In the early days of the Cold War, Mt. Charleston, Nevada was the site of a tragic plane crash that took the lives of fourteen men. They remained unknown and unnamed for over forty years. What happened to the plane, and how we’ve come to learn about it, was the catalyst for the creation of the Silent Heroes of the Cold War National Memorial.
The military transport plane crashed on its way from Burbank, California to a place called Watertown, at Groom Lake, Nevada – better known as Area 51. The flight went down in a secluded mountain area of Mt. Charleston, where pieces of the wreckage sat, unmarked and unidentified, for 43 years. It wasn’t until 1998 that a long-awaited military declassification, and some super-sleuthing by a local hiker and Boy Scout leader from nearby Las Vegas, revealed the identities of those on board.
It was an early November morning in 1955 when USAF flight 9068 took off from Burbank, with four crew members and ten passengers. The ten consisted of scientists and intelligence personnel, part of a secret spy plane project known as “U-2”. They never made it to Area 51, the US military’s off-limits testing grounds in the remote Nevada desert. Why and how, exactly, the plane crashed is still unknown.
It was Steve Ririe, that hiker from Las Vegas, who made it his mission to figure out what the old wreckage in the mountains was all about. With some declassification, some research into Air Force records, and some National Archives digging, Ririe not only figured out what the plane was, but the identities of the 14 men. From that discovery began a movement to create the memorial to all the men and women who worked, served, and lost their lives during the Cold War, all done in secret.
The memorial at Mt. Charleston, where the evidence of the crash was scattered across the mountainside, is the first national memorial in Nevada. And it’s the only one of its kind, anywhere, to the clandestine veterans of the Cold War era.