Bomber Mountain: A Mystery in Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains

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As America entered World War II, thousands of young men from all across the US were drafted to serve their country. While some were as young as seventeen and had no real-world experience under their belts, others had led full lives complete with careers and families. Once drafted, these men put their personal lives on hold, but some would never be given the opportunity to return to the prewar life they had known. One such fated flight crew never left America’s shores, and the circumstances around their death have remained an intriguing mystery with questions that will likely remain unanswered.

After completing their various forms of training, ten men reported for flight duty to the 318th Bomber Squadron at the Army Air Base in Walla Walla, Washington. Under the command of pilot, 2nd Lieutenant William R. Ronaghan, the crew was reassigned to the Plummer Provisional Group at Pendleton Army Air Base in Oregon. The Plummer Group was required to have thirty B-17F Bombers in its unit. Since one of the original crews was unable to accompany the group, Ronaghan’s Bomber was ordered to fill the thirtieth spot on June 27th, 1943. In addition to being a replacement, Ronaghan’s plane was also missing one of its original ten members. In this man’s absence, assistant radio operator Charles E. Newburn, Jr. became the crew’s unlucky tenth member.

Upon arriving at Pendleton at 4:00 PM on June 28th, 1943, Ronaghan and the rest of the crew were to fly to the Plummer Group’s home base in Grand Island, Nebraska later that evening. After filling up with fuel and picking up the remaining cargo in Grand Island, the Plummer Group would leave to participate in the bombing campaign against Nazi Germany.

At 8:52 PM on June 28th, Ronaghan’s B-17F Flying Fortress was cleared for take-off along with one other remaining B-17F from the Plummer Group. Ordered to fly in formation with the other plane, Ronaghan’s flight plan was a four-hour direct flight at 15,000 feet. At 9:00 PM, Ronaghan and his men departed Pendleton with all of the crew’s records on board. The plane never arrived at its scheduled destination, and the crew was never seen alive again.

Around midnight on June 28th, Pilot Ronaghan radioed in the plane’s position near Powder River, Wyoming, forty miles from the then operating Casper Army Air Base. Following this report, nothing further was heard from the ten men. On June 29th, Pendleton was notified that the plane was missing, and on July 18th and July 21st, notices were sent to the crew’s next of kin that the plane was missing. No further details were released, leaving family members to speculate that neither the plane or crew had yet been recovered.

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