Bill to designate B-47 Ridge advances in Senate

A bill to name a ridge on the east side of the Paradise Valley for an Air Force bomber that crashed there in 1962 has advanced in the U.S. Senate.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee unanimously backed S. 490, which would name the southwestern arm of Emigrant Peak B-47 Ridge. With the vote Thursday, the bill advances to the Senate Floor.

Naming the ridge is meant to honor the four pilots who died in the crash — Capt. Bill Faulconer, Lt. Fred Hixenbaugh, Lt. David Sutton and Lt. Lloyd Sawyers. 

The bill is backed by Montana’s entire congressional delegation. Republican Sen. Steve Daines, a member of the energy and natural resources committee, voted in favor of the bill Thursday and said in a statement that it’s about remembering and honoring the four pilots.

“After over half a century, it is time we get them the memorial and recognition they so rightfully deserve for their service and sacrifice to our country,” Daines said. “I look forward to getting this across the finish line for the families.”

S. 490 was one of several bills the committee moved Thursday, its final business meeting for the year.

Among those was another Daines bill — one that tweaks the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program in a way Daines believes will help small counties.

The B-47 Ridge bill was first introduced by the delegation in 2018. The crash it honors happened July 23, 1962. The four pilots were on a training mission from Dyess Air Force Base in Texas that took them through Montana.

In the middle of the night, the plane slammed into the southwestern ridge of Emigrant Peak south of Livingston. The crash killed the four men and started a small wildfire. Plane debris is still strewn across the mountain.

In 2016, Emigrant resident Bryan Wells worked with the families of the four men who died to create a memorial at the Chico Cemetery. He also organized a ceremony for the families. Daines spoke at the ceremony.

In a statement, Wells thanked Daines on behalf of the families and himself.

“We can never have enough reminders of the cost of freedom,” Wells said.