What Did the Searchers Find During the Second Season of the Expedition to Explore the ALSIB Air Route

Остатки эмблемы ВВС Армии США. Фото: Алексей Никулин

80 years have passed since the beginning of the heroic Alaska—Siberia air route. "For history, the term is short, but for a person it is a whole life. The veterans have grown old during this time. Many have passed away," wrote Viktor Glazkov, an on—board radio operator who ferried 23 C-47 Douglas transport aircraft in 1991. His unpublished manuscript, archival sources and other valuable artifacts were discovered by the participants of the expedition to survey the objects of the ALSIB air route during the second field season.

13 crash sites were investigated. A large-scale event of the second season was the exposure of the discovered artifacts during an expanded meeting of the board of the Ministry of Defense of Russia. The total weight of the objects of military-technical history delivered to Moscow amounted to 21 tons. We would like to tell you about the most valuable finds of ALSIB in 2022.

On August 28, 1943, near the Chukotka Uelkal airfield, the  transport Douglas C–47 under the command of Senior lieutenant Evgeny Gerasimov crashed into a mountain in poor visibility conditions. In the mountains near Lake Gornoye, explorers found a large number of fragments of an American aircraft: an ARR-11 receiving-set, control pedals, a propeller blade, wings and a fragment of the cockpit.

Komsomol membership card No. 9248726 in Russian and Kazakh languages became a valuable find. Judging by the place where the ticket was issued, its owner was probably a radio operator, Sergeant Pyotr Okonechnikov, who was born in the village of Kutikhi in the Zyryanovsky district of the East Kazakhstan region. In the year of the disaster, Peter was only 19 years old.


Комсомольский билет №9248726. Фото предоставлено участниками экспедиции

"The Komsomol membership card was found directly at the crash site, where Gerasimov's plane crashed into a mountain," says Sergey Chechulin, head of the expeditionary direction of the Expeditionary and Tourism Development Department of the RGS. "At the time of the collision, the temperature there was such that aviation aluminum was melting and is now lying in ingots. Therefore, it is truly amazing that the document was preserved during the accident and waited 79 years in the wings under heavy stones. Meanwhile, work is underway to search for relatives of Sergeant Okonechnikov and other deceased crew members of the crashed aircraft."

Fragments of the Douglas rear fuselage under the control of Major Fyodor Ponomarenko were found by members of the expedition in Chukotka, near the upper reaches of the Bystraya River. The elements of the US Army Air Force emblem — a white star in a blue circle - are clearly visible on the tail fin. Over the years, the paint applied to the aircraft has peeled off and its original factory painting has appeared.


Часть фюзеляжа. Фото: Анна Юргенсон

An ARN-7 automatic wireless compass was also found at the crash site. The device is designed for navigation of aircraft based on signals received from ground-based direction finding stations.

The last stage of the expedition in Chukotka was the exploration of the crash site near the village of Markovo between the Anadyr and Main rivers, where, according to information from local explorers, the wreckage of the A-20 "Boston" lay. Swampy areas of the tundra complicated the search. But the center section and the tail of the aircraft rested in a dry place. After a detailed examination, experts determined the type of aircraft — P-63 "Kingcobra". A red star with a white border is clearly visible on the wing.


Элемент крыла. Фото: Анна Юргенсон

The plane belonged to Captain Vladimir Pankov, who made an emergency landing on flat terrain. But there was an accident. Judging by the presence of two barrels of fuel and lubricants, wooden logs under the airframe and fragments of the cable, they tried to pull the plane out. The swampy ground prevented this from being done. The expedition members are trying to establish the date of the plane crash and its causes.

Near the Yakut Khandyga airfield, near the confluence of the Dodae River with the Teberden River, the expedition members found the wreckage of the P-40 Kittyhawk fighter aircraft of Starshina Nikolai Dyakov. The wheel from his plane will become a valuable exhibit at thematic exhibitions. On December 9, 1942, Nikolai Dyakov's plane crash-landed on ice in the valley of a mountain river. Local residents managed to save the pilot only on January 19, 1943.


Колесо от истребителя P-40 "Киттихок". Фото: Анна Юргенсон

According to reports, the P-40 "Kittyhawk" is the only fighter aircraft of this type, which made an emergency landing in Yakutia. After 80 years, searchers managed to find its fragments in the offsets of the Verkhoyansky ridge.

In July 1943, 10 lend-lease aircraft took off from Krasnoyarsk towards the front. Two crashed in a solid fog. One of them is the P—39 "Aerocobra" fighter aircraft of Lieutenant Arkady Koltsov. He has been missing for 75 years. In 2018, Krasnoyarsk explorers managed to find a crashed fighter and the remains of the pilot. This year they raised the blades, small parts of the "Aircobra" and three machine guns "Browning" M2. This 12.7 mm machine gun was used on most American fighters and bombers during the war.


Пулемёт "Браунинг" М2 и лопасти винта. Фото: Георгий Широков

"During the flight, 81 aircraft were lost out of about 8 thousand aircraft. This tragic figure of "about 1%" is at the same time evidence of the courage and professionalism of the pilots who worked in the most difficult conditions, often flying almost by touch," said Natalia Belyakova, director of the Tourism Development Department. "The cause of the disasters was mainly an extremely complex weather situation. Award lists and orders on awarding pilots have been preserved in archives and private collections."

The preserved objects of the ALSIB route: airfields, buildings, memorials, archival documents, fragments of equipment — represent a single and unique historical complex located on the territory from Chukotka to the Krasnoyarsk Territory. The study of the possibility of museumification and the development of the tourist potential of the objects of the legendary air route is one of the tasks of the future, the third season of the expedition.

Natalia Sadovskikh