Among many Gorce stories, the most mysterious and sensational is the story of Liberator. It is also an ultra story in a sense 🙂
On December 18, 1944 American heavy bomber B-24 Liberator flew from Cerignolla base in southern Italy to Oświęcim in south part of Poland – under nazis occupation – to bomb a factory of synthetic petrol. The plane B-24 was quite special, it was the most popular machine during World War II, produced in 18 thousand copies, constructed in haste in less than a year, as if by accident, because Boeing was late with its own design of the B-17 Flying Fortress. The plane was enormous, almost 34 meters wingspan, 4 engines and 10 crew members. Modern passenger Airbus is only a little bigger.
Our Liberator had no luck that day, either because of anti-aircraft warfare along the way, or spontaneous failures, one engine after another went dead. One engine less it’s not a problem – B-24 had a wing winger with excellent aerodynamic efficiency – even without a second engine machine could be controled. It was obvious however, that the mission could’t be fulfilled. The crew dropped the bomb on the forests near Pszczyna and sought for help. Italy didn’t have a chance to be reach, so they headed toward the Soviet position. Front line was not so far, and Russians were (theoretically) allies. Then, the third engine went out, and pilots began to look for the possibility of safe evacuation (as normal landing was now almost impossible). At this point, they even had some luck in this misfortune, as accidentally met three German Messerschmitt haven’t take a fight.
In this way they were above the Gorce Range. Following our run route, they flow from Luban region to the direction of Knurowska Pass and Kiczora top. Along the way they jumped with parachutes. Nine crew members. The plane crashed moments later, in the area of ??Pańska Przechybka Pass, 15 minutes run from our shorter route. Residents of Ochotnica and guerrillas – which were very many in the area – found all of them but the commander William Beimbrink. He had to jump the last. And certainly jumped, because no one was found in the wreckage. Pilots were hide up in the area of ??Ochotnica and later transported to Szczawa, on the other side of Gorce, where total number of various rescued allied soldiers reached 40!
But the true epic story of survivors began just after the liberation. Their trail to return home is so unlikely as to be fascinating. Nowy Sącz – Prešov – Nowy Sącz – Przemyśl – Lviv – Kyiv – Odessa – Istanbul – Port Said (yes, yes, Africa) – Cerignolla Base Italy – United States. And along the way, they were several times almost arrested, executed or taken to the prison camp. But it worked, airmen survived. Full of gratitude for saving their lives, they were returning several times to Ochotnica and in the end there was a monument built in the crash site.
However, the story does not end here. In 2008, a special unit of the US Army Force appeared in Ochotnica seeking solders lost in combat (it turns out that Americans do not forget their soldiers even after such a long time). They were looking for lieutenant Beimbrink of course. They managed to reach more than 80 years old woman in Łopuszna village, who revealed, that in December 1944 she saw the dead body of William Beimbrinka in the forest, with not fully developed parachute, and that her husband buried the corpse somewhere in the valley of Łopuszna River. As the evidence she gave them original navigation maps from Liberator. They sought this place, but unfortunately with no results – the area is huge, and after so many years almost everything has changed there.
It is therefore likely that lieutenant Beimbrink still lies somewhere in the woods or in a mountain pasture at the red trail on Kiczora, maybe a few steps away from the path, which we will run in the morning.
Some may ask: what does all of this have to do with the mountain ultra race? It has, quite a lot and it will come the time for a detailed explanation, also in this place. For now, the best punch line we can use in the context is the memorable motto:
“There are more things in Heaven and Earth, than are dreamt of in your Philosophy.”