TRIUMPH OVER TRAGEDY-THE 1957 FERRIS MOUNTAIN PLANE CRASH

On May 11, 1957, Dalton and Dorothy LeMasurier were flying in a twin-engine Beechcraft over Wyoming en route to their home in Duluth, Minnesota. The couple had been visiting their son, Ronald, in Pasadena, California. Their flight departed at 1:30 pm from Salt Lake City, Utah. Rapid City, South Dakota was the destination for this leg of their journey home. The weather was good at take off. The flight was not expected to take more than three to four hours.

At approximately 3:00 pm, they heard a radio broadcast warning of storm activity ahead. Dorothy was not concerned. She knew her husband Dalton, age 47, was experienced and had handled flying in turbulent weather before without fail. Approximately 15 minutes later, the plane began skimming treetops. The LeMasurier’s light aircraft came to a sudden and violent stop. It crashed near the top of Ferris Mountain. Their plane had veered off of its intended flight path due to heavy overcast conditions caused by a notorious Wyoming spring snowstorm.

Against insurmountable odds, Dalton and Dorothy managed to survive the crash. Dalton impulsively pushed Dorothy through the plane’s door. Both were able to get clear of the aircraft by quickly exiting and moving uphill just before the aircraft’s gasoline tank exploded. The plane caught fire. Dorothy sustained a laceration to her forehead and leg in the crash. Dalton appeared to be unharmed.

Still in shock caused by their calamity, the couple assessed the gravity of their circumstance. They were stranded near the top of a mountain. They were surrounded by only boulders, trees, and snow. The temperature was already below freezing. No one knew their whereabouts.

7797456756_3ec5e8bd5b_zTail Section” photographed by David Stillman licensed under CC 2.0

Waiting until after the plane had burned itself out, Dalton slid down to the wreckage. He recovered what he could from their two burned suitcases. The only edible items he could find were four chocolate bars, some hard candy, and 120 protein-calcium capsules. He brought those supplies back up to Dorothy’s position. Dalton made a second trip down to the plane and recovered more clothing, a first-aid kit, some wire, pieces of parachute silk material, and two matches. After bringing those items back up the mountain, he bandaged Dorothy’s lacerations.

Dalton constructed an improvised shelter with wire, tree branches, and parachute silk.
Dorothy and Dalton dressed themselves in several layers of clothing. They used the sleeves from badly burned sweaters to cover their feet, which were already exhibiting the symptoms of frostbite. They slept in the shelter as rainfall turned to heavy, wet snow. The search for the LeMasurier’s downed aircraft began a few hours after they failed to land on schedule in South Dakota. Poor weather conditions were making the search very difficult for all involved, both on land and in the sky.

The next day brought more snow, rain, and howling winds. Dalton and Dorothy rationed their edibles. They could hear rescue aircraft above them. The clouds, however, made visibility nonexistent. “Dalt” (Dalton’s hypocorism) was diligent in his efforts to comfort Dorothy. He consistently reassured her that rescue teams would find them once the weather cleared.

The third day brought more of the same weather. They ate the last of the chocolate bars and a few of the protein-calcium capsules. In the late afternoon, they gathered their stock of supplies and moved down about 40 yards to the wreckage. Dalt and Dorothy squeezed into what was left of the tail section of the plane. Even though both were miserable, Dalt was encouraging Dorothy to stay positive and hopeful. They spoke about how fortunate they were to have survived the crash and escape from the plane. They tried to focus on all that was positive in their lives. They talked about their children, grandchildren, their successful business in radio and television broadcasting, and thankfulness for having one another. Dalton and Dorothy were confident their love for one another and their family would keep them alive until rescue teams found them. They prayed.

