore the ALSIB Air Route is taking place. This time, the search specialists will examine the Yakutia section of this air route. Their goal is to document the already known aircraft crash sites, as well as to find new ones where the remains of missing aircraft may be located on the route. How the search is going and what was found – this is the story of our regular author, a member of the expedition Alexey NIKULIN.

The Zheglov Method

The expedition began at the end of August with the exploration of the crash site of the “Airacobra” aircraft 150 km from Yakutsk. As of yet, the owner and the circumstances of the crash of this aircraft are not clear. If there are accessory numbers, we will try to find that out. But the coordinates are determined and documented.


The crash site of the “Airacobra” aircraft. Photo provided by the participants of the expedition
The crash site of the “Airacobra” aircraft. Photo provided by the participants of the expedition

We are following the plan: we loaded into the Mi-26 transport chopper and moved to the next location of the route – the village of Khandyga. And here mother nature intervened in the plans – the weather did not allow us to move on. It's a pity to waste time on a simple one. Last year, in Chukotka, the weather would "nail" us to the strip on an extraordinarily regular basis. And then we tried to spend time usefully.

This time we decided to find a more beautiful place to not only admire the beauty of Yakutia, although I will say it bluntly – there are places to meditate. It is easy to see this by looking at the local landscapes.

Since the amount of equipment being transported is very significant, and part of the expedition team has been replenished with new members this time, we decided to practice setting up camp and checking all the equipment.

In the meantime, we are waiting for the weather window to move on. Everyone is alive, healthy, full, but we are dreaming of hitting the sack.

Usually, exploration begins with a survey of local residents. As Gleb Zheglov said, "There will always be a person who saw something, heard something." So we "hunkered down" in the village of gold diggers Allah-Yun. Although the locals talk about the "Airacobra" found near the confluence of the Belaya and the Mutula Rivers, we did not get accurate landmarks. In addition, the very fact of the discovery of the aircraft has become obscured with speculations about the fighter that was allegedly sold to the States in the 1990s. Moreover, the figure is astronomical – $ 1 million. For me, this is not a legend, but rather a myth. For this money, the aircraft should be in relatively good condition, which is unlikely – during an emergency landing, the plane turns into a set of parts, large and not very large.

We set up search camp on the stone spit for a few days.

There are no roads, the taiga is impassable in places, bears walk around, but it's beautiful, that's for sure! The only road is the river. If one has a boat with a water jet, and we have it, then one can explore by water. That's what we did – we worked out two locations 15 and 18 km upstream. I'll tell you what, this was extremely dangerous: going over rapids is not for the faint of heart – lose focus even a little and you’re a goner.

We came back at dusk, rowing – we’d ran out of gas. In the morning we checked another location, however, this time we went on foot. What we took for the wreckage of the plane turned out to be a hunting box. In Khandyga, we refuel and fly farther – to the area of the administrative center of the Oymyakonsky Ulus of the Ust-Nera settlement.


Exploration by boat. Photo provided by the participants of the expedition
Exploration by boat. Photo provided by the participants of the expedition

"Cherednichenko’s Plane"

Our goal is the crash site of the A-20 “Boston” bomber on the Yakutia section of the ALSIB.

The archives have preserved very little information about the fate of the crew. The commander and the gunner were killed. The navigator jumped out with a parachute and survived. No reports, acts – nothing.

Perhaps they will be found, but for now we have the opportunity to examine the crash site. By the way, the "Boston" was considered a reliable and to a certain extent universal machine. It was produced in modifications of a light bomber, an attack aircraft, a night fighter, and a torpedo bomber and enjoyed a good reputation among the pilots of the Northern Fleet not only because of good flight characteristics, but also because of the heated cockpit and the presence of a toilet. "Bostons" fought in the mine-torpedo aviation of all fleets.


Bomber A-20 "Boston". Photo: https://wikipedia.org/Library of Congress/call number LC-USW361-203
Bomber A-20 "Boston". Photo: https://wikipedia.org/Library of Congress/call number LC-USW361-203


The A-20 "Boston" is an aircraft of the company "Douglas". Structurally, it is an all-metal high-winged aircraft. The aircraft had a tricycle landing gear with a nose wheel, which was unusual for that time, and had interchangeable nose sections of the fuselage for attack aircraft or bomber variants. Two engines "Wright R-2600-23", installed on the A-20G, developed a power of 1600 hp each. The crew consisted of two or three people: a pilot, a navigator, and a rear shooter, depending on the tasks performed. The maximum speed was 520 km/h. Cruising speed – 390 km/h. The service ceiling was 7,200 meters.

