Memorializing the United Air Lines DC-4 Crash on Medicine Bow Peak, October 6, 1955

Sixty-two years have passed since that fateful day when a United Air Lines DC-4 struck Medicine Bow Peak on the morning of October 6, 1955.

Flight 409, which originated in New York City with a final destination of San Francisco, was on its Denver to Salt Lake City leg when it struck the sheer granite wall west of Laramie in the Snowy Range during a snow storm.

Crash

The tail section of the United Air Lines DC-4 rests on a ledge high up on the granite wall. Most of the wreckage was removed the following summer in 1956, though some pieces still remain scattered across the boulder fields at the base of the cliff. Source: United Air Lines Flight 409 Crash Collection, American Heritage Center.

In the years since that tragic event, there have been numerous efforts to memorialize the tragedy that claimed the lives of 66 passengers and crew members. In 1997, the American Heritage Center hosted an exhibit and panel discussion. Among those on the panel who described the tragedy were rescuers who assisted in the recovery effort.

A year earlier, Mel Duncan, who was a resident of Cheyenne, self-published a booklet that details the crash. It was available in local book stores for many years. A copy of his manuscript resides in the Flight 409 Crash and is digitized where it can be viewed online along with many other materials from the collection. Duncan was instrumental in the placement of a memorial plaque placed at the foot of the mountain at the Miners Cabin Turnout on Highway 130. The monument was dedicated on August 25, 2001, where many family members of those who perished were present for the memorial service.

Duncan

Mel Duncan speaks to a large group of attendees, including family members of those who perished, during a memorial service held on August 25, 2001, at the Miners Cabin Turnout on Highway 130. Source: United Air Lines Flight 409 Crash Collection, American Heritage Center

Granite marker

This plaque was dedicated on August 25, 2001, at the Miners Cabin Turnout on Highway 130. The Miners Cabin Turnout provides a spectacular view of the Snowy Range including the crash site. Source: United Air Lines Flight 409 Crash Collection, American Heritage Center

In 2016, a grave marker was placed at the burial site at Laramie’s Greenhill Cemetery. The grave, which contains unidentified remains, was previously unmarked. The marker was paid for by a friend of the pilot’s family.

DSCN0019

A grave marker was placed at the Greenhill Cemetery in Laramie in 2016 that marks the grave containing unidentified remains. Source: John Waggener

Other tributes include newspaper articles that contain interviews with family members.

The United Air Lines Flight 409 Crash Collection is held at the American Heritage Center. The collection includes photographs of the crash site; materials describing the rescue effort by several mountaineering clubs, including detailed sketches of the pulley system used to lower remains off the ledge; newspaper clippings; maps; and other written and published accounts. There are also oral history interviews available in both audio and transcribed formats. A videotape is also included showing the National Guard’s shelling of the mountainside and the use of horses. Other material includes information about the Douglas Company and the DC-4 as well as written accounts of the November 1, 1955, United Airlines crash south of Laramie, near Loveland, Colorado. Collection material covers dates from 1939 to 2001. Some items have been digitized and are accessible through the collection’s finding aid.

– Submitted by John Waggener, Associate Archivist, UW American Heritage Center

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