Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2000 | 11:09 a.m.
When Colorado resident Faith Paris lost her husband in Las Vegas' worst-ever plane crash 42 years ago, she asked FAA investigators for some shred of his possessions to remember him by: his wedding band, the silver buttons from his Air Force uniform, the sterling silver captain's bars and insignias that he had inherited from his father.
But Steve Paris, who was a passenger on United Airlines Flight 736, was so badly burned that investigators needed his dental records to identify his remains at the crash site 9 miles south of Las Vegas. None of his belongings were ever recovered.
Steve Paris was one of the 49 who died on April 21, 1958, after a midair collision over open desert between the United flight and an F-100F trainer jet from Nellis Air Force Base.
"I felt cheated. I'm sorry about that, but I felt cheated," said Paris, who arrived at the site for the first time Tuesday morning, something she said she has wanted to do ever since she learned of her husband's death. She was doing laundry in the kitchen of the couple's Manhattan Beach, Calif., home when she heard the news of the crash on the radio.
Forty-two years is a long time, but Paris may never have returned to the site had it not been for aviation archaeologist Douglas Scroggins, who rediscovered the crash site in 1995. The curator of Lost Birds flight museum in Henderson, Scroggins hopes to commission a plaque and possibly a small 3/4 acre park to memorialize the lives of the crash victims.
"That's what I try to do. I try to help families out. To give them a sense of closure," Scroggins said. "And I want to preserve the history of what happened here, of this area."
Scroggins coordinated a similar service in July for a Nellis Air Force pilot who died in an unrelated 1958 crash north of Las Vegas. And he has plans to request a marker along Blue Diamond Highway commemorating the untimely death of film star Carole Lombard, who died in 1942 aboard a TWA Skysleeper that crashed in the Potosi Range.
But Scroggins will have to act quickly if he hopes to preserve the crash site of United Airlines Flight 736 as a park.
Five years ago, when he first found the site of the crash, Scroggins drove a dusty gravel road cutting through sage brush and wildflowers uninterrupted for miles on both sides.
Tuesday he and Paris drove along Cactus Road, an asphalt roadway paved in the last year. While Scroggins and Paris wandered the site, picking up sky-blue fragments of flight dishware and shards of fuselage, construction workers hammered away at framework for a housing development across the street.
Scroggins contacted the property owner a year ago to ask about purchasing the land around the crash site, but he says he never heard back. He now hopes to contact developers and work out an agreement through Gov. Kenny Guinn's office.
Bud Cranor, director of Guinn's Las Vegas office, who attended the July dedication at Floyd Lamb State Park, said he has had informal conversations with Scroggins.
"It seems like he has a good organization dedicated to preserving aviation history, which Nevada has a lot of. We'll be happy to help out where we can," Cranor said.
But even if the park doesn't become a reality, Scroggins said he will at least organize a dedication ceremony. Seven families have contacted Scroggins in the two years following media coverage of the 40th anniversary of the crash.
As for Paris, now 71, and the first mourner to visit the crash site to Scroggin's knowledge, there are still questions.
Dressed casually in a red sweater, dark slacks and wearing wrap-around sunglasses, she wanted to ask her late husband, "Did I do a good job with the kids? That's what I want to know."
At the same time she was pondering that unanswerable question, she cradled a shard of dishware, a triangle of passenger window and a burned-out radio tube.
Not the same as holding a wedding band or sterling silver insignias, but a material consolation all the same.
Anyone with information on the crash may contact Scroggins at www.lostbirds.com.