Friday, December 7, 2018

February 3, 1949

1938 Minvielle LB.jpg
We knew of this wreck's existence for many years, but only had a vague idea where it was.  Thanks Paul for the info that got us there.  When we started out on our hike to see the wreckage, we didn't know anything about the history other than it was a Navy plane taking scientists/engineers to a meeting.  Viewing the wreck was a somber experience and we wanted to know more.  Lots and lots of internet searching turned up a comprehensive write-up on the pilot, and not much on any of the others aboard the plane.  The China Lake Museum provided information from the book Magnificent mavericks: transition of the Naval Ordnance Test Station from rocket station to research, development, test, and evaluation center, 1948-58 that gives a brief amount of info on the purpose of the flight and the other men aboard the plane, which is summarized below the pilot's information.

The pilot that fateful day:

San Leandro, California

A. M. Minvielle Graduated U.S. Naval Academy, Class of 1938, designated Naval Aviator #7063 in 1941. 
Minnie, Al
Coming straight from sun-kissed California without the assistance of a prep school, Minnie has always demonstrated the ability of being able to solve his problems by depending upon himself. Blessed with an extra share of muscle, he has done his part for the honor of Navy in athletics, working day after day on the football squad in the fall, throwing the heaviest wrestlers around the ring in the winter, and wielding a lacrosse stick in the spring. French being his native tongue, he couldn't understand the difficulty the rest of us had with Dago; small wonder he was popular with those who didn't come by it so naturally. Friendly, unselfish, working hard but unobtrusively, Minnie is a shipmate who can be depended upon to pull his full share of the load. He is an ideal roommate and a loyal friend.
Football 4, 3, 2, 1, NA; Wrestling 4, 3, 2, 1, NA; Lacrosse 4, 3, 2, 1, NA; M.P.O.
Seven Aboard Missing Plane Thickening Weather Threatens to Hamper Search in California
Inyokern, Calif. Feb. 5 (AP)--Thickening weather threatened today to hamper an aerial search for a plane missing for two days from the navy weapons testing ground near here. It carried seven men, five of them civilian scientists. More than 100 planes combed the Fresno-Bakersfield-Inyokern area, where it was learned the plane might have landed shortly after it left the Inyokern airport at 6:30 a.m. Thursday. Fifteen minutes later it was reported at 10,000 feet over Walker's Pass, 50 miles from the field.
There was no further word from the plane but one report told of a plane being heard in a snowstorm about the same time. Jim Jorgensen, a mine superintendent, also told of hearing cries for help from his cabin in the densely wooded Kern Reiver canyon, but he was unable to determine their direction. Ten relief pilots were sent from Eleventh Naval district headquarters in San Diego last night, and ground parties and mobile equipment moved into the area from Isabella, a few miles south of Kernville, where the army set up a communications unit.
Pilot of the missing plane is Alphonse Minvielle, believe to be from San Francisco, and the co-pilot is Lieut. (JG) Charles V. Mathias, 27, Pittsburgh, Pa. The five scientists aboard enroute to Berkeley for a conference of the American Physical society are Dr. F.K.L. MacDonald of Stanley, Nova Scotia; Dr. John J. McKinley, Brighton, Calif.; Myron G. Kellogg, Santa Rosa, Calif.; Rodney Morrin, Waterman, Calif.; and Joseph A. Vargus, explosives divsion, Inyokern testing grounds.North Adams Transcript February 5, 1949
Husband Of Local Woman Plane Victim Minvielle, 6 Others Found In Wreckage
The pilot of a navy transport plane, husband of a Portland woman, his co-pilot and five scientists were found dead Friday in the wreckage of the plane, which crashed In California's Sierra Nevada mountain range Feb. 3, the navy announced. The pilot was Comdr. Alphonse Minvielle of San Francisco, husband of the former Eleanor Dawson of 548 Stevens Avenue. They have four children.
The navy reported a ground party had reached the plane 17 miles from the town of Inyokem In Kcm County. Calif, and was readying, according to the Associated Press, to bring down the bodies. The wreckage was at the 7.000-foot level near Owens Peak. The scientists were enroute from Inyokern to a scientific meeting at Berkeley.
The wreck was discovered Thursday by an air force reserve officer piloting an AT-6. The plane apparently had been covered by heavy snow which melted this week.Portland Press Herald 23 April 1949

NAF sailors begin the construction of the on-site recreation area that will later be dedicated to the memory of Cdr. Alphonse Minvielle, USN, who was lost in a 1948 aircraft accident; Minvielle Park (a.k.a. “NAF pool” and “Miniville”) will be expanded over the years—by SEABEE-supported “self-help” projects—to include a large pool, lawns and trees, and other amenities.

The above is from:,_CDR,_USN

Co-pilot Lieut. (JG) Charles V. Mathias, 27, Pittsburgh, Pa.  A bombing squadron veteran of WWII and air-sea rescue of the Hawaiian Sea Frontier. He had been at China Lake for only five days .  

Dr. F.K.L. MacDonald of Stanley, Nova Scotia left a distinguished career in teaching and research at New York University and arrived at China Lake four months prior to the accident.

Dr. John J. McKinley, Brighton, Calif.; served in WWII in New Guinea and was working as a chemist in the High Explosives Section at NOTS since the completion of his postdoctoral research fellowship at the University of Colorado in 1948.

Myron G. Kellogg, Santa Rosa, Calif taught in the California public school system before starting work at NOTS in 1946.

Rodney Morrin, Waterman, Calif.; served as a physicist at the Bureau of Ships during WWII and was working in the AO&T Department at NOTS.  His daughter Betty Jean was born April 21, the day the wreckage was discovered.

Joseph A. Vargus was a PhD candidate at Caltech and was working at NOTS on the staff of the Explosives Department.

The flight that day was headed to NAS Alameda so that they could attend a meeting of the American Physical Society in Berkeley.

If anyone knows more about the men aboard, or what they were trying to accomplish at the meeting, please let us know and we will update the blog.

Owens Peak

Indian Wells Canyon

Indian Wells Canyon

For those interested in learning more about the plane try:

ebird list

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