The following is offered as a service to Janet Smith, daughter of Capt. Appleby. Janet has spent quite a lot of time and energy researching the crash and offers a different explanation from the CAB report. Janet can be reached at:

An Alternate explanation for the cause of the crash

 Copyright © 2001, Janet K. (Appleby) Smith. All rights reserved. Used here by permission.



This summary is about a controversial espionage story that is as intriguing as it is inconclusive. It’s all true, but there are credibility problems that have hindered it from getting into the public domain. Beyond this summary is a journal of a decade’s worth of personal investigation.

The whole investigation began because in 1976, when I was an instructor in a small Bible College in San Jose, I had a dream that my father died in the Korean War. It was surprising and ridiculous: surprising because I didn’t know anything about the Korean War, including when it took place; ridiculous, because we all knew that he was an airline pilot, the captain of a UAL flight that crashed into Crystal Mountain in Colorado in 1951, killing everyone aboard. One day while searching the old cedar chest for some piece of paper, I ran across the newspaper clippings which my mother had deposited there many years previous. One headline was about a possible end to the Korean War. The word Korean War was circled in red. That got my attention and got me reading all the clippings. I shared the dream with my mother, but I added, “He and a bunch of others were crossing a river and he just dropped and drowned. I can’t imagine why he was in the water.” My mom answered, “Well, you know where they found him don’t you?” I said, “No, where?” “In a little mountain stream.” The last scene of the dream has never come to pass. In it, another of dad’s friends called us over to his house to show us some documents that proved that dad died in the Korean War. That particular friend has never believed that the plane was sabotaged.

After years of interviewing pilots, reporters, and spies, I may have 90% of the surprising and shocking story of the crash of Flight 610, but as of now, I haven’t a shred of proof.


At 2 a.m. on June 30, 1951, United Airlines flight 610 flying from San Francisco to Denver and Washington, DC disappeared over the Rocky Mountains. It was found later that day, after the fog cleared, on Crystal Mountain near Fort Collins, with its contents strewn over a large area amongst the pines. All fifty persons aboard—crew, two military personnel, civilian employees of the military, other governmental administrators, regular civilians, one whole family, others on their way to a funeral, children, one infant --perished. It was the first plane out after a bitter strike. The Denver Post reported that a courier aboard the plane may have been carrying documents pertaining to the end of the Korean War. This allegation was controversial because the courier’s briefcase was found after a long search, but it was said to be empty. Strategic Air Command in Omaha denied at first that there were classified documents on the plane, but too many noticed that the bank president of Fort Collins was called up in the middle of the night to put something in the vault. Later, SAC admitted that classified documents were aboard, but that they were ‘routine personnel documents.’ Official reports would find that the plane was supposed to turn south over Cheyenne and head for Denver, but allegedly the wrong toggle switch was thrown in the dark cockpit, which opened the receiver to the wrong signal. Both signals would direct the plane south, but for some reason, the plane remained on a heading back toward the mountains, as if attempting to intersect the vector, and kept descending. This scenario was an accident waiting to happen. Many pilots knew of the danger, and some had almost made the same error. It was the only logical explanation for the plane to be so off course. Nevertheless, many pilots rejected that explanation.

One in particular Captain Dick Appleby’s next door neighbor, D. E. Tobie, was captain of the UAL flight just behind 610. He noticed that 610 was having trouble communicating with Denver and offered to relay messages. When he landed in Chicago, he received a call from his wife Dottie, who told him that the flight was missing. He flew to Colorado and was amongst the first group of people to arrive at the site the following day. He noticed that two of the crew seemed to lack seat-belt stress marks. It’s as if they just rolled out of the cockpit and went to sleep. He told me years later that there was speculation at the time of a possible hostile intrusion into the cockpit, although later almost every pilot and friend of the crew dismissed that theory as pretty improbable, especially after the official reports came out. I asked him if there was lots of turbulence that night. He said there was plenty of turbulence due to thunder cells in the area. His own theory was that the plane headed toward the mountains to fly around a cell, although why veteran pilots would hold that setting and continue to descend was a mystery to everyone.

Once I began my investigation, my mother, Deane Appleby, told my brother Jim and I that a friend of the family, a Dr. Walter Boyd from Fort Collins, Colorado, was also in the hand-picked party to hike up to the crash site. He kept her informed by phone of what was happening at the crash site. He told her in several calls that there was a ‘signal from Mexico that wasn’t supposed to be there,’ and that an Air Force courier named Col. Parks had a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist. He also had an escort of four men from Travis AFB. He was carrying army documents pertaining to the end of the Korean War. His body was one of the last to be found, and the briefcase was found after he was. His briefcase was found empty. When she said that Jim and I both grew excