Hiking to Browning Knob Plane Crash
HIstory of the Plane Crash:
On November 24, 1983, Thanksgiving night, a Cessna 414 was flying from West Chicago to the Jackson County Airport in Sylva, North Carolina. On board the plane were pilot Ernest Martin, and passenger, Centa Jarrett. The plane crashed into the mountain at around 6,000 feet. Both the pilot and passenger died upon impact. The probable cause of the crash was determined to be due to low visibility from low lying clouds and precipitation. The pilot was either unaware or unconcerned of the weather that awaited him. As a matter of fact, he did not file a flight plan that is required for weather conditions such as what they experienced. Additionally, the FAA found a blood alcohol level of .04%. The wreckage was uncovered by Civil Air Patrol members a week later near the summit of Waterrock Knob. Much of the Cessna 414 is still up there on the mountain. The plane could have made it over the mountain if it had just been about 150 feet higher. It is equally eerie and interesting to see the sight.
Hiking to the Site:
The hike begins at the Waterrock Knob Visitors Center. You will take the Waterrock Knob trailhead to Waterrock Knob and then take the ridge to Browning Knob. The hike is about 2.5 miles roundtrip but is rated moderate to difficult.
The path is clear and paved for the first bit before turning to dirt and leading up several stone staircases.
Waterrock Knob offers some really great views (from what I’ve seen in pictures). The day we went it was very gloomy and foggy and we couldn’t see past the main trees in front of us at the overlook.
Once you’ve reached Waterrock Knob and taken in all the views you are going to turn around and go back down the trail a short ways. In fact, just down the stone steps. Just after the steps is a foot path to the right. Someone spray-painted a blue arrow on the rock to mark the way. It may or may not still be there.
The trail to the Browning Knob plane crash site is called Plott Balsams and it is an unofficial trail. It is often used but remains off the beaten path so it is a very good idea to tell multiple people where you are going (as you should with any hike). Also, it is probably not a trail you should try to do alone. It is very muddy in places and really rocky and rooty. It does require some strategic stepping. There are quite a few downed trees you have to maneuver. Some of the trees along the trail are marked with yellow spray paint to make it easier to follow. Nick did this hike with a friend a few years before we last went and the trail was covered in snow and ice. He actually slipped and injured his knee. So just be safe and aware of your ability and take a buddy.
The hike does offer some really beautiful views of nature. I love all the trees. The canopy is pretty thick so most of the vegetation is moss, ferns, and fungi. It is lovely to see.
The trail will open up and offer some great views of the mountains and the Blueridge Parkway below. This is Browning Knob. Once here there is a small unmarked trail to the left that you will take. Head down that trail about 100 feet and you should see the plane in the distance down the hill. It is not far. The hill is steep so be careful. There are multiple little trails but don’t wander too much. This is not a great place to get lost in the mountains.
Once at the site of the crash please be respectful. Please do not mess with the plane. This is a place where two people lost their lives. It is sombering.
From here you will just retrace your steps back down the trail. Again, be careful. It is best to hike with a partner. Also, be sure to let someone or multiple someone’s know where you are going and how long to expect you to be there. Make sure to check in with them when you are done. I would not recommend this hike for kids. It is quite difficult and I found myself using all points of contact throughout the hike.
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