Gateway center taking shape on mountain near Vegas
LAS VEGAS (AP) -- A man who has spent 15 years collecting information and raising funds to commemorate a Cold War-era plane crash that killed 14 men on Mount Charleston says he hopes to have a memorial ready to open with a larger U.S. Forest Service gateway project next year.
After raising $200,000 through efforts that included the sale of special Nevada license plates, and persuading Congress to grant national status for the Silent Heroes of the Cold War National Memorial, Steve Ririe said his nonprofit corporation is about $50,000 short of its goal.
"I made a promise to the families of the people who died up there," Ririe told the Las Vegas Review-Journal (http://bit.ly/NjOs8q ) during a visit this week to the site off State Route 157 in Kyle Canyon.
"And to be part of the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area, it's the way it was meant to be," he said.
Ririe hopes the memorial can be completed when the overall Spring Mountains Gateway Visitor Center opens in early 2015.
The 43-acre, $15 million gateway project is funded separately, through the sale of public land under the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act. It will feature a visitor center and interpretive displays, picnic and shade areas, hiking, biking and horseback trails, amphitheaters, and administration and firefighting facilities.
Ririe, 54, began his quest to identify and remember the men who were killed in the November 1955 crash after hiking to the remote remains of the C-54 transport on the 12,000-foot peak in 1998.
The plane disappeared in a snowstorm while flying government workers from Burbank, Calif., to a secret airstrip in Nevada's Area 51. Ririe said they were on the way to test a U-2 spy plane.
The aircraft partially burned on a ridge above Kyle Canyon, and much of the fuselage remained perched on the ridge until Air Force crews dynamited it as a safety hazard the following summer.
Ririe said he followed a records trail from the Air Force to the National Archives and Records Administration to the CIA, and obtained a declassified report about the crash.
He now has a list of the victims that includes their hometowns, roles in the mission and ages. The oldest was a 59-year-old physicist from Glendora, Calif., and several were in their early 20s, the newspaper reported.
In 2001, with Forest Service consent, Ririe organized an expedition with relatives to the site to retrieve remnants of the plane for historical purposes.
Ririe said some families weren't aware that their loved ones had worked for the CIA, and most hadn't been fully informed about the mission.
While the memorial is to honor the 14 U-2 engineers and flight crew members who died that day, Ririe said it will also recognize tens of thousands of people who served in the five-decade Cold War conflict with the former Soviet Union.
Information from: Las Vegas Review-Journal, http://www.lvrj.com