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Alex Cabrero, KSL TV

Researching local WWII airplane crash sites becomes Utah man’s passion

By Alex Cabrero, KSL TV | Posted - Sep 17th, 2019 @ 8:02pm


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ENTERPRISE, Washington County — One Utah man is honoring World War II pilots who crashed in southern Utah by placing American flags and information on the pilots’ lives at the remote crash sites.

What Steve Hunt found while exploring the mountains near Enterprise in Washington County is an ending that could have easily been forgotten.

During World War II, an American plane ferrying equipment for the war effort crashed in the mountains near an area known as Flat Top.

“I’m surprised there isn’t more of this plastic and glass,” Hunt said while poking around the scattered debris.

Hunt picked up various pieces of metal at the site, turning them in his hand to figure out what they were.

“There’s metal everywhere, clear out to there,” Hunt said while tracing a line with his finger down the mountainside. “It makes sense to me that he came in like that and just exploded.”

Debris from a gun turret from a World War II aircraft that crashed in southern Utah. (Photo: Alex Cabrero, KSL TV)

He said the wreckage is from an airplane that crashed during a storm in 1943.

“This was 76 years ago, so you’ve got to be old enough to even remember,” Hunt said.

Both pilots died in the crash, and Hunt made it his mission to mark the site with an American flag.

He also researched the pilots – Charles Ives and Charles Butterwick – and the airplane they were in.

After printing the information on a piece of paper, he laminated it and stuck it inside a small plastic pipe attached to the American flag.

“This is a death certificate,” Hunt said. “I’ve gone ahead and found their grave markers. This information is just so when people come here, they can see who, what, when, why. Part of that is, I just, I honor these guys. They were in the military and they went down in the cause of the war.”

Old-timers in the area have passed the story of the plane crash down through generations. However, those stories started to fade as time moved on.

“I appreciate what he’s doing,” said Lee Bracken, former Enterprise mayor and lifelong resident. “It makes it come alive and it makes those men come back visible that were otherwise just obscured and have disappeared in history.”

The Flat Top site isn’t the only crash site.

In all, there were three airplane crashes within a year and 30 miles from each other in southern Utah.

Another site, just east of Gum Hill, is harder to access but has more wreckage.

“I spent three days finding it in these cedar trees,” Hunt said.

At the site, Hunt said you could clearly make out the landing gear, a gun turret and hydraulics.

Bolts from a World War II aircraft sit wedged between rocks in Washington County. (Photo: Alex Cabrero, KSL TV)

There were also bolts and pieces of metal everywhere from the bomber, which Hunt said also crashed during a storm.

“This looks like part of the cage,” he said while looking at a thick piece of metal. “In my heart, I think he probably missed going over this hill by 150-200 feet.”

Like the other two crash sites, Hunt placed an American flag here, along with information on the pilot who died.

“Nolan Pringle. He was just pushing 28 years old,” Hunt said.

To reach the sites required some knowledge of where they were located.

Hunt said he hopes people will take the time to visit these sites and to see and feel the history.

“I’m an easy crier,” Hunt said. “I could cry really easy just because it feels good to let these guys know that somebody knows who, where and what they were doing, that they’re not forgotten. It has just become, not an obsession, but a passion would be more the right words.”

At some point, Hunt would also like to be involved in getting a more permanent history marker at each of the sites, instead of just plastic pipes to keep laminated pieces of paper in.

He believed people should know about these pilots who died far from home.

“I want them to know these men gave their lives for this country,” he said. “These guys didn’t fight in the war, but they delivered the equipment so the other men could fight in it.”

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