SCLT Explore History Features Bomber Mountain Plane Crash

May 15, 2024

News – Sheridan Media


The dining room at the Hub on Smith was standing room only for the Sheridan Community Land Trust Explore History Program on May 14 that featured Sylvia Bruner, director of the Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum in Buffalo, talking about the Bomber Mountain crash of the B-17 Bomber 42-3399, Flying Fortress, in 1943. Although Bruner had some photos of similar planes, she said she had never found a photo of the plane that crashed.

The B-17 10-member crew consisted of the pilot, Lt. William “Billy” Ronaghan; co-pilot Anthony ‘Tony’ Joseph Tilotta; Navigator/Gunner Lt. Leonard Harvey Phillips; Bonbardier/Gunner Lt. Charles “Sappie” Hubert; Aircraft Engineer/Gunner Sgt. James Alfred Hinds; Radio Operator/Gunner Sgt. Fergunson T. Bell Jr; Assistant aircraft engineer/Gunner Sgt. Lee “Vaughn” Miller; Assistant Radio Operator/Gunner Sgt. Chalres Edgar “Junior” Newburn; Aircraft Gunner, Sgt. Jake Floyd Penick; Assistant Gunner Sgt Lewis M. Shepard. The oldest soldier in the plane was only 25 years old, most around age 22.

Bruner gave a brief personal sketch of each of the crew, some were married, some had children, and some were engaged to be married.

The flight left Pendelton, Oregon heading to Grand Island, Neb. on June 28, 1943. The huge plane nicknamed “Scharazad” somehow got off course and crashed into a mountain peak above Florence Lake in the Bighorn Mountains. When the plane failed to arrive in Grand Island, search parties were sent out but could find no trace of the wreckage. The disappearance of the plane and its crew remained a mystery.

She talked about the families of the missing crew members.

Two years later on August 12, 1945, cowboys looking for cattle came upon the wreckage. They reported it to the nearest ranger station, and the ranger reported the find to the military. Some search crews were sent from Colorado and Rapid City.

Bruner has been to the site, talked about the display of artifacts that are in the Jim Gatchell Museum.

She added that the relics that are left on the mountain, like the plane’s engines, belong on the mountain, as they serve as a memorial of those 10 men who died there. Today, there is also a commemorative plaque on the shores of Florence Lake, about 1.5 miles from the crash site, listing the names of the crew members who perished.

Bruner is working on a book about the crash, which will be out within the year. It will be available for sale at the Jim Gatchell Museum. This program will be repeated at the Tongue River Valley Community Center in Dayton at 10:30 on May 21.


Last modified: May 15, 2024

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