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 children, 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.
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. 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.
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 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 wristwatch 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.
Thanks Randy. Your guiding us up there goes way beyond random acts of kindness.
What an emotional day; one that was filled with so many of the different emotions,; sadness, yet so much joy. Just a fantastic, day. Words are difficult to find, how wonderful this day will always be.
Thank you, thank you, thank you,
It was my pleasure, Ron. It was good to meet you and I’m super happy that we all made it up there and back! Take care of yourself.
You really are an amazing person, Randy.
I’m so glad your anxiety was unfounded and that the day went off without a hitch.
Thanks Jane. Anxiety/fear is unfounded most of the time. I’d certainly like to have less of it blocking my life.
That was a very kind and thoughtful thing to do, and must have brought some relief and closure to the family to see where the man they loved had died. A job very well done.
I suppose it’s a doubled edge sword. On one hand it might bring relief and closure, but on the other it reopens an painful wound. I’ve been grappling with whether to leave this post up indefinitely or eventually take it down. The issue is the internet is a very public and timeless place and this event is a snapshot in time and very personal for the family. Just like they found my post from 5 years ago when I first hiked to the plane, what will happen in the future which might cause the wounds to reopen? It might be best if this post fades with time, like a memory.
personally I would agree, but that is just me.
Reading the story brings tears to my eyes. As your father, and a pilot, I am so very proud of you for what you did for the family.
Randy, thank you so much for taking the time to take us up to our dads resting place. You are a generous spirit to have taken the time in your life to escort us up to this sacred area. I was so glad to have meet you and to get the chance to spend such an important time in my life with a person with such warmth and understanding for the magnitude of this journey! Thank you for giving our family this opportunity to be close to our loved one. Hopefully we can meet again some day soon and enjoy another hike up in your neck of the woods!! Sincerely, Katie
Thanks, Katie! Yes hopefully another hike one of these days. By the way, I was reading about the Apple watch and how it measures distance. It actually is measuring arm motion which it then converts to distance. You can calibrate the watch by walking with it together with your iPhone (it uses the iPhone’s GPS), but hiking and walking are different — the arm motions are different. Plus you had poles, which probably changes things too. You’d have to calibrate it hiking, but each hike would be a little different based on terrain and steepness. So that’s the reason for the discrepancy between your watch and Ron’s GPS. But yeah, it felt like 10 miles! Take care!
Thank you for keeping this post up and for sharing it. My wife and I and our dog (Jasper) came across this wreckage enroute to climbing Jasper Peak this past weekend. We camped at the unnamed lake (which some refer to as Xanadu Lake) and the next morning, at the start of our climb, we came across the wreckage. We didn’t know any of the history and speculated about what if’s – maybe the pilot could have possibly survived by jumping into the lake before his/her plane crashed (unlikely anyone could time that just right or survive jumping from an airplane to a lake mid-flight)…and that probably sounds like a ridiculous idea but what can I say…..when you’re alone in the wilderness imaginations can let loose. Anyhow we now know the real story and we are sad to hear about this young man who didn’t make it that day in December 1971.
I didn’t get too close to the wreckage as the gravity of the site felt a bit emotional, but I wish I had known to look for the little plaque placed there 5 years ago and make sure it was still intact, and if not offer to go up there and place a new one. Anyhow, it is really great to read this story and know what happened. It took a lot of work on Google to find this story, but I sure am glad I found this post. The hike you did with the family is just tremendous. How special they could all make it there.
Thanks for your comment. I hiked up last summer and the plaque was still there.