May 26, 2019 – Beacon, NY
Difficulty: Moderate – Strenuous
Length: Approximately 2.5 miles
Max elevation: 1,111 ft.– total elevation gain approximately 781 ft.
Route type: Out and back
Trailhead parking: Fishkill Ridge 32 Sunnyside Rd, Beacon, NY 12508
Located in the East Hudson Highlands, Bald Hill features rugged, hilly-to-mountainous terrain, bearing scars of glaciation from 12,000 years ago. Bald Hill lies within the Fishkill Ridge Conservation Area also known as Fishkill Ridge Park, is owned by Scenic Hudson Land Trust, Inc. It is adjacent to the northeast border of Hudson Highlands State Park, and is managed by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation as an extension of Hudson Highlands State Park.
On the shoulder of Bald Hill, just northeast of Mount Beacon, at an elevation of about 1,100 feet, there are the remains of a Navy transport plane that crashed on Nov. 11, 1945. A memorial has been erected at the site to honor the six servicemen who were killed in the crash.
Please Note: Although most of the documented information related to this crash refers to it as having happened on Mount Beacon, the exact location is actually Bald Hill. Mount Beacon is the highest peak in the Hudson Highlands and is more well known. Bald Hill is approximately 2 miles northeast from Mount Beacon as the crow flies. See map below.
On Nov. 11, 1945, Commodore Dixie Kiefer, 49, and the five other servicemen were traveling aboard the Beechcraft Twin Engine Transport on a rainy morning from what is now Essex County Airport in New Jersey, to the Air Naval base at Quonset, Rhode Island, where Kiefer was commander. (Kiefer had been at Yankee Stadium the day before to watch the Army football team beat Notre Dame, 48-0). The Navy transport plane crashed into the woods near the western ridge of Bald Hill, killing all six men aboard.
With fog and swirling rain shrouding the area, the transport plane carrying the six men, left New Jersey at 11:33am. The flight would last less than 30 minutes. As the plane flew over Stewart Airfield in Newburgh, it radioed for directions and weather conditions, according to news reports. The plane sheared off treetops and scorched the ground. Some bodies were still in the burned fuselage. Others were found several hundred feet away. All had been scorched.
Later that morning, some Beacon residents reported hearing a plane flying low followed by the sound of an explosion. It took searchers 15 hours to reach the crash site in the fog near the heavily wooded peak about 60 miles north of New York City. Some of the wreckage remains there to this day.
Among the men killed on Nov. 11, 1945, on Bald Hill was a highly decorated World War II hero dubbed “the indestructible man” for the numerous combat wounds he suffered while in the Pacific. Commodore Dixie Kiefer, who earlier that year had survived an intense attack against the USS Ticonderoga, which he commanded. He was awarded the Silver Star for his heroism and ingenuity after two kamikazes set the ship afire and killed 144 of his men. Kiefer was second-in-command of the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown at the decisive Battle of Midway on June 4, 1942. The Yorktown was lost, and Kiefer remained in the hospital until January 1943. In April 1944, he took command of the Ticonderoga.
In all, he had survived 10 major wounds in two world wars, including being wounded in 65 places by shrapnel aboard the Ticonderoga. He had been featured as “Captain Dixie” in a Navy-produced film, “The Fighting Lady,” which won an Academy Award for Best Documentary in 1945.
The five other servicemen who perished that day were:
- Lt. Cmdr. Dr. Ignatius Zielinski, 45, of Salem, Massachusetts. Zielinski was assistant medical officer at Quonset and a medical examiner in Salem County prior to entering the service.
- Lt. Lloyd P. Heinzen, 23, of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Heinzen was the senior pilot of the plane. During eight months of combat in the Pacific, he shot down eight Japanese planes, earning the title of “Ace.”
- Lt. Hans K. Kohler, 25, of Garfield, New Jersey, the plane’s co-pilot.
- Clarence Hooper, 23, an aviation machinist’s mate third-class from Greensboro, North Carolina.
- David O. Wood, 23, a seaman first-class from North Franklin, Connecticut.
All were stationed at Quonset Point Naval Air Station.
In 2017, a group called “Friends of the Mt. Beacon Eight,” led by David Rocco, erected a plaque at the site to honor the men who died that day. The group also honors two Navy reservists who died in a September 1935 crash of a “Helldiver” single-engine biplane. That site, which also has a plaque, is nearby on Scofield Ridge.
Not knowing the exact location of the site, I hiked up there with a group of “Friends of the Mt. Beacon Eight” on Memorial Day weekend. They were going up there to replace the flags and honor the six men for their service and sacrifice. They go up there several times a year, usually on Memorial Day and Veterans Day. If you would like to know more, you can visit their Facebook Page.
This hike is a basic out and back, almost entirely on an old wood road that climbs the side of Bald Hill very steeply. If one chooses to continue past the crash site, the woods road reaches the summit of Bald Hill that provides great views.
Although this is a short hike, it gains almost 800 feet in elevation in just over a mile.
The trailhead is at the rear of the parking lot on Sunnyside Road. An information kiosk and three red markers on a tree, designate the start of the Overlook Trail.
Follow the red blazes along the footpath, which soon crosses a wooden footbridge and turns left on a woods road.
A short distance later, the trail comes to a Y-intersection with another woods road and the the red blazes turn right. Veer left onto the unmarked woods road and follow it as it climbs steeply up Bald Hill. At some point, you may start to see small American Flags along either side of the road.
In just over a mile and about 800-ft. of elevation gain, you’ll see three flags strung across the woods road. The historical marker and memorial is on the right.
Over the years, hikers have gathered small parts of the plane wreckage and left them at the base of a tree that bears a small plaque and a laminated newspaper article. Included in the article is a now faded photo of Commodore Kiefer in dress uniform with his arm still in a cast from shrapnel wounds incurred during Japanese kamikaze attacks on the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga in 1945.
In 2017, the Friends of the Mt. Beacon Eight raised money for this historical marker and the group hiked up to this spot to install it.
There is a slight view of the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge through the trees.
The twisted metal remains of the aircraft, is scattered throughout the area. Please do not remove any of the items that you see from this hallowed ground.
On this day, the group took down the faded and weathered flags, replacing them with new ones.
The three flags draped across the woods road are from the US Navy, NY State and Old Glory.
The group also placed some new flags around the historical marker.
When you are ready to continue, proceed down the woods road, retracing your steps back to the parking area, where the hike began.
Take a hike!
- Friends of the Mt. Beacon Eight
- The Mount Beacon Eight – The Highlands Current
- A fiery plane crash on Mt. Beacon – Poughkeepsie Journal
- Dixie Kiefer – USNA Virtual Memorial Hall
- The Indestructible Man: The True Story of World War II Hero “Captain Dixie”