Autumn in Jackson Hole

Hiking Sheep Mountain, Part 2: Tragedy on the Peak

After a beautiful morning hiking Sheep Mountain (aka Sleeping Indian), our band of women started the descent chattering excitedly, full of adrenaline and happy to no longer be going uphill. In a change of atmosphere, we stopped by the scene of a mid-1990s plane crash. And while most of our Flat Creek blog posts have happy endings, this one does not.

In August 1996, after spending a vacation in Jackson, Wyoming with President Clinton, a C-130 carrying a Secret Service agent and an Air Force crew of eight took off from Jackson Hole airport. About three minutes later, the aircraft slammed into the side of Sleeping Indian, exploding into a fireball that could be seen approximately 20 miles away. Rescuers set out hours later, but the crash and resulting explosion were so severe that they found little more than remnants. Ultimately, the Air Force determined that the crew was at fault for the crash, but the loss of life was still a tragic accident.

In 2015, nearing the 20th anniversary of the accident, Bridger-Teton National Forest staff, the Wyoming Wilderness Association, and volunteers decided it was time to start gathering up the remaining debris from the wreckage. Immediately following the incident, the government cleaned up all the remaining large pieces of the plane and cargo that survived the blaze. In one day, the volunteers removed 120 pounds of debris from the crash site. However, it wasn’t all removed. 

Our group approached the scene like you’d approach a cemetery, battlefield, or other sacred place. Voices hushed and attitudes more subdued. On the side of the mountain, overlooking the valley, a small monument was placed to honor the lost lives of those on the plane. On the monument, hikers have placed small remnants of the crash, creating small memorials of their own. 

As you pass the monument and continue further down the trail, small piles of twisted metal, plastic, wires, and other odds and ends that make up an aircraft are stacked here and there; small tributes to those who perished on the side of the mountain. Looking back at the site, the monument and piles are almost invisible. It’s quiet and serene. And I can’t think of a more beautiful final resting place. 

As I mentioned in a previous post on hiking Sheep Mountain, the trails can be somewhat hard to follow. To find the memorial, we descended Sheep Mountain and veered to our right, wandering for about a quarter mile before picking up the trail that took us right there. Let us know in the comments if you’ve also been to the plane crash. We’d love to hear about your experiences!

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