On 17th November 1955, a USAF C-54 that was ferrying U-2 project personnel from Lockheed’s Burbank airfield to the test site at Watertown Strip crashed onto the peak of Mount Charleston near Las Vegas in bad weather. All fourteen people on board were killed: the five aircrew, two each from Lockheed and camera makers Hycon, and five CIA security officers. Because of the extreme secrecy surrounding the project, only a brief press release was issued, which suggested that the aircraft was heading for another airfield on the Nevada nuclear test site, with atomic scientists onboard.
The wreckage was cleared. Seventeen years later, a young Boy Scout from Las Vegas, Steve Ririe, hiked to the top of the mountain and viewed the remaining pieces of wreckage, which included a propeller. He resolved to discover more about this mysterious crash.
Thus began a long crusade by Ririe (right) to have the crash victims recognized and memorialized. His research took off in 2001 after he had the USAF’s accident report declassified. He probed the backgrounds of the deceased, and contacted their family descendants with the full details of the crash, that they had never heard before.
On my recent trip to Las Vegas I visited the memorial that Ririe and his group of fellow volunteers have built at the visitor center below the mountain, near the road entrance to the Spring Mountains. Its focus is those 14 men who perished on that snowy mountaintop, who are listed. But Ririe’s group decided to also commemorate those others who were killed in the line of duty during the Cold War. Hence the title of the memorial.
The group created a website and commissioned a book to tell this poignant story and raise funds. They are both worthy tributes to those men. If you visit Las Vegas, I strongly recommend a visit to the beautiful Spring Mountains, and the memorial.