Flight 708: A 40 year mystery
FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A Fresno Police officer received a link to his past and his parents from a snowy mountain top. Four decades ago 35 people died when a plane crashed in the Sierra on Mount Whitney.
Patrick and Carolee Dalbec were newlyweds in 1969. Struggling to make ends meet and start a family. He was a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy and she was a homemaker. It was the picture perfect beginning for an all-American family.
"You know, just from what the family has told me, they were madly in love and they were happy as heck to have me and they were showing me off to everybody," said Patrick Dalbec.
Bills and a new baby made it hard for these new parents to do any more than just live day to day. Patrick said that all changed when his parents won a getaway to Hawthorne, Nevada on "The Newlywed Game."
"They won it and they used it basically for one night of having fun, I hope."
That trip would be the last time Patrick would ever see his parents. The trip home to Southern California would end tragically when the plane crashed about an hour into the flight. All 32 passengers and three crews members were killed, including the Dalbecs.
"I guess they were on the route and a snow storm came through and it was a bad one I guess, I guess it was something they hadn't had up there in like 10 years. So they got lost and crashed."
Patrick's uncle and aunt raised him as if he were their own son. They would keep the tragic secret in their hearts until Patrick was much older.
"He just kind of took me aside in my bedroom when we lived in the Valley. They told me, they said, hey you should know this, and they told me, your real parents -- you know perished in a plane crash."
After an agonizing six month search, the wreckage was found in a snowy remote area. And bringing home the Dalbecs remains was difficult.
"You can only get up there, from my understanding, like two weeks out of the year cause of the snowfall up there."
As the years have passed, Patrick's only memories of his parents last night together live in newspaper clippings, internet posts, and through the eyes of Taylor Eslick, who made the 9 hour hike last year and discovered items buried in snow and in time.
Eslick is among about a dozen who have made the dangerous journey to the remote location where decades later you can still experience the tragedy.
"You could still smell petroleum like a gas smell," said Eslick, "On the cliffs, just tiny pieces of aircraft, then I started discovering personal items, nickels all over the place, I found a mascara applicator."
He also found countless shoes, stacked coffee cups and personal items. But, one item that intrigued Eslick was a jacket that was frozen in time for more than 40 years. Eslick immediately knew he had to find out who this jacket belonged to.
"I became obsessed with Patty because knowing aviation history -- at that time 68, 69 and before that -- being a flight attendant, a stewardess, was very glamorous."
Eslick tracked down the family of the 21-year-old stewardess, Patty Nannes. He also found Patrick Dalbec and gave him a haunting description of his parent's crash scene.
"He says when he's up there he can almost feel the people and the photographs of the airplane that's still up there and stuff, it's quite interesting," said Dalbec.
Eslick had asked Dalbec if there was anything special he'd like retrieved from the crash site. Recently, a hand-made wooden box arrived. "At first when I got it, I didn't really want to open the box. Taylor made me this nice box for the items, it was kind of shocking in a way but I opened it and looked at it and touched it and now I kind of just close it and put it away."
The box held small pieces of the plane, including a seat belt -- mementos Patrick had asked for. He feels comforted knowing his parents were together when they died. But it's a story he's shared with few people until now.
"It's more historical now. I mean I have my dad as my dad and my mom as my mom and it's more just fascinating learning about who they were, my real parents."
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