On the fifth day stranded on the mountain, the couple decided to change locations. They believed moving farther down the mountainside, into a more open location, would make them more visible to the rescue aircraft they could hear and sometimes see above. Unfortunately, due to frostbitten feet and a lack of strength, they could only manage about 100 yards. Dalt, once again, erected their flimsy parachute silk shelter. He used the two matches he had recovered from the crash site to start a fire. Flames of the fire grew just enough to provide much-needed warmth. Suddenly, a downpour of rain extinguished the flames. Dorothy grew more despondent.

The next day, Dalt began feeling poorly. He convulsed. Both, he and Dorothy, thought this was due to drinking melted snow water and malnutrition. That evening he convulsed, again. As they stared into the starry night sky, Dorothy tried prodding Dalt into conversation. He was silent. Dalton LeMasurier had passed away. Having never complained of any pain, he suffered a fractured skull during the plane crash and developed a slow brain hemorrhage. Dorothy, overcome with emotion, could only cry and mourn the loss of her beloved. The next morning Dorothy recited Psalm 23 over Dalt and covered his body with the parachute silk that had been used for their shelter. Heartbroken and morose, she was now alone.

7797460678_b9577f72c0_z

Hideout” photographed by David Stillman licensed under CC 2.0

Dorothy LeMasurier, 45 years old, thought about descending Ferris Mountain. As tempting as this must have been for her, four feet of snow, fatigue, and common sense dictated otherwise. She knew her best chance of survival was by staying near the plane. A number of rescue planes and other aircraft flew over the crash site. No one spotted the wreckage. To no avail, Dorothy tried signaling the aircraft by waving a red sweater fastened to the end of a long tree branch. She lacked the survival skills or tools to make fire. Temperatures at night fell well below freezing. She stayed bundled in clothing that had made it through the crash and explosion. Dorothy sheltered herself in what was left of the plane’s fuselage. Love for her family and faith in God would have to be enough to sustain her for the next 13 days.

The snow began to recede. Small birds and squirrels were making their presence known. Time had lost all meaning to Dorothy. Beyond full exhaustion, Dorothy knew it was important to stay physically active. She would push her weakened body to stand at least once a day. This was excruciatingly painful on her feet. She prayed for help. Dorothy would go in and out of long periods of consciousness. The cold weather was slowing her normal body functions. Her body was shutting down to conserve energy-doing what it could. This process, similar to hibernation, was keeping her alive.

On May 29, 1957, Jack Putnam, foreman of the Buzzard Ranch, was herding sheep. He saw something reflecting the early morning sun near the top of Ferris Mountain. After closer examination through his binoculars, Jack spotted the plane wreckage. He alerted the search parties.

Equipped with body bags, a team ascended the mountain to investigate the crash and recover the bodies. They unexpectedly discovered Dorothy LeMasurier alive 18 days after the crash. The recovery team quickly transitioned to a rescue team. They fashioned a makeshift stretcher using the body bags and freshly cut tree limbs. The rescue team carried Mrs. LeMasurier down Ferris Mountain.

She was transferred to an ambulance and taken to a hospital in Rawlins, Wyoming. Dr. Robert D. Paul treated Dorothy for frostbite, shock, sunburn, hypothermia, and malnutrition. Dr. Paul credited Dorothy’s survival to drinking melted snow water and a “remarkable constitution.” She was reunited with her family and friends. She arrived in Duluth, Minnesota on May 31, 1957. Dorothy had finally made the tumultuous journey home.

Dorothy LeMasurier passed away in July 1995, at age 84.

One cannot truly fathom how much courage, strength, and will-to-live Dorothy LeMasurier exhibited during the month of May in 1957. Her incredible feat represents how far love and determination, based on faith, will get one through even the toughest of times. Dorothy’s triumph over tragedy is the epitome of what drives the incredible human spirit. Her survival on Ferris Mountain for 19 days, with some of the worst physical and emotional conditions imaginable, was considered by most to be a miracle.

Author Note: I wish to extend a warm thank you to David Stillman for his gracious permission to use his photographs for this amazing story. Please visit David Stillman’s website at stilldavid.com and see his other stunning images here.

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