There is a place in Florida that is so remote that the remains of a crashed army plane were not found for 47 years.
This place in Florida, the Apalachicola National Forest, is the largest national forest in the state, at 560,000 acres. One of its main claims to fame is that it is home to the world’s largest population of red-headed woodpeckers. Bears, too. Alligators, yes. And a myriad of other animals that you would expect to find in a remote forest.
It is also the weekend home of many Floridians who love the outdoors. Located a few miles southwest of Tallahassee in the Big Bend area of Florida, the forest contains two rivers, the Ochlockonee and the Sopchoppy, which are part of the nation’s recreational trail system.
The 31-mile Apalachee Savannahs Scenic Byway sits on the western flank of the forest and offers scenic views for motorists. And, on foot, it’s easy to get lost (and never found again) in its two wilderness areas: Bradwell Bay (24,000 acres) and Mud Swamp/New River (8,000 acres). Filled with muddy swamps, Bradwell Bay is considered one of the toughest hikes in the US.
For the less adventurous, the forest has plenty of campgrounds offering everything from cleared areas to pitch a tent to parking your camper. There is also good fishing. The rivers have 35 boats and landing stages.
The forest is believed to be 12,000 years old, but it has been a national forest only since 1936. Over the past 30 years, forest archaeologists have found evidence of various occupants of the land dating from prehistoric times to half a century ago. These include campgrounds, housing lots, logging and turpentine camps, fire towers, cemeteries, cattle watering holes, sawmills, resorts, towns, sawdust piles, historic highways, streetcars, bridges, and trash piles.
And a plane crash.
During World War II, the Apalachicola National Forest was used as a training ground for the Army Air Corps. On March 29, 1943, a plane flown by Everett R. Edwards disappeared into the woods.
The wreckage of his plane was not found until 1990, on the southeast side of Cow Swamp, north of Crawfordville. Edwards died that day in the woods, although it is believed that he was thrown from the plane.
Once the remains were found, forestry archaeologists and Florida State University students began trying to learn the details of the accident. They first found a plate showing the plane’s serial number, and that led them to search the plane’s historical records.
This is what they learned:
The aircraft had crashed on a previous training mission and been destroyed. But during the war, to get parts for one plane, mechanics had to use parts from another commissioned plane. So they used the serial number of the crashed plane to order enough parts to build a new plane: the plane that Edwards crashed in the Apalachicola National Forest.
What went wrong remains a secret that the forest will never reveal.