Pilot, Michael “Myke” Henry Baar, 1942 – 1971.
Five years ago I hiked to the remaining wreckage of a airplane which had crashed December, 1971, in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. I subsequently wrote about it here in my blog. Earlier this spring, I was contacted by Suzy Holloran, the wife of the pilot who had died in the crash. Her 12 year-old grandson found my post while researching their family history. Suzy was surprised to learn that any wreckage of the plane still existed. Back then, she had given permission to a salvage company to take the airplane. It appears they only took the stuff of high value, such as the instrumentation, radios, etc.
Suzy had asked me for the location and route to the crash, so that she, her husband, Mike Holloran, and her grown kids could go visit the site. I still had all of the GPS information saved of my hike to the plane five years earlier, which I passed along to Suzy, as well as an offer to take them to the site. They took me up on that offer.
I met them at a nearby campground for dinner the day before our planned hike to the airplane. A small anxiety had been building in me for weeks prior. Mostly it was fear of the unknown and unanswered questions like: were they going to be in good physical shape to do this hike? Could they take responsibility for themselves? Were they going to blame me if someone got injured? Was I opening myself to liability? Were they political or religious zealots? Did they wear flip-flops on long hikes? (This is an inside joke.)
My fears were quickly dispelled upon meeting them. They were welcoming, warm, gracious, fit and fun. I would be joining nine on the hike: Suzy and Mike (both 72), and their grown kids, Matt, Katie (and husband Damon), Michael, Greg, and Becky. (Note there are 3 “mikes” in this story: Myke, pilot, Mike, Suzy’s husband, and Michael, son.) Also with us was Ron Baar, Myke’s younger brother. It turned out Ron and I have mutual acquaintances from Aspen, Colorado. Michael and Greg traveled to Colorado from California and Oregon specifically for the hike. Everyone else came from various parts of Colorado.
When I left at the end of dinner and after the campfire, I was totally at ease and felt the the next day’s hike would go off without a hitch.
They picked me up bright and early and we caravaned to the trailhead. Suzy, who had physically trained for the hike, was full of energy and set off up the trail with all of us following. Ron, with various health issues, informed us he was only going as far as the first lake. I had done several long hikes in the weeks prior to prepare, so I was confident I would be able to make it to the plane. Plus I had a better idea of the route after the hike 5 years ago, so it was going to be easier.
(All photos are clickable for larger versions.)
The mood of the hike was light and everyone was catching up after not seeing each other for a while. Initially the weather was great.
Much to everyone’s surprise, Ron continued past the lake where he had planned to stop.
The flowers were gorgeous (after a dull season at slightly lower elevations) and the views spectacular.
It was a bit challenging as we approached the last rise. Five years ago there was more snow and in many ways it made it easier then. Now it was negotiating large ridges of rocks and boulders. I think it took a lot out of everybody.
We were a little spread out as we came over the last rise to view the lake and the airplane just beyond it. I felt an emotional weight upon seeing it. I continued on, looking for the best route around the lake. Suzy was about 100 yards behind on the rise. I noticed she had stopped there with a couple of the others. I’m sure it was an emotional moment for her.
Once past the lake, Suzy and the rest of the family approached the wreckage tentatively. Some clouds had moved in and the wind picked up. Soon we were being splattered with snow pellets, which is not uncommon at this elevation (11,600 feet).
Suzy rested her hands on the fuselage and recounted how she had sat in this seat with with her kids who were still babies at the time. After the crash, she told of how a doctor was lowered by helicopter to save Myke, but he had already perished. She was pregnant with their third child, who was born a week after the crash. I can’t imagine the emotional roller coaster she was enduring at the time.
Suzy had a simple plaque made and Matt and Michael affixed it to the fuselage. Ron, who had made it all of the way to the plane site, is a firefighter and affixed a “Smokey The Bear” pin to the seat of the airplane.
After a while, reflecting the mood, the weather lightened and the sun came out. As I chatted with Suzy about another hiker who had found Myke’s watch and sent it to her, her sons were analyzing the crash site trying to reconstruct in their minds what had happened.
We began the trek away from the inhospitable exposed rocks and back down into the tundra, flowers, forest, and eventually the trailhead. It was a nine hour hike, but all ten of us made it to the plane and back. It will be an unforgettable experience for the family and myself. As Mike said at the end of the hike, “It was much bigger than I expected, big hike and big emotionally”.
Myke Baar was 29 years old, a first officer for United Airlines, a flight instructor, with 4200 hours of flying time.
I invite the family members to share their experience of the hike in the comments below.