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Teen Finds Hobby In Old Plane Wreckage Sites

Colson Johnson, a sophomore at Acalanes High, has visited five plane wreckage sites in Northern California since April.

Colson Johnson loves math and science.

Also bicycling, hiking and airplanes.

So the 15-year-old Acalanes High School sophomore has combined those interests into an unusual hobby -- aviation archaeology or, as he likes to call it, wreckage chasing.

Since April, Johnson has visited the sites of a half-dozen old plane crashes in Northern California to satisfy his curiosity and his thirst for knowledge.

It started in April when the teen heard about wreckage from a 1946 military plane crash that still sits near the top of Mount Diablo.

Johnson has biked and hiked on the mountain, so he had a natural interest.

He researched aviation websites and pinpointed the crash site, then hiked down and found the pieces of the plane. He's been to the site two times since.

Johnson also convinced his father to drive him to Mount Tamalpais in Marin County last spring. There he and a few friends found the wreckage of a midair collision between two Navy jets.

The Lafayette teen has also been to a plane crash site on Mount St. Helena on the Napa-Sonoma county border, as well as the accident scene of a Navy bomber on Mount Tam.

He also discovered the remnants of a Navy fighter jet in the foothills of Mount Diablo as well as a Marine helicopter crash in the Stanislaus National Forest. He convinced some fellow Boy Scouts to go on that trek.

The research

For Johnson, part of the thrill of wreckage chasing is reading up on the background and pinpointing the sites.

"The research is fascinating," he said.

The actual trip to the scene mixes hiking, biking and the aerospace industry.

"It's a combination of all my favorite things in the world," said Johnson.

Finally, the hunt and discovery of the wreckage is the final piece of the puzzle. It beats sitting at home and playing a video game.

"It's infinitely better to be out in the world doing something real than to be in a dark room doing something fake," he said.

Most sites are places where pilots and military personnel have died. Johnson said he treats these scenes with the somberness and reflection they deserve.

"I have the utmost reverence and respect for the military and the people who serve," said Johnson. "I consider it an honor to be standing on the same ground."

Johnson plans to investigate and travel to other plane wreckage sites. He said there are thousands in California.

Some still have large pieces of airplanes. Others have been cleaned up with only a few fragments remaining.

"You can always find something there," said Johnson.

This hobby, however, has not cut into Johnson's studies. He carries a 4.0 grade point average along with a lot of math and science classes.

"I like the definiteness of those subjects," he said. "There's no discrepancy. There's only one answer."

Johnson plans to attend Brigham Young University after high school where he hopes to study nuclear physics. He's also learning Mandarin Chinese because it could useful in the future.

"It might open some doors," he said.

Abe Froman November 09, 2012 at 04:21 PM
My kid used to collect old bones from Indian burial sites. Then the lights in the house started flickering and our old pet lizard that had passed away suddenly showed up. I told him to stop.
Jose Jimenaz November 11, 2012 at 03:12 AM
Seems to me that there is something wrong about standing atop the place where someone died, with having a huge Cheshire-cat grin on your face. Please, anyone, explain how that is displaying the "utmost reverence and respect for the military and the people who serve"?
Kaia J November 17, 2012 at 06:58 PM
I've been wreck chasing with Colson before, and it was a really amazing experience for me. It was especially profound and emotional to stand by the crash site, take a moment of silence, and salute those who have passed on before. I know from his actions that day how much he respects all of our brave veterans and it was truly inspiring. His smile was one of pride at the triumph of accomplishing his goal and his opportunity to honor those who have died serving America. Colson is an amazing young man, and my brother, and he inspires me every day.
Susan Olson November 17, 2012 at 07:08 PM
Okay, I'll explain it to you, since you asked. First, have you ever seen the Chesshire cat? Because that is not the way this young man looks at all. His face has a modestly-upturned smile, reflecting peace and gratitude, earned as a result of researching the history behind what happened at this site and making a physically demanding trek to get there. Taking the time to understand what happened and hiking to the site, remembering those pilots, and sharing with us this knowledge is exactly what shows his reverence and respect. Is there a better way that you can come up with?
Marin B. November 24, 2012 at 10:09 PM
Go Colson! :D
Marin B. November 24, 2012 at 10:11 PM
I just clicked the button that signs my death sentence... I will soon recive millions upon millions of emails from patch.com. YAY!
Marin B. November 24, 2012 at 10:27 PM
I didn't mean to submit that!!! my ba
Marin B. November 24, 2012 at 10:27 PM
d. oops! My cousin just submit that other one too. Nice going jo.

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