Hiking to the N28901 Plane Crash Site in Cranberry Wilderness
On the morning of November 28, 1995, Colin Campbell, a 31-year-old pilot employed by Casey Industries, embarked on a flight from Braxton County Airport in West Virginia to his home in Lynchburg, Virginia, piloting a twin-engine Cessna 414. The flight departed at 9:30 AM and there was initial radio communication between Campbell and air traffic control. However, just eleven minutes into the flight, at 9:41 AM, the aircraft vanished from radar. In the days that ensued, exhaustive search efforts were launched in an attempt to locate Campbell and his Cessna, but they could not be found.
It wasn't until November 14, 2001, six years after the fateful disappearance, that a local paragliding instructor stumbled upon the wreckage of the aircraft. Regrettably, Campbell's remains were never recovered and were assumed to have been taken by wildlife. Today, accessing the crash site has become relatively straightforward if you know where to go. The hike to the site involves the utilization of three trails: the North Fork, Big Beechy, and District Line Trails, as well a bit of off trail navigation through dense forest.
Trailhead elevation 4,232'
Don't miss backcountry campsites along Big Beechy
Hiking to the Cranberry Wilderness N28901 Plane Crash Site
The hike begins from a large unsigned gravel parking area off of Highland Scenic Highway at coordinates 38.2956076, -80.2486870.
The initial quarter mile follows the North Fork Trail, passing a trail kiosk before reaching a signed intersection with the Big Beechy Trail.
After making a right turn onto the Big Beechy Trail, the path gradually ascends, eventually plateauing within a dense pine and spruce forest and forest floor blanketed in moss in all directions. The scenery is remarkable and strikingly similar to that of the North-South Loop, which is located a short distance to the south in Cranberry Wilderness.
The video below highlights the splendor of the Big Beechy Trail and offers a glimpse of what awaits during the warmer seasons of the year. More than half of the path leading to the crash site shares a similar scenic appeal.
At 2.5 miles in, the Big Beechy Trail intersects with the District Line Trail.
Here, you'll veer right and follow the District Line Trail for 1.5 miles. While the District Line Trail may not offer the same level of scenic beauty as Big Beechy, it does have a few remarkably beautiful stretches of moss-covered terrain. When you reach the 3.95 mile-mark, which corresponds to coordinates 38.3330028, -80.2758393, you'll want to leave the trail and take a left into the woods. As you descend the gentle slope of the mountain, you will encounter the aircraft's cabin roughly one-third of a mile downhill at coordinates 38.3338943, -80.2798418.
Sitting atop a large sandstone slab, the cabin, severed in half, serves as the end of the debris path. Looking through the rear of the rear, you can see the interior of the cabin, where two seats remain well-intact, including the pilot's seat.
As you move towards the cabin's front, you can crouch down to get a much better vantage point inside. While forest creatures have been nibbling on one of the chairs, the second chair has held up remarkably well, considering its age.
Just below the sandstone slab lies one of the propellers.
Directly below the cabin lies one very large section of landing gear, part of a wing, a fuel bladder, and more.
Surrounding the cabin are various fragments including the aircraft's maintenance and recordkeeping system manual, an instrumentation panel, engine parts, gears, flight controls, and much more.
As you descend further downhill, you will be heading towards the point where the aircraft first struck the treetops and the start of the debris field. Approximately 100 feet from the cabin, you'll encounter the remainder of the fuselage and one of the plane's wings. A prominent indication of the wing's impact with a tree is the noticeable and sizable gash it bears.
Just behind this section of the fuselage, one of the aircraft's two propellers lies partly buried in the ground.
100 feet further downhill, at coordinates 38.3344677, -80.2804038, there are numerous fragments of the plane, including various fuselage and wing segments, a second wheel, landing gear, and more.
When you're done exploring the site, simply return the way you came. Cell phone service is available during certain points along the Big Beechy Trail, but it's advisable to download the area on offline Google Maps to input the wreckage coordinates or use AllTrails to track the off trail portion of the hike so you know how to get back to the District Line Trail.
For those considering backpacking the trail, there are three established campsites equipped with stone fire rings available. You'll also encounter an open space where two or three tents can be put down just after you venture off trail from the District Line Trail. The mileage references provided below are distances from the parking area. While the USFS does not mandate bear canisters, they are strongly encouraged due to the presence of a small black bear population in the vicinity. There are no fees or permits required for camping at any of the sites listed below.
#1 0.60 miles, room for 2-3 tents, two small stone benches
#2 1.85 miles, room for 2-3 tents
#3 2.45 miles, room for 1 tent
#4 4.05 miles, room for 2 tents, very rooty, no fire ring, located 30' off of the District Line Trail
If you have some extra time after the hike, there are a couple of nearby overlooks that are well worth visiting, particularly the Little Laurel Overlook and Big Spruce Overlook. Both are located within five minutes of the trailhead.