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Crash landing on the Gauli Glacier, November 19, 1946

November 1946, in post-war Europe. A Douglas C-53 (DC-3 military version) with high-ranking officers of the U.S. Armed Forces and some of their relatives on board takes off from Vienna on a flight to Italy. The planned route is via the Rhone Valley to Marseille and on to Pisa. But due to bad weather and strong winds the Dakota flies off course, unintentionally and unauthorized, into Swiss airspace. At this point only instrument navigation is possible, and the next half hour takes the aircraft over Chur and Wassen and finally into the Bernese Alps. At an altitude of 3350m the Dakota passes among unseen 300m-higher peaks, but finally crash lands at 280km/h on the Gauli Glacier above Meiringen. Some on board are seriously injured, but there are no fatalities.

At first no one knows where the aircraft has crashed. At 15.30h the first emergency signals are received at the airports in Paris-Orly and Marseille-Istres. But due to the transmitted false coordinates the search begins in the French Alps. Squadrons of American B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-29 Superfortresses search around the clock, expanding their hunt between Vienna and Marseille, but unsuccessfully.

Captain Viktor Hug, commanding officer of the Meiringen-Unterbach airport, also hears the emergency calls. The signal’s clarity immediately convinces him that the accident site is close by. But the air search continues for four days until the wreck on the Gauli Glacier is spotted thanks to the chance overflight of a B-29 Superfortress.

But the story of the Gauli Glacier continues today... Not only the C-53 itself, but also food and rescue packages dropped as part of the rescue mission are still preserved in ice. One of the three-blade propellers was recently released from the glacier’s frozen clutches, and certainly more remnants will surface in the near future.