The A-20 made its first flight on August 17, 1939. Was serially produced from October 1939 to September 1944. In 1943, a new modification of the A-20G began to arrive through Alaska and Iran (we usually designated them as the A-20J; one of its nicknames was "bug"). In 1943, the Soviet Union received 1,360 A-20 aircraft of various modifications, in 1944 – 743, in 1945, only one "Boston" was received by the Soviet military.

Period of operation: from November 1939 (France) to 1953 (USSR). The number of aircraft produced is 7,478.

The aircraft received powerful machine-gun and cannon armament mounted in the nose: four 20-millimeter M-1 guns (ammunition – 60 rounds per barrel) and two 12.7-millimeter “Browning” M2 machine guns (500 rounds per barrel) on the first 250 vehicles, replaced by a battery of six machine guns on subsequent ones, the crew was reduced to two people (pilot and rear gunner). As a defensive weapon, the aircraft received a closed turret of the “Martin” company with two 12.7 mm “Browning” M2 machine guns (ammunition – 400 rounds per barrel). At the place where the turret was installed, the fuselage was expanded by 15 cm. Another “Browning” M2 machine gun was installed in the floor of the shooter's cabin. Such armament of nine “Browning” M2 machine guns became the standard for all subsequent A-20s. The bomb load was 1,200 kg.

The crash of the A-20B aircraft No. 13622 occurred on April 18, 1943 in the Momsky District of Yakutia during a flight from Seimchan to Yakutsk in difficult meteorological conditions. The plane was flying in the rear, got into cloud cover, broke away from the group, and after 1 hour and 15 minutes in the area northwest of the village of Ulakhan-Chistai by Lake Ottah crashed into the ground.

The navigator, Senior Lieutenant Drobotenko, bailed out.

The pilot of the 3rd Air Transport Regiment (ATR), Senior Lieutenant Yakov Yakovlevich Cherednichenko and air gunner-radio operator, Red Army soldier Ivan Yakovlevich Zhitin were killed. They were buried at the place of death, later reburied at the cemetery in the village of Sasyr, Momsky District of Yakutia.

The crash site has been known for a long time – it is located 18 km from the village of Sasyr, near the Chersky Ridge. It is not possible to land next to the wreckage: the Mi-26 is a large aircraft and loves space. Even if the trees weren't in the way, we wouldn't be able to land next to the "Boston" – it's too swampy.

The helicopter commander chooses a place on a rocky spit 2.5 km from the object. Then we set up camp as we practiced.

In the morning, the search party moves to the location. The tasks of the RGS expedition are not only to find possible crash sites of the ALSIB planes, but also to assess the condition of the fragments, as well as to make sure that this monument is not subjected to acts of vandalism and natural destruction.

Science and art are ahead. In the sense that science examines, and art captures on camera.

It was believed that only the tail remained of the “Boston”, but in reality quite a lot of large and small fragments remained: wings, both engines, a pair of blades, fragments of the pilot's cabin, devices. The wreckage is located quite compactly, on an area of about 50 by 50 m. It was probably an emergency landing after all. The way they are positioned, the parts are technically easier to remove compared to collecting them in a space of 20 football fields, as it was last year in Chukotka. It is important to understand whether it is necessary?


Preserved fragments of the "Boston". Photo provided by the participants of the expedition
Preserved fragments of the "Boston". Photo provided by the participants of the expedition

Unfortunately, there is a risk of losing this object – some of the fragments have already disappeared. From the tailplane, someone barbarically and for an incomprehensible purpose cut out a part of the skin with a tail number – and left it here.

Yakutia enthusiasts, however, are enthusiastic – they are here for the first time and believe that all this can become a worthy museum exhibit.

Oleg Podkletnov's opinion, and he has been leading the ALSIB expedition three years in a row: parts of the “Boston” should be taken from the crash site to the base, where it will not be cut, but carefully disassembled into smaller fragments with the help of specially made tools. This is the only way it can be preserved for people, turning it into an exhibit – evidence of a heroic era.

Which was immediately done!