ExploreNorth, your resource center for exploring the circumpolar North

Return to the Home Page The ExploreNorth Blog About ExploreNorth Contact ExploreNorth

Search ExploreNorth

Million Dollar Valley, British Columbia

    About 22 air miles NNE of Historic Mile 514 on the Alaska Highway (the Smith River Bridge) lies a mountain-ringed valley that has become known as Million Dollar Valley due to a multi-aircraft crash in 1942.

    On January 5, 1942, 14 new Martin B-26 Marauder bombers left Gowen Field at Boise, Idaho, headed for the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. They were being flown by members of the 77th Bombardment Squadron, 42nd Bombardment Group of Air Force Combat Command, many of whom had minimal training. The flight to Edmonton was uneventful, but they left that city on January 16th with pencil sketches rather than maps, no electronic navigation aids on the ground, and the probability of poor weather along the 1,000-mile route to Whitehorse, Yukon.

    By about 6:00 p.m. that night, 3 of the B-26s were lost, low on gas and had been forced to low altitude by snow showers. The decision was made to crash-land if they could find a suitable location. When a fairly broad valley with a flat floor was found, 2 of the aircraft landed without incident by keeping the wheels up (allowing the fuselage to act like a boat). The third plane dropped the landing gear to lose speed, though, and nosed over in what turned out to be 4-5 feet of snow. Luckily, the pilot and co-pilot received minor injuries and the rest of the crew was unhurt. The aircraft were well equipped with survival equipment, and a reasonably comfortable camp was made.

    A search was initiated for the missing crews at first light on January 17th, but was unsuccessful. At about noon the following day, they were located by a flight of P-40E fighters also headed for Alaska. Veteran bush pilot Russ Baker arrived the next morning in his ski-equipped Fokker and flew the injured men to Watson Lake - it took almost a week to get all of the men out of the valley, though.

    A few months after the crash, crews were sent in to strip the aircraft of tons of useable parts and equipment, and the rest was abandoned. The valley then started to be called Million Dollar Valley - a slightly-exaggerated valuation of the three B-26 bombers.

    Following the war, only a few of the 5,266 B-26 Marauders built survived the scrapyard, and aircraft enthusiasts in the 1960s in particular began searching around the world for wreck sites in the hope of finding restorable aircraft. David Tallichet of California was one of those enthusiasts, and he was able to find the Million Dollar Valey wrecks in the late 1960s. In the fall of 1971 he sent a team in, and over the course of 3 months they were able to retrieve virtually everything that remained. The aircraft that crashed were numbers 40-1464, 40-1501 and 40-1459. As you can see in the links below, one has now (2006) been restored to flying condition and another is under restoration - proof that Tallichet's remarkable rescue mission was a success!

Million Dollar Valley Links

Wings Over the Alaska Highway
A highly-rated illustrated history by Bruce McAllister.

Marauder 40-1459
Current status and photo, from the Warbird Resource Group.

Marauder 40-1459
Current status and photos from the MAPS Air Museum in Ohio.

Marauder 40-1464
Current status and photo, from the Warbird Resource Group.

Note that there is a historical panel about this event posted at the site of the Beatton River Flight Strip - almost every detail, however, is incorrect.

Arctic & Northern Aviation