Mt. Si Plane Crash | 50 Year Anniversary, Rescuers Battle Freezing Snow Storm to Save Lives

Fifty years ago today, December 29, 1964, a snow storm hit the Snoqualmie Valley. Before it began, a 40-year old Seattle secretary, Norma Newell, was in the skies above Mt. Si, receiving flying lesson from her 26-year old instructor, Lawrence Clark.

The plane iced up and crashed into the side of nearby Green Mountain, sustaining substantial damage according to the National Transportation Safety Board. At the time, the press called the entire area Mt. Si so the rescue mission that ensued was called ‘The Mt. Si Operation.’

Seattle Mountain Rescue Launches Rescue Operation

Seattle Mountain Rescue (SMR) volunteers have been helping and serving in the Pacific Northwest for over 60 years. It’s an “organization of seasoned Alpinists dedicated to saving lives through search, rescue and mountain safety education.”

SMR was originally founded in the late 1940’s by climbers who came to the Pacific Northwest from the European Alps, including Dr. Otto Trott, who offered an account of the Mt. Si Operation in a book about his life, The Making of a Rescuer: The Inspiring Life of Otto T. Trott, MD, Rescue Doctor and Mountaineer.

Mt. Si Plane Crash

According to the crash account, before the plane went down, Mrs. Newell luckily hit the plane’s emergency radio and called for help. That call was picked up at a nearby Air Force base. The Air Force radio operator then notified the King County (Seattle) Sheriff and at 5:15PM Seattle Mountain Rescue headquarters was notified.

Within three hours of that search and rescue notification call, about 90 rescue crew members arrived at the Washington State Patrol office in North Bend.

Crews traveled 20 miles over snow-covered logging roads, in the dark, to reach the crash area. By midnight, though, the mountain was in the middle of a driving snow storm and temperatures hovered around zero. The search was suspended. Rescue crews huddled in their vehicles overnight.

The search resumed at dawn. A navy helicopter spotted the downed plane around 10AM, which by then was then covered with new snow. Two helicopters were brought in to extract the crash victims.

Clark was hoisted out by two rescuers and transported to an area hospital for treatment of his head injuries. Newell, though, was more severely injured. She required a doctor at the crash scene.

SMR founding member, Dr. Otto Trott, was lowered by helicopter to the crash. Mrs. Newell had a broken leg, broken back and facial injuries. Dr. Trott warmed the injured woman, splinted her leg and mobilized her so she could be vertically hoisted from the mountain.

She was transported to a North Bend area hospital and an hour later was said to be in satisfactory condition – and Dr. Trott was back in Seattle by 3:30PM.

It was all in a day’s work for rescue volunteers – including a snow storm, spending the night in freezing temperatures and being lowered by hoist to a mountainous plane crash site.

That mission of saving lives that started over 60 years ago continues today through the work of many dedicated volunteers in numerous, local search and rescue organizations; crews who are often times called back to the Snoqualmie Valley as it attracts thousands of hikers and climbers to beautiful trails and peaks each year.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)  record of December 29, 1964 Mt. Si Plane crash near North Bend. Photo: Screenshot NTSB website.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) record of December 29, 1964 Mt. Si Plane crash near North Bend. Photo: Screenshot NTSB website.

 


 About Seattle Mountain Rescue

SMR is an independent, non-profit organization. It is one of nine search and rescue units which comprise the King County Search and Rescue Association. They operate under the King County Sheriff’s Office. SMR is a fully accredited Mountain Rescue Association member, specializing in mountainous terrain searches and high angle rescues, primarily in King County, Washington.

smr mission

SMR member on recent training climb at McClellan Butte. Photo: SMR Facebook page.

 

[** Thank you to Cristy Lake of the Snoqualmie Valley Historical Museum for tracking down the NTSB record of the 12/29/64 plane crash that was the purpose of the Seattle Mountain Rescue ‘Mt Si Operation.’ **]

 

 

 

 

 

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