Missing Plane - Drs Ralph E. Miller MD and Robert E. Quinn MD of Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital Perish Four Days After Plane Crash in New Hampshire Wilderness
Today in Hanover and Dartmouth College History February 21, 1959
On the morning of Saturday, February 21, 1959, Dr Ralph E. Miller agreed to fly Dr Robert Quinn, to Berlin, N.H, so Dr Quinn could consult on a patient with cardiac problems. Dr. Miller a noted pathologist whose involvement in many of the tragedies that have occurred in Hanover and the State of New Hampshire, is recorded on the death certificates or autopsy reports of the cases, was planning to fly to Lancaster, N.H., only 20 miles from Berlin to perform an autopsy. Dr. Quinn, 32 years old, was a respected young cardiologist who had joined Mary Hitchcock Hospital and Dartmouth Medical School in 1956.
Dr. Ralph E. Miller and Dr Robert E. Quinn
The weather was not good when Dr. Miller's Piper Comanche (N5324P) lifted off from the Lebanon Airport. Dr. Miller had filed a six-hour round-trip flight plan that outlined a plan to drop Dr. Quinn off in Berlin to care for the cardiac patient, then Dr Miller would fly to Whitefield, N.H. airport. Dr Miller would travel to nearby Lancaster to perform the autopsy before flying back to Berlin to pick up Dr Quinn for the flight back to Lebanon. The return flight was planned from Berlin to over Gorham and Littleton, then down the Connecticut River to Lebanon.
The original flight plan and the doctors appointments were successful until the weather of New Hampshire entered the story. Dr. Miller canceled his original flight plan. The two doctors then went into nearby Milan for a lunch, hoping the weather would improve. Dr. Miler's cream and red Piper Comanche was seen taking off from the Berlin airport around 3:30. Miller hadn't submitted a revised flight plan yet, but the airport official who saw him depart into the snowy air, assumed he'd file one by radio.
At 9:00 p.m. that same night, Modestino Criscitiello, M.D.—a close friend of the Quinns and, like the young cardiologist, a 1956 addition to the Clinic staff and the DMS faculty—informed the Civil Aeronautics Authority that the two physicians had not returned as expected. Despite subzero temperatures and continued snow squalls, a search was launched before dawn on Sunday morning. It quickly became one of the most extensive searches in the state's history, covering hundreds of square miles from Vermont in the west, to Maine in the east, and as far south as Keene, N.H.
Although he had 20 years' experience as a pilot, Miller had had only eight hours of instrument training, so he generally flew low enough to follow the highways. His plane was identified over Route 2 in Jefferson at 3:35 p.m. At roughly the same time, an Army pilot flying high overhead in the clouds heard Miller twice try to radio the Whitefield Airport. According to the Army pilot, there was no response from Whitefield. No further sightings or reports were ever confirmed.
Although the air search was hampered by several days of bad weather, it eventually involved the Civil Air Patrol, the National Guard, the Army, and the Air Force, as well as dozens of private planes. February 25—four days after the doctors' disappearance—brought the first really good weather for aerial surveillance; that day, 70 aircraft crisscrossed northern New Hampshire. The intensive air search, which included both fixed-wing planes and helicopters, continued for several more days. Before the Air Force withdrew from the effort in early March, its pilots alone had contributed nearly 450 sorties, 700 hours of flying time, and 5,000 gallons of fuel.
A young Pathologist, Dr Ralph E Miller Feb 26, 1934 at the scene of The Dartmouth College Theta Chi Fraternity tragedy.
Dr Ralph E Miller August 1955
Mr John Rand helps coordinate the search for the missing Doctors. John Rand Jr '38 the Dartmouth Outing Club Director was able to use the knowledge of the New Hampshire North woods and the willing and able members of the Dartmouth Outing Club to conduct ground searches
Dr Philip Nice a colleague of Drs Miller and Quinn played an instrumental role in the search
Dr. Phil Nice with members of the Dartmouth Outing Club and a Conservation Officer of New Hampshire Fish and Game
Dr Nice and New Hampshire Fish and Game Conservation Officer
Searchers prepare for transport to their designated ground search area in a Willys Forward Control Truck
The resources of New Hampshire and Vermont, local and State were involved. Eventually the US Army and US Air Force had personnel and aircraft involved
US Army Piasecki Helicopter involved in the search for Dr Miller and Dr Quinn
Adrian Bouchard The Dartmouth College Photographer captured this image of the scene when then search had found the plane crash. The plane and the Two-Star General indicates the importance this search had on our region
The crash site of Drs Miller and Quinn was discovered May 6, 1959.
Investigators examining the crash site of N5324P
One of two sets of snowshoes fabricated by Miller and Quinn after the crash out of saplings, surical tape and pieces of cord. These Snowshoes were found carefully hung on a tree near a neat stack of firewood and the body of Dr. Ralph E Miller
Ralph Miller '55 son of Dr Ralph Miller '24 reads the journal left by his father, protected in a plastic bottle.
Good bye all.
This is saving a lot of experiments I hope.
Memorial at the plane crash site
Please read John Morton's Article for Dartmouth Medicine Magazine for more in depth description and accounts of this tragedy
Photo Credit to Rauner Library. Their preserving this sort of information and making it accessible to all is one of the reasons it is the coolest, most special places on campus.