Las Vegas Sun

June 16, 2021

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Plane crash site urged as monument

CARSON CITY -- Hikers reaching for the summit of Mount Charleston pass the remains of a 1955 plane crash with solemnity -- most of them not knowing the 14 people on board were on a top secret mission during the Cold War.

The state Legislature wants Congress to designate the site -- just 50 feet below the ridgeline of the peak -- as the "Silent Heroes of the Cold War National Monument."

On Nov. 17, 1955, a C54 spy plane left Burbank, Calif., on route to Watertown, Nev. -- an area now known as Area 51.

The reconnaissance plane -- a predecessor of the U-2 -- was flying only on sight-based instruments in an attempt to elude radar when a crosswind took it off course and into a snowstorm.

"They were not able to view the mountains and didn't know they had been blown east of Mount Charleston," said Assemblyman David Brown, R-Henderson.

As a result, the pilot headed west and inadvertently found himself in a box canyon and unable to climb over the crest of the mountain.

Four crew members and 10 passengers were killed in the crash.

Brown's grandfather, Merle Frehner, was a member of the sheriff's horse posse sent on a grueling 24-hour recovery mission to reach the victims after snow stifled military efforts to get to the plane.

But Frehner was told any information about the plane was strictly classified. The media was told the plane was on a business trip and the truth behind the mission was kept secret for years.

Since victims' family members spent years without knowing the true nature of the flight or of the plane, many were unaware of their loved ones' contribution to reconnaissance during the Cold War.