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Lebanon Squadron - 02/21/1959

Lebanon Squadron - 02/21/1959

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Published by CAP History Library
Civil Air Patrol - New Hampshire
Civil Air Patrol - New Hampshire

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Categories:Types, School Work
Published by: CAP History Library on Nov 20, 2010
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Dartmouth MedicineWinte
Unforgiving Forests
Microbiologist Philip Nice, facing the camera, wasone of numerous Dartmouth College and DartmouthMedical Schoolfaculty members and students whotook to the woods in the wake of a 1959 plane crashin an effort to find the downed plane’s pilot and pas-senger—both of whom were members of the DMSfaculty.
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Dartmouth Medicine
s freezing rain and dense fog envelopedthe Upper Connecticut River Valley onthe morning of December 24, 1996, aLearjet flown by two Connecticut-based pilots re-quested clearance to land at the Lebanon, N.H.,Airport. Partway into their instrument approachthrough the storm, the pilots aborted the landingand regained altitude for a second try. Moments lat-er, the Learjet disappeared from the control tower’sradar screens.The ensuing air and ground search involvedhundreds of volunteers, including several Dart-mouth medical student members of the Upper Val-ley Wilderness Response Team. More than a dozenArmy helicopters were committed to the effort.Scuba divers scoured the depths of several lakes.Debate raged over how far the plane might havetraveled before it crashed. When all reasonablehope of the pilots’ survival was gone, and addition-al snow accumulation made it unlikely that thesleek jet would be discovered before the springthaw, the official search was suspended. Still, scat-tered groups of volunteers and members of the pi-lots’ families continued to search the region’s heav-ily wooded hillsides for many months afterward.
ne reason so many Upper Valley resi-dents refused to abandon the search forthe two young pilots from Connecticutwas the still-vivid memory of an equally puzzlingairplane crash in 1959. That crash devastated thethen-small Dartmouth Medical School communi-ty, for its pilot and passenger were both members of the DMS faculty.Ralph Miller, M.D., was chair of pathology, di-rector of the laboratories at Mary HitchcockMemorial Hospital, and a senior consultant inpathology for the Veterans Administration Hospi-tal in White River Junction, Vt. A graduate of bothDartmouth College and the Medical School, he’dbeen on the faculty at DMS since 1931, after com-pleting his M.D. at Harvard, a year of internship atMary Hitchcock, and a fellowship in pathology atthe Mayo Foundation. In 1959, at 60 years of age,he was at the peak of his career.When he wasn’t teaching medical students orperforming autopsies, Miller was doing something
In 1959, twomembers of theDartmouth MedicalSchool faculty setout in a small planeon a medicalmission to northernNew Hampshire.They neverreturned. Fourdecades later,the impact oftheir death in theNorth Country’sunforgiving forestsstill resonatesthrough Dartmouthand the region’swilderness rescuecommunity.
 John Morton was head coach of men’s skiing at Dartmouth Col-lege from 1978 to 1989. He now designs trails for cross-countryrunning and skiing and writes about the outdoors from his homein Thetford, Vt. He is also a six-time member as a competitor,coach, or team leader of the U.S. Olympic biathlon team. This isnot the first time Morton has written about harrowing cold-weath-er exploits for
Dartmouth Medicine
; his “Drama on Denali”was the cover feature in the Winter 1999 issue. Among the sourcesMorton found especially helpful in researching this story was anarticle titled “The Missing Doctors” by Floyd W. Ramsey, pub-lished in the Winter 1986 issue of 
Magnetic North
By John Morton
Life is either a daring adventureor nothing at all.” —Helen Keller
Dartmouth MedicineWinte
in the outdoors. He maintained a lifelong connec-tion with the Dartmouth Outing Club, which hehad joined when he was an undergraduate. His loveof Alpine skiing had inspired his son, Ralph, Jr.,also a Dartmouth College graduate, to establish theworld speed record on skis in 1955 and to earn aspot on the 1956 Olympic ski team. Both fatherand son were known for their love of the ruggedoutdoors and for going fast.But perhaps Dr. Miller’s greatest joy was flying.He was an accomplished pilot with more than 20years of experience in several types of private air-craft. He had flown two Arctic research expeditionsfor Dartmouth and was a charter member of theLebanon chapter of the Civil Air Patrol. And it wasnot uncommon for him to combine his passion forflying with his medical work. He frequently trav-eled in his own plane to medical conferences allover the country and, in the course of doing au-topsies around the state, had flown into many asmall airstrip in remote New Hampshire towns.On the morning of Saturday, February 21, 1959,Miller agreed to fly his colleague Robert Quinn,M.D., to Berlin, N.H., north of the White Moun-tains. Quinn had been asked to consult on a pa-tient there with serious heart problems, whileMiller himself was already planning to fly north todo an autopsy in Lancaster, N.H., only 20 milesfrom Berlin. Quinn, 32 years old, was a respectedyoung cardiologist who had been recruited to Dart-mouth in 1956. After earning his M.D. from Yale,Quinn had served two years in the Army MedicalCorps and done research at Harvard before joiningthe faculty at Dartmouth and the medical staff atboth the Hitchcock Clinic and the White River Junction VA Hospital.The weather was not good when Miller’s creamand red Piper Comanche left Lebanon Airport, butthe weather in northern New England is seldomideal for flying—and Quinn was urgently needed atthe Berlin Hospital. Miller had filed a six-hourround-trip flight plan that on the way back wouldbring them over Gorham and Littleton, then downthe Connecticut River to Lebanon. On the out-bound leg, Miller planned to drop Quinn off inBerlin to see his cardiac patient, then make a shorthop to an airstrip in Whitefield, N.H.; from there,he would travel to nearby Lancaster to perform theautopsy before flying back to Berlin to pick up hiscolleague for the trip home.
ll went according to schedule until Millerreturned to Berlin from Whitefield inmid-afternoon. The weather was deterio-rating, and shortly before 3:00 p.m., Dr. Miller can-celed his original flight plan. The two doctors then
Ralph Miller’s greatest joy wasprobably flying. He is pictured at right ready to go aloft andabove, in August of 1955, withDartmouth anthropologist ElmerHarp; they had just returnedfrom a two-month expedition tothe Northwest Territories, andHarp recalls that Miller hadtaught him to fly before they left,so there would be a second pilot in the plane. When Millercrashed in 1959, numerousaircraft—both private and mili-tary (below)—joined in thesearch for his downed plane.
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