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Search for Living Relatives

The Search for Living Relatives

Gary Grigg (left) and Bryan Kreimendahl (right)in front of SR71 in Palmdale, California 2001

The moment I had the list of the men who perished on board the C-54, we began looking for the families. I faxed a copy of the list to Gary Grigg at Lockheed Martin. He immediately noticed the name Rodney Kreimendahl on the list, since Bryan Kreimendahl was at that time an employee of Lockheed Martin. It seemed unlikely that an aviation engineer killed forty-five years ago could be related to an aviation engineer currently employed with Lockheed, but, given the uniqueness of the name Kreimendahl, we thought it might be possible. After checking out the connection, Gary called again. He was a little choked up. “Rodney Kreimendahl is Bryan Kreimendahl’s father,” he said. Bryan was nine years old when his father was killed. When his family was notified of the accident, they were given no details about the circumstances surrounding his death, only that “it had happened on a business trip.”

Finding the Kreimendahls so easily was an unexpected surprise, but there were still thirteen families who did not know the details of their loved one’s death. I thought the best way to find them would be to publicize the story. I contacted the Las Vegas Review Journal and met with reporter Keith Rogers.

On January 22, 2001, Rogers of the Las Vegas Review Journal ran a brief story of what we’d learned about the crash and the monument being planned. I immediately began receiving letters, phone calls, thank you cards and donations. Several readers stopped by my office to ask questions and find out more information. It soon became clear that our efforts were going to keep growing. We decided to create a National Monument Committee to help our Scout Troop and me carry out our dream of honoring those who died in service of our country. Our committee includes many wonderful people who have volunteered to help make the monument a reality. Among them are immediate family members of the Sheriff’s Mounted Posse volunteers who climbed the mountain to recover the victim’s bodies over 45 years ago.

Marian Kennedy also read the article and offered to search for the living relatives of the crash victims. Her efforts to find the thirteen remaining families have been very successful. As each family is located, we discover the depth of the void they have felt for the past forty-five years. They share with us the details of what they were and were not told about the circumstances of the crash. They explain how the ambiguous management of classified information left them searching for answers where none could be found. Some of the widows have never remarried and whole families are still apprehensive about discussing the events surrounding the accident.

Late in the evening of November 17, 1955, immediate relatives began receiving notification of the plane crash atop Mt. Charleston. Even though authorities presumed that all persons died, as rescue parties drew near the site, family members kept hoping that somehow there would be survivors. For several helpless days, they waited for the final word. In Brockton, Massachusetts, the hometown of Edwin Urolatis, citizens woke up Saturday, November 19th to the following story in their paper.

Retain Hope Urolatis May Be Survivor

“It would be a miracle!” Thus spoke a grieving brother late Friday night in discussing the possibility Edwin J. Urolatis, 28, might have been spared in Thursday’s tragic Las Vegas plane crash.

“If only we would hear something.” Albin A.Urolatis, declared with a touch of despair. “This uncertainty is a terrible thing.”

Urolatis, who had been trying for hours to get some official word concerning the crash, said he learned Friday afternoon that the ruins had been located.

“I was informed about 4 p.m. that an air search party had spotted the ruins,” he revealed. “The plane evidently struck the side of a mountain.”

A snow jeep was immediately dropped from the search plane, Urolatis disclosed, but the search party eventually had to abandon it because of the rough going.

Urolatis said too, that the last he had heard, the search party was continuing “on foot.” They were expected to be hours reaching the site, however, he declared.

Urolatis revealed, also that the ill-fated plane in which his brother was a passenger apparently “burned immediately.” “It presumably exploded,” he said.

“Our one ray of hope,” he added, “is that some of the passengers might have been thrown clear at the time of the impact. We’re clinging to that hope.”

All hope vanished on Monday, November 21, 1955, when the Air Force announced that search and rescue teams had recovered all 14 bodies from the wreckage. The body of Edwin J. Urolatis was placed on a train and sent home. Edwin’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Anthony J. Urolatis and brother Albin waited at Boston’s South Station for the Boston-New York Owl Express, but the train never came. Eventually, they learned that the train had derailed in Norwalk, Connecticut, and that their son’s body would again have to be recovered from wreckage. There was nothing they could do but return to Brockton and wait.

Lawrence R. Hruda, the son of Richard J. Hruda, wrote the following in a letter to Keith Rogers of the Las Vegas Review Journal.

“It has been over 45 years since I lost my father. I was told that he was a great man and a good father. I was told he worked for Lockheed on top secret plans and that is why he died. But what I don’t know is the truth about what he did. I had to suffer all these years growing up without a father and to this day, the CIA will not release any information on him. I have tried and they promised to send some things, but I have never received anything.”

 

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