A bill to name a ridge in the mountains east of the Paradise Valley for four Air Force pilots who died in a crash there received its first hearing in the U.S. Senate.
S. 490, sponsored by Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana, was heard Tuesday by the Public Lands Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
The bill would designate a ridge off the southwestern side of Emigrant Peak as B-47 Ridge in honor of the four men who died in a plane crash there while on a training mission in 1962. It would also authorize the placement of a plaque at the crash site, where debris is still scattered across the hillside.
“After over half a century, I believe it’s time these men were memorialized for their service,” Daines said.
Tuesday’s hearing marks a significant step forward for the bill, which is also backed by Montana’s Democratic Sen. Jon Tester and Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte. Gianforte has introduced H.R. 1267, an identical bill, in the U.S. House.
Tester said in a statement that passing the bill “will ensure their legacy lives on.”
The measure would honor Lt. Fred Hixenbaugh, Capt. Bill Faulconer, Lt. Lloyd Sawyers and Lt. David Sutton. The four took off from Dyess Air Force Base in Texas on July 23, 1962, for a training mission in a B-47 bomber.
The route looped around the southwestern part of Montana and crossed the Paradise Valley. Their plane ultimately crashed into the southwestern slope of Emigrant Peak at an elevation of about 8,500 feet, starting a small wildfire. Plane debris is still scattered on the ridge, which is not accessible by any trails. The site is within the area that was protected from new mining claims under the Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act.
In 2016, nearby resident Bryan Wells built a memorial for the crew at the Chico Cemetery and organized a ceremony for them. Several relatives of the men who died attended, as did Daines.
Wells said the advancement of the bill is “a great thing for those families.”
Placing a plaque at the crash site — which is Forest Service land — would go against federal policy. The bill would ensure a plaque could go there. The delegation reintroduced it in February after it failed to gain traction during the previous Congress.
Frank Beum, acting associate deputy chief of the Forest Service, told the Senate committee that the department supports honoring the flight crew.