(George Battell & Etta (Copeland) Youst’s daughter)
from the Billings Gazette and The Independent Record of Helena, Montana – August 27, 1954
Eyewitness Recalls Plane Crash as Horrible Incident: 0. J. Clark of Missoula, Montana was a fireman on Northern Pacific westbound freight train as it climbed up the continental divide toward Mullan tunnel on Thursday morning. Shortly after 10 a. m. he saw a single engine private plane crash and burn northwest of Helena. Killed in the crash were Mr. and Mrs. Jack Richards and Mr. and Mrs. U. G. (Bud) Saunders all of Longview, Wash. Here is Clark’s eyewitness account of the incident. He and Engineer F. A. Holmberg “had a full view” of the accident from the cab of their engine — We saw the plane flying low. We were watching it approached the mountain top. Then he circled back toward Helena in a complete circle and as he made the complete circle the plane’s nose was headed up. The next thing we notice the plane wobbled sideways two or three times. Then he made a straight nose dive to the ground. The plane exploded when it hit the ground about 1,900 feet from the railroad track. We pulled up opposite the plane and took two fire extinguishers to the scene. But the fire was completely out of control and we could not extinguish the fire. We stayed until the sheriff and the Helena fire department arrived. We had radioed the Helena yards and they notified authorities in Helena. It was around 10:19 or 10:20 a. m. (MST). The weather was cloudy but no a low ceiling. When we got to the plane it completely destroyed by fire. Nobody could be rescued. We tried to get to them, but we couldn’t on account of the fire. The gasoline was running down and the woods were a fire below the plane. Where the plane nose hit was heavily wooded and cut the tops off the trees. We were looking out the wind shield directly at the plane. We watched him come up the canyon We was flying on the level. He didn’t appear to be in trouble until made the circle and lost altitude. It was a horrible sight We figured if somebody was thrown clear we would do the best we could. The party took off from the Helena municipal airport early Thursday for Spokane but turned back because of clouds and rain. On the second attempt the plane crashed into the timbered area about 10:20 o’clock. CAA officials said the investigation was made difficult by the total destruction of the plane from an explosion and resulting fire. Forest service crews were called to halt the blaze started by escaping gasoline. The plane crashed at the 5,000- foot level–800 feet from the top of the divide. They were unable to determine which of the party was at the controls of the craft but the CAA said it was believed that Saunders was the pilot. The four victims were vacationing.