posted on Jul, 11 2010 @ 01:16 PM
On 17 November, a C-54M transporting AQUATONE project personnel from Burbank to Watertown crashed near the top of Mt. Charleston, about 20 miles west
of Las Vegas. Nine civilians and five military personnel were killed. There were no survivors.
The accident was front-page news for several days in Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Officials told reporters that the plane was destined for the airfield
at Indian Springs, but the commanding officer at Indian Springs told Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Dennis Schiek that the C-54 was not expected
there. Schieck speculated that it might have been heading to “Groom Lake, a top secret base…some 115 miles northwest” of Las Vegas. “Spokesmen
at the secret base confirmed the plane was missing, but said no further information could be given,” Schieck added. Another article, two days later,
stated unequivocally that the C-54 was “bound for the super-secret ‘proving grounds within the proving grounds’ – Groom Dry Lake.”
Three weeks later, members of the 4602nd Air Intelligence Service Squadron conducted what they described as a “training exercise” at the crash
site. A four-man team, commanded by Lt. William M. Connor, spent three days on the rugged, snow-covered mountain. Although the mission was officially
a mock rescue exercise for training purposes, it was more likely an attempt to recover classified material from the crash site.
In December, the Air Force completed the accident investigation. The unclassified report confirmed that the C-54 was “on a scheduled transport
mission” to “Watertown Airstrip in the Nevada Proving Ground area.” The report noted that in accordance with standard operating procedure, the
aircraft and crew were “under the operational control of the Commander, Watertown Airstrip.” Of all the numerous reports, statements, and
supporting documents, only the Rescue Mission Report was classified SECRET.
In the wake of the accident, Lockheed purchased a C-47D and F-27 aircraft to transport company personnel to Watertown but photos taken at Groom Lake
in 1957 show that Military Air Transport Service C-54 aircraft were still being used, as well.