Tears flowed on British Columbia's Grouse Mountain Saturday as four generations of a family visited for the first time the crash site of U.S. air force F-86 jet fighter pilot Lieutenant Lamar J. Barlow.
Barlow, a 25-year-old military pilot met instant death on February 12, 1954, when his plane that was capable of travelling at the speed of sound slammed into the heavily wooded area, 2,700 feet up Grouse.
As an all-weather interceptor plane, which crossed into Canada routinely, the plane Barlow was flying was loaded with 24 rockets - four of which were never recovered. Those rockets each had the destructive equivalent of a 250-pound bomb.
The 12 family members, who live in Utah, made the hike into the old chairlift area of the B.C. resort and held an emotional ceremony on what would have been Barlow's 81st birthday.
"The coroner's report, they found very little remains left, so to me this is his gravesite," said Susan Horne, Barlow's daughter who was born three months after his death. "I couldn't have picked a better gravesite, one in the forest overlooking one of the most beautiful cities in the world."
An American flag and photos of the young military pilot were placed on the massive jet engine - the only part of the plane that has been left behind.
A plaque is in place reminding people of the crash, one that happened in the middle of the Cold War - a time of international uncertainty as countries engaged in massive weapons buildups.
The accident was believed to have been caused by radar operators at the McChord air force base in Tacoma who were fooled by "radar ghost" - a problem in which they mistook the "ghost," or echo, for Barlow's jet fighter. Barlow was following directions being given for this echo when he hit the mountainside.
United States Air Force investigators later determined the echo resulted in Barlow believing he was over Tacoma and not Vancouver when his aircraft slammed into Grouse.
Prior to the fatal crash Barlow had radioed his base to inform them his compass had failed and that he was lost.
Horne said she thought nothing from the plane crash had been left on the mountain.
"I'm so surprised, I had no idea there was anything left on the mountain," she said.
Richard Dunn, president of the Air Force Officers Association and a former F-86 pilot himself, came across the airplane engine two years ago while hiking. He started to research the history of the crash, which led him to the U.S. Consulate office in Vancouver. After the consulate was given the details they began a difficult search across the U.S. to find the family of the downed pilot.
About six months ago the family was contacted and they wanted to visit the crash scene on Barlow's birth date. Once the date was set, Grouse Mountain staff offered to transport the elderly and children down close to the crash site.
"This is a miracle to us," said Horne. "People have cared so much. It's incredible what they have done for our family."
Click to view image: 'Lieutenant Lamar J. Barlow'
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