ACCIDENT SYNOPSIS: What started out as a multi-day cross-country flight from Eugene, Oregon ended in tragedy in the depths of Grand Canyon. The father and son departed Boulder City, Nevada after a brief fuel stop. With no official flight plan in place, they would keep family members updated of their progress through a prearranged schedule. After a quick stop at the Pierce Ferry Airstrip, Willard Martin and his son Eric turned the vintage 1946 Piper J3 Cub and followed the Colorado River into the deep gorge of the Grand Canyon.
The bright yellow aircraft was seen by numerous helicopter tour pilots flying low and just above the river east of Kanab Point. A later review of the pilot's notes indicated the flight was to fly through the eastern portion of the Grand Canyon, making a turn to the north for about 40 nautical miles with a refueling stop at Kanab, Utah. Continuing up to Salt Lake City and Northern Nevada for their return trip to Oregon.
The flight never made it to Kanab. After four days, concerned family members notified the Federal Aviation Administration which in turn notified authorities to begin an aerial search operation. The initial search was unsuccessful.
Thirteen days after the aircraft made it's final flight, it was located by a military search and rescue helicopter about three miles from where it was last seen by a tour helicopter. The low-level Piper Cub had flown up into Crazy Jug Canyon and hit a steep cliff wall while trying to execute a 180 degree turn. The maneuver known by pilots as a "Widow Maker Turn". Both father and son were killed.
A visit to this remote canyon site is moderately difficult. The hike requires a series 30-40 foot rappels through Crazy Jug Canyon negotiating the usual vertical pour-offs found in these narrow notch canyons. It appears that most if not all of the aircraft is still present at the site, but some components may be buried by silt due to floods.
The preservation of wreckage and the site in general remains in question due to it's location in the seasonal drainage. Although dry most of the year, seasonal flooding has caused erosion damage, movement of wreckage and the burial of a few structural components.
The accident aircraft was a Piper J3C-65 Cub. Built in 1946 (NC-6566H), MSN: 19758. It was powered by a 65 Hp. Continental A-65 Engine.
THE PIPER J3 "CUB"
The Piper J-3 Cub is a small, simple, light aircraft that was built between 1937 and 1947 by Piper Aircraft. With tandem (fore and aft) seating, it was intended for flight training but became one of the most popular and best-known light aircraft of all time.
The Cub's simplicity, affordability and popularity invokes comparisons to the Ford Model T automobile.
WILLARD K. MARTIN (PILOT)
The aircraft was recently purchased by 55 year old Willard Martin, a prominent architect from Eugene, Oregon. Mr. Martin is credited for his award winning architectural design of Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square seen in this photo.
His 25 year old son Eric accompanied him on the cross-country flight.
Both air tour helicopters and even a whitewater rafting trip on the Colorado River witnessed the yellow Piper Cub "buzzing" the river at a low altitude.
Neither witnessed the accident that happened just a few minutes later in Crazy Jug Canyon.
THE ACCIDENT - SEPTEMBER 1985
Coconino County Sheriff Deputies had to make several short rappels in Crazy Jug Canyon to reach the wreckage and the two victims.
Crazy Jug Canyon is a steep and narrow tributary notch canyon located in Grand Canyon National Park.
THE CRASH SITE - MARCH 2011
Since the accident, the wreckage of "N6566H" has settled at the bottom of the canyon partially covered by sand and silt from seasonal flash floods.
For the visitor, these narrow notch canyons offer little escape during flash floods and can be deadly. Consideration of the weather is a must when visiting sites in these areas.
The tail wheel and tire assembly is one of the few components that appears to have survived the accident undamaged.
The wreckage is separated in clumped piles of fabric and metal tubing.
This pile contains some fabric as well as the aircraft's propeller, engine, and engine cowl.
Another view of the engine and propeller. The propeller appears to have little impact damage suggesting that a wing or some other part of the aircraft and not the front of the aircraft struck the canyon wall initially.
This particular accident site will be difficult to preserve due to the constant threat of continued floods and erosion. The wreckage, over time will continue to be washed down and buried by rocks and sand.