The Gamblers Special

Many years ago I had to take a polygraph test in order to get hired for a job. It was post 9/11 and of course the first asked out of the couple dozen questions was, Are you a terrorist or affiliated with any Terrorist organization? that one went fine, but the sixth question, Have you received stolen property?, had to be asked a few times. We took a ten minute break after the second run through.

On the wall a picture of a P-3 Orion caught my attention. I asked about it and the examiner said it was his sons plane in the Navy. He was still active and very proud of him. Our conversation turned to our favorite airplanes and mine is the Douglas DC-3. It was his also, but he had a story to tell.

He was in the Civil Air Patrol based in Bridgeport California towards the end of the sixties. The winter of 1969 was especially harsh on the Sierra mountains. On February 18th a commercial airliner went missing and it wasn’t until August 8th, the wreckage of flight 708, Hawthorne Nevada Airlines was found. It was the largest search ever conducted at that time on the west coast and many resources were expended. This accident spurred the idea of mandating Emergency Locator Transmitter devices on aircraft.

We had to finish the polygraph test and he asked me why I was hung up on his sixth question. Have you ever received stolen property? I answered as truthfully as I could. I’m the last of six kids, one sister and four brothers. I have seen a lot of stolen property, but never received it. He laughed at my answer and we rushed through the rest so he could finish his story.

He was part of the search and rescue team that were first on site. The scene was very gruesome and they spent many weeks up there dealing with the scene, recovering the bodies, and shuttling investigators to the site. One helicopter was wrecked and was later recovered. The DC-3 was examined on site and remains on the mountain even today. He was the last person on scene and made sure that everything was fine. He began to tear up and told me something he’d never spoken to anyone about.

He found the remains of a woman’s torso accidentally overlooked by the investigation. Rather than call in a team and cause any more hassle or resources to be used. He hiked far enough from the site and performed a proper burial. For years his story struck my curiosity and I researched obsessively about it.

The Gamblers Special was a casino excursion flight from Long Beach California to the El Capitan Casino in Hawthorne, Nevada. For $10 a person you got a wonderful flight in a classic DC-3 aircraft, dinner, drinks and a night of gambling. For twelve hours people could escape the busy city and enjoy life.

On a fateful night the experienced flight crew misjudged the weather on the return trip home and unknowingly flew the airplane into the side of Mount Whitney. A few hundred feet higher and they would have made it fine. The time of impact was evident by the stopped watches of the souls on board. It was not a survivable accident. The plane was found by a private pilot months later. Coincidentally on the 22nd birthday of the fights Stewardess.

People in recent years people have visited the site and taken pictures. Some took more and those items were returned to the families. A book is being written about the fateful flight too.

A site with information about the accident and a link to the the NTSB report,


News report that brought this tragedy back into the families lives,


A site with recent photos of the wreck scene,