By Brenda Taylor

“Bail out!” yelled the pilot to his flight crew.  “One engine is lost to fire and the others have conked out, bail out – NOW!”  At this order, the bomb bay doors dropped open and three of the crewmen jumped into the moonless night.  Surprisingly, before the co-pilot and radioman could jump, the pilot was able to bring the windmilling propellers to life and the bomber limped away to make an emergency landing at the Kingman Army Air Field.

 This B-24 Liberator 107 crew was in the midst of a training flight from Tonopah, Nevada to Tucson, when the pilot ordered the men to evacuate.  Flight engineer Corp. Roy Embanks, bombardier Lt. Charles “Goldie” Goldblum, and flight officer Maurice “Mo” Cruickshank all parachuted into the dark northern Arizona sky.  As Goldblum silently glided downward, he spotted the lights of the town of Williams in the distance.  “I watched those lights hoping they would help me in my directions when I landed.  Suddenly they blinked out completely as if someone had drawn a blind over them.”


This is a B-24 Liberator Bomber similar to the one the 107 crew was flying and bailed out of when the bomber malfunctioned over the Grand Canyon (Photo Courtesy of Internet).

Sixty years ago northern Arizona skies were filled with aircraft training missions as pilots and crews prepared for World War II overseas operations, and on June 21, 1944 at 2 a.m., this crew experienced engine failure compromising their mission.  What started out as a typical training flight turned into major search and rescue operation as these men had bailed out over one of the most inaccessible areas in the nation—the Grand Canyon.

Goldblum’s parachute snagged on a cliff edge and spent the night sleeping on a small ledge.  The next morning he shimmied up his chute’s shroud lines to the top of the cliff, in time to witness the breathtaking spectacle of the Grand Canyon at sunrise.  By the 1940s, not many people had been able to experience this kind of landscape or sunrise and this was completely foreign to a “city boy” from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  By noon Goldblum found Cruickshank, who was in pain due to a badly broken foot.  The two men hiked down the right side of Tuna Creek to the Colorado River and for the first time in several hours were able to drink.

On June 22, they made their way downstream and spotted a man on a ridge in a green sweater.  At first they thought he was part of a rescue party, but he turned out to be fellow airman Embanks.  Embanks had safely landed and spread out his parachute on the plateau weighted down by rocks, according to Army Air Corps regulations.

On June 25 a low flying B-24 bomber spotted the chute and supplies were dropped to men with orders stating, “Greetings! You are in the Grand Canyon.  Do not leave your position until notified by message dropped from an Army airplane.”  For the next few days more supplies were dropped, including a two-way radio and shoes.


Topographical map showing the North Rim area and Colorado River where the airmen landed and “lived” for 10 days while rescue crews searched to locate them. (Map Courtesy of Arizona Dept. of Transportation–cropped).

Meanwhile, Col. Donald Phillips, commander of the Kingman Army Air Field, contacted the Grand Canyon Park Service for rescue support.  Two rescue attempts were mounted.  A South Rim rescue party set out with equipment to traverse the Colorado River, but this attempt was abandoned due to a flood-swollen river.  Veteran ranger Ed Lawes and Dr. Alan MacRae, an experienced Canyon backcountry hiker, led a rescue operation from the North Rim.  On June 28 they left Grama Point down the east side of Tuna Creek’s arm.  They had to backtrack a few times and finally found a small break in the redwall rock formation—the most difficult vertical barrier from Rim to river.  The next day they negotiated the redwall formation and walked into the airmen’s well-supplied camp.  Lawes gibed, “You boys sure are suffering in comfort.”

On June 30, the five men hiked out of the Canyon and were greeted to a fanfare by newspaper and radio reporters, photographers, park service officials and military brass.  The airmen had been in the Canyon for 10 days, making national news and appeared in the July 10, 1944, Time magazine.

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Col. Donald Phillips, commander of Kingman Army Air Field, congratulates the airmen and their rescuers at Grama Point. From left: Col. Donald Phillips, Ranger Ed Lawes, Dr. Alan MacRae, Corp. Roy Embanks, Lt. Charles “Goldie” Goldblum and Flight Officer Maurice “Mo” Cruickshank (Photo Courtesy Grand Canyon National Park Service).

If this story has piqued your interest, the Sharlot Hall Museum Library & Archives has the original KTAR Radio interviews by Howard Pyle available.  The L&A is located at 115 S. McCormick St. and open to the public Wednesdays-Fridays 12 Noon to 4p.m. and Saturdays 10a.m.-2p.m.

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International ( The public is encouraged to submit ideas for articles to