In November 1955, a United States Air Force C-54 transport plane, flying blind in a snowstorm rammed into the side of 11,918 Mt. Charleston outside of Las Vegas, Nev. killing all 14 passengers and crew on board.
The flight, which crashed at 8:19 a.m., was carrying extraordinary people to an extraordinary destination.
Reporters who arrived at the area were not allowed anywhere except on private land. Their questions were met with silence.
Even a recovery team, most of them members of the Clark County Mounted Posse weren't allowed to go inside the wreckage. Air Force personnel went in and removed all the written material, luggage, briefcases and mail.
Later they all would be told the aircraft's occupants had been on a "business trip."
The true story of the crash remained a mystery, even to the families of those who perished, for more than 40 years.
Now with the efforts of Las Vegas businessman and Boy Scout leader, Steve Ririe a National Cold War Monument is planned to commemorate the victims.
In 1998, Ririe hiked up the mountain with his troop. There he found aircraft parts and the propeller, blanketed by snow.
After coming down from the mountain, he wanted to know more.
Shortly after, Ririe began researching the crash and found the victims were no ordinary businessmen.
Now a National Cold War Monument is planned to commemorate the victims.
The occupants of the C-54 was enroute from Burbank, Calif. to a remote government Nevada testing facility, east of the Nevada Test Site then known as Watertown or the "Ranch" - now commonly referred to as Area 51. Men like these, were an integral part of the Cold War efforts.
The regularly scheduled flights were set up to carry men to the "secret" location to work on the design and development of the U-2 spyplane-the high altitude reconnaissance airplane that made world headlines when one flown by CIA pilot, Francis Gary Powers was shot down by a SAM missile over the Soviet Union in 1960 during a photographic mission.
The U-2 continues to play a pivotal role in national security.
Ririe's diligence in investigating the crash brought out the true story of that ill-fated flight.
Onboard the flight were four crewmembers, pilot, George Pappas, 27, co-pilot, Paul Winham, 24, Airman, 2nd class, Guy Fasolas, 22 and Clayton Farris, 26, flight mechanic. There were also 10 "civilians" onboard, James Bray, 48, regional CIA deputy chief security officer at the Groom Lake installation; James, "Billy" Brown, 23, CIA security officer; John Gaines, 23, a career enlisted man; Fred Hanks, 35, Hycon Manufacturing; Richard Hruda, 37, Lockheed engineer; Rodney Kreimendahl, 38, Lockheed structural designer; William Marr, 37, chief CIA security officer for the U-2 program; Terence O'Donnell, 22, CIA security; Harold Silent, 59, Hycon Manufacturing Co. consultant and Edwin Urolatis, 28, CIA security.
At 22, CIA security officer Terence O'Donnell was the youngest of the victims. Forty-six years later
after the September 11 terrorists attacks, O'Donnell's nephew and namesake, New York Fire Department Captain, Terence Hilton perished when the World Trade Center collapsed. Ironically, his uncle worked on the very plane that is now being used for reconnaissance to find those responsible for the death of his nephew.
At 59, physicist, Harold Silent of Azusa, Calif., was the oldest on board. Silent was a consultant for Hycon and several branches of the military.
When Ririe contacted the victim's families, most of them heard for the first time the nature of the work their fathers were doing and the details of the crash.
Ririe also discovered that the pilot, 1st Lt. George Pappas became disoriented flying in bad weather.
In declassified reports, he found that they though they were turning away from the mountain, but they actually turned into it, Ririe said. When Pappas attempted to clear the 11,300-foot ridge, the plane, instead clipped it 50 feet below the crest.
In August of this year Ririe brought together a group of the victim's families to unite at Mt. Charleston, There some visited the crash site to remember the fathers, uncles, brothers and sons who gave their lives for freedom.
"Bringing the families together for the hike was very emotional," said Bryan Kreimendahl of Leona Valley, Calif. "There is a common bond between us now-we feel like family."
Kreimendahl. was only nine years old when he lost his father, Rodney in the 1955 crash.
The elder Kreimendahl was a structural designer with Lockheed Advanced Development Projects on the U-2 program. He designed the U-2's horizontal tail.
Kreimendahl recalls that day in 1955 when his dad went off to work. He knew that his father was on "some kind of secret job." "He usually left before we were up, but I do remember him saying to my mom, "No news is good news," (referring to the inclement weather that day). Later he remembers that someone came to fetch him from school. Arriving home he found a houseful of people he was told to go outside and play. He soon began to realize that things were "different."
When Powers' U-2 went down, Kreimendahl's uncle told him that he had been flying the same type of plane his father had been working on. Twenty-years later, Kreimendahl, a structural engineer with Lockheed-Martin in Palmdale confirmed it when he asked around at Lockheed.
His dad worked closely with Kelly Johnson, Lockheed's legendary engineer on the X-7, F-104 and the Vertical Riser.
Kreimendahl praised Ririe's attempt to recognize the top-secret workers who died for their roles in national security. "This memorial is well deserving," he said. "People need to remember what so many did for our country."
In March of 2001 an emergency Joint Resolution was introduced by Nevada State Senator Raymond Rawson to declare the crash site as "The Silent Heroes of the Cold War National Monument." The resolution was passed unanimously.
"I felt like I wanted to do something for them," Ririe said. Ririe envisions a granite memorial at the crash site that will have 14 bronze stars plus a single one on the back that will stand "for all those who have anonymously given their lives in secret projects." "I believe the memorial will remind us, and those who follow us, of the lessons learned during the Cold War," he said. Together with the help of the U.S. Forest Service, private companies and individuals, Ririe hopes to have a visitor center at the foot of Mt. Charleston.
In August this year, U.S. Senators Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and John Ensign (R-Nevada) introduced a bill into Congress to identify such cold war sites and apply appropriate designations The legislation will provide $300,000 to identify historic landmarks like the crash at mount Charleston.
"A grateful nation owes its gratitude to the Silent Heroes of the Cold War," said Ririe. It's (the monument) a long overdue tribute to the contribution and sacrifice of those cold war heroes for the cause of freedom." "We need to leave a heritage and teach our children about the Cold War." Ririe hopes people will visit the site and learn about the lives involved in keeping our country safe. " result of our efforts to memorialize these cold war heroes will not only express the tremendous debt felt by a grateful nation but also provide the families of these individuals the closure they so honorably deserve," Ririe said.
For more information, including current legislation, biographies and photos visit:www.coldwarmemorial.com Donations may be made to: Silent Heroes of the Cold War Corporation8665 West Flamingo Rd Suite 101Las Vegas, Nev. 89147
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Posted Thornton D. BarnesBy Thornton D. Barnes Author Publisher