How We Searched for Alsib's Planes. Part Four: "Fedorenko’s Plane"

Часть крыла "борта Федоренко" с закрылками. Фото: Елена Климанова
Часть крыла "борта Федоренко" с закрылками. Фото: Елена Климанова

21.07.2022. We are going to search for the P-40 Kittyhawk fighter of Junior Lieutenant Alexey Fedorenko. This time the RGS’s search party is quite small – the task doesn’t seem difficult at first glance, so there are only seven of us. Both geologists and search specialists knew this place, and we had the exact coordinates. However, getting to the Kittyhawk’s crash site turned out to be a dangerous business – already in the mountains, en-route, the weather suddenly worsened.

Our Mi-8 got into the same dense clouds and snow quall as the crew of Viktor Glazkov's C-47 80 years ago: "At an altitude of 200m, we entered cloud cover. We are ascending. At an altitude of 500-600m, icing began. The temperature is 5-6°C below zero. We continue to ascend, hoping to jump out between the layers of clouds. Unsuccessfully: ice is intensively growing on the wing leading edge. The de-icing system is unable to remove the ice. Only the flight mechanic manages to drop ice, pieces of which hit the fuselage skin like cannon shots, from the blades alternately changing the pitch of the propellers. Communications are down. The headphones are full of crackling. The indicated air speed drops to 200km, then to 190 ... snowfall, visibility 1000-1500m. In snow quall, we drop to 500-600m. There is silence in the cabin. And only the short phrases ‘mountain on the left’, ‘mountain on the right’ broke the silence."

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Перед вылетом ещё никто не знал, что погода преподнесёт нам сюрпризы. Фото: Алексей Никулин
Перед вылетом ещё никто не знал, что погода преподнесёт нам сюрпризы. Фото: Алексей Никулин

By this time, myself and Pavel Filin, the lead scientist of the RGS’s expedition, had spent more than 40 hours in the air and had seen everything, but this was a first time experience.

Finally, we break out of the solid clouds, pass over the search area. Small wreckage of the plane lies along the stream. On a small hill we notice a stele with a star – we are here.

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Судя по всему, лётчик пытался найти ровное место для аварийной посадки. но безуспешно. Фото: Елена Климанова
Судя по всему, лётчик пытался найти ровное место для аварийной посадки. но безуспешно. Фото: Елена Климанова

The circumstances of the death of Junior Lieutenant Fedorenko, perhaps, have been established the most compared to other crashes. The RGS’s search party only needs to make sure of this, record the fragments on camera, enter the data in the reports.

From archival documents: "On October 18, 1942, during the flight of a group of fighters from Uelkal to Seimchan, the commander of the 2nd Air Transport Regiment (ATR) Junior Lieutenant Fedorenko Alexey Efimovich went missing in action... on October 18, 1942, the commander of Li-2, Captain Dobrovolsky, received an order to lead a group of fighters from Uelkal Airfield to Seimchan Airfield. In the right seat of the plane is the deputy commander of the 1st ATR Battalion Commissar Tikhomirov. The group's flight took place at an altitude of 1200-1300 feet with visibility in some areas less than 1km. Dobrovolsky encountered the deteriorating weather, did not establish contact with Markovo and led the group into a snowfall with visibility less than 500m. Having made a belated decision to return to Uelkal, Dobrovolsky made a U-turn at an altitude of about 500m with visibility of less than 500m. As a result, Junior Lieutenant Fedorenko, who was piloting the P-40E aircraft, broke away from the group and was lost. The search did not yield results. The remains of the pilot were found on 06.23.1943, 80-85km from Perevalnaya Airbase of the Polar Aviation Administration of the Chief Directorate of the Northern Sea Route in Chukotka in the upper reaches of a tributary of the M. Komogin River."

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Когда-то это был обтекатель шасси. Фото: Елена Климанова
Когда-то это был обтекатель шасси. Фото: Елена Климанова

The inspection report has been preserved: "This act was drawn up at Perevalnaya Airbase of the Polar Aviation Administration of the Chief Directorate of the Northern Sea Route in Chukotka under the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR on June 23, 1943, by us, the undersigned: head of the weather station Novorodsky I. M., instructor of the district committee of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks in Lavrenti Village Kondratiev V. I., and translator Vysotsky P. that we inspected the crash site of the plane of the Krasnoyarsk Air Route specified by the local population on June 20 of this year. The crash site is located in a south-east direction from Perevalnaya Airbase at a distance of about 80-85km, in the upper reaches of a tributary of the M. Komogin River, 10km from the sources of this tributary. During the inspection of the crash site, we have discovered the following:

1. The remains of the aircraft are scattered over an area 300m long and 50m wide.

2. In the southern part of the site there is a trace (furrow) 15m long in the direction from south to north, made by the body of the aircraft during landing.

3. The parts of the aircraft are scattered in the following order: at the beginning of the site, parts of the plane and the hull; and at the end of the site, parts of the motor, electrical and radio equipment, weapons, the tail part of the aircraft and wheels. The pilot's corpse has not been found. There are only remnants of uniforms, partially burned, and a few gnawed bones.

4. Basically all parts of the aircraft are broken into small pieces. The most preserved are: a) five pieces of large-caliber machine guns, whose barrels are only crumpled or broken off, cartridge boxes for them (incomplete) in the amount of five pieces; b) a motor divided into separate blocks, individual parts of which are well preserved (valves, valve springs, pistons with a crankshaft, and a number of other small parts; c) electric vehicles of different sizes.

5. Several descriptions (in English) of individual parts of the aircraft with photographs were found in the area of the crash. All descriptions were burned on the spot.

6. The pilot's personal weapon was not found. Only the pistol clip No. 1352 was found with four bullets in it.

7. From the personal belongings of the pilot were found: three photographs, the cover of an identity card, two partially burned notebooks, instructions of the Krasnoyarsk Air Route."

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Автор у найденного фрагмента двигателя самолёта. Фото: Елена Климанова
Автор у найденного фрагмента двигателя самолёта. Фото: Елена Климанова

The spread of debris: indeed, this is a strip of about 300-350m by 50-70m. We do not come across small parts, fragments of radios or electrical equipment.

The terrain is swampy, some of the fragments have to be literally pulled out of the swamp slime: it looks like something small from the top, but when you start pulling – it’s almost half a wing.

The engine, it seems, flew apart at the first touchdown. Many fragments of different sizes remained from it – from "palm-sized" to part of the engine block.

In general, the overall impression after examining the crash site is as follows: after Fedorenko got lost and ran out of fuel, he tried to find a relatively flat place for an emergency landing. Although the valley of the stream looks relatively flat from above, it is clearly not flat for landing at a speed of about 150-200 km/h.

It would seem, when the plane came into contact with the ground, it nosed over (that is, it turned over by pivoting on the nose) and began to crumble into many fragments.

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Пирамидка со звездой в память о погибшем лётчике Алексее Федоренко.  Фото: Елена Климанова
Пирамидка со звездой в память о погибшем лётчике Алексее Федоренко. Фото: Елена Климанова

Alexey Fedorenko's last landing stretched for about 300 meters. Or a little more. Since the crash site has been known practically since the war, this led to the looting of all more or less useful parts, including machine guns, cartridges, personal belongings, and even factory nameplates. On some fragments we found "autographs" of reindeer herders…

To be continued.

Alexey Nikulin