There’s a place in Florida that’s so remote that the wreckage of an Army plane that crashed wasn’t found for 47 years.
This place in Florida, Apalachicola National Forest, is the state’s largest national forest, with 560,000 acres. One of its main claims to fame is that it is home to the world’s largest population of red-cockaded woodpeckers. Bears, too. Aligators, yes. And a myriad of other animals you’d expect to find in a remote forest.
It’s also the weekend home of many Floridians who love the outdoors. Located a few miles southwest of Tallahassee in Florida’s Big Bend area, the forest contains two rivers – the Ochlockonee and the Sopchoppy – that are part of the nation’s recreational trails system.
The 31-mile Apalachee Savannahs Scenic Byway is on the forest’s western flank, offering scenic views to motorists. And, on foot, it’s easy to get lost (and never to be 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 regarded as one of the toughest hikes in the U.S.
For the less adventuresome, the forest has many campgrounds offering everything from cleared areas for pitching a tent to parking your RV camper. There’s also great fishing. The rivers have 35 boat launches and landings.
The forest is believed to be 12,000 years old, but it has been a national forest only since 1936. Over the last 30 years or so, forest archaeologists have found evidences of the land’s various occupants dating from prehistoric times to a half century ago. These include campsites, homesites, turpentine and logging camps, fire towers, cemeteries, cattle dip troughs, sawmills, resorts, towns, sawdust piles, historic roadways, trams, bridges and trash piles.
And one airplane 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 piloted by Everett R. Edwards disappeared in the forest.
The wreckage of his plane wasn’t found until 1990 – on the southeast side of Cow Swamp north of Crawfordville. Edwards died that day in the forest, even though he is believed to have ejected from the plane.
Once the wreckage was found, forest archaeologists and Florida State University students began trying to learn details of the crash. They first found a plate showing the plane’s serial number, and that led them to search the plane’s historical records.
Here’s what they learned:
The plane had crashed on a previous training mission – and had been destroyed. But during the war, to obtain parts for a plane, mechanics had to use parts from another commissioned plane. So they used the serial number from 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 the forest never will reveal.