Incident Boeing F-13 Superfortress (B-29) 45-21768,
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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 98695
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Date:Friday 21 February 1947
Type:Silhouette image of generic B29 model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different    
Boeing F-13 Superfortress (B-29)
Owner/operator:46th RSqn (VLR(P) USAAF
Registration: 45-21768
MSN: 13662
Fatalities:Fatalities: 0 / Occupants: 11
Aircraft damage: Minor
Location:250 miles north of Thule AFB (Pituffik) -   Greenland
Phase: En route
Departure airport:Fort Wainwright AAF (Ladd Field), Anchorage, Alaska
Destination airport:Fort Wainwright AAF (Ladd Field)
Boeing B-29A 45-21768: Delivered to the USAAF August 1945. Modified to F-13. Assigned to Grand Island AAF, Nebraska. Assigned to 46th Reconnaissance Squadron (Very Long Range, Photographic), Alaska Air Command, Ladd AAF, Alaska on June 1, 1946, and named Named *Kee Bird*.

"Kee Bird" emergency landed on 21 February 1947. On 20 February 1947, Lt. Vern H. Arnett took "Kee Bird" off on a routine mission with a crew of 11 men. The aircraft had been flown a grand total of 6 previous missions, this being the 7th. All of its missions were classified "Top Secret" (and were not declassified until 2000).

His mission was to fly to the Geographic North Pole, then fly a return route back to Fort Wainwright AAF (Ladd Field) at Anchorage, Alaska. The aircraft was carrying enough fuel to stay airborne for approximately 26 hours under normal conditions, having been configured for very long range missions with extra fuel tanks in the unused bomb bays. His mission was expected to last from 12 to 20 hours, making his ETA at Ladd Field approximately 10:00 Alaska Standard Time (AST) 21 February 1947.

All missions were flown with radio silence to avoid detection. No further report was received on this flight until 07:56 AST, 21 February 1947, when Point Barrow CAA Radio Station picked up a radio message from Kee Bird stating that they had no means of steering as the sun was too low. Two minutes later Arnett reported he had hit a bad storm at 24,000 feet and was "over land but do not know where". From this information, it was obvious that an emergency existed and plans were immediately made for starting a search and rescue mission if the need developed.

Other reports were received between 09:50 and 09:58 AST from 45-21768 stating that 4 minutes of fuel remained, and a crash landing would be made on land or ice. Since no position was given, it was believed that they were lost, and search areas were drawn to aid in locating the crew. From all the information available, it was reasonable to assume that the airplane had landed somewhere along the northern coast of Alaska on their return flight from the Pole.

Lt. Arnett and crew had survived the crash landing without sustaining any injuries. They had landed on a small frozen lake in Northern Greenland which was covered with 2-10 inches of hard-packed snow. A later debriefing of the crew indicated that the aircraft had reached the Pole, then made a 70 degree turn to the southeast, then a 120 degree turn to the southwest. The pilot became disoriented over the polar ice pack just north of 85 degrees north latitude, then began to fly to the south, then east until turning west over northern Greenland where an emergency landing was successfully made. The crew had sufficient food and clothing to last them about two weeks.

Crew B-29 45-21768 "Kee Bird":
Vern Arnett, pilot,
Russel S. Jordan, copilot,
Talbert Gates, copilot,
John G. Lesman, astro navigator,
Burl Cowan, navigator,
Robert Luedke, flight engineer,
Howard Adams, radar observer,
Lawrence Yarborough, gunner,0
Ernie Stewart, gunner,
Paul McNamara, gunner,
Robert Leader, radio operator

The crew was rescued three days later and 'Kee Bird' was abandoned where it crashed.

In July 1994, a team of aircraft restorers operating as Kee Bird Limited Liability Co. was led by Darryl Greenamyer to the emergency landing site. The aircraft had made a successful (albeit bumpy) landing on the frozen lake and had remained relatively intact at the site ever since. The USAF had also surrendered any claim to the B-29. It was believed that the ship could be put into flying condition, flown off the frozen lake and ferried to Thule AFB, Greenland where further repairs could be made before flying back to the United States.

Using a 1962 De Havilland Caribou as a shuttle plane, the team departed the U.S. Armed Services base at Thule and flew in tools and equipment to the Kee Bird. Over the summer months, the team transported four re-manufactured engines, four new propellers, an engine hoist, and new tires, as well as a small bulldozer, to the remote site. The team successfully replaced the engines and propellers, mounted the new tires, and resurfaced the aircraft's control surfaces. As the winter snows began to fall, the Chief Engineer, Rick Kriege fell ill and was transported to a hospital in Iqaluit, Canada, where he died from a blood clot two weeks later. Although the plane was nearly ready to fly, Greenamyer's team was compelled by weather to leave the site.

In May 1995, Greenamyer returned with additional personnel. The repairs began in 1994 were completed and the aircraft prepared to take off from the frozen lake on 21 May 1995. A crude runway was carved out of the snow on the ice using the small bulldozer that had been ferried into the site.

The new engines were successfully started for the takeoff attempt. As Darryl Greenamyer was taxiing the aircraft onto the frozen lake, the B-29's auxiliary power unit's jury-rigged fuel tank began to leak gasoline into the rear fuselage. Fire broke out and quickly spread to the rest of the aircraft. The cockpit crew escaped unharmed but cook/mechanic, Bob Vanderveen, who was visually monitoring the engines from the rear of the aircraft, suffered smoke inhalation and flash burns.

Despite attempts to extinguish it from outside the plane, the fire raged and spread through the fuselage. The aircraft was largely destroyed on the ground, with the Kee Bird's fuselage and tail surfaces being completely destroyed.


1. ..

History of this aircraft

Other occurrences involving this aircraft
21 May 1995 N70887 Kee Bird LLC 0 250 miles N of Thule w/o


Kee Bird The Day It Crashed - 19 Feb 1947 B-29 45-21768 "Kee Bird" about to take off on its final mission, Ladd Field, Alaska, 20 February 1947

Revision history:

26-Aug-2011 11:04 Uli Elch Updated [Aircraft type, Country, Source, Narrative]
27-Jun-2013 07:59 gerard57 Updated [Total fatalities, Total occupants, Other fatalities, Location, Phase, Source, Narrative]
04-Feb-2015 21:09 TB Updated [Location, Source, Narrative]
06-Oct-2016 15:54 Anon. Updated [Aircraft type, Location]
27-Jun-2017 20:54 Dr. John Smith Updated [Time, Aircraft type, Cn, Operator, Location, Departure airport, Destination airport, Source, Narrative]
27-Jun-2017 20:55 Dr. John Smith Updated [Source, Narrative]
27-Jun-2017 20:58 Dr. John Smith Updated [Embed code]
27-Jun-2017 20:59 Dr. John Smith Updated [Embed code]
27-Jun-2017 21:03 Dr. John Smith Updated [Source, Embed code]
27-Jun-2017 21:07 Dr. John Smith Updated [Source, Narrative]
20-Dec-2018 13:09 TB Updated [Location]
22-Mar-2020 09:26 DG333 Updated [Operator, Location, Destination airport, Source, Operator]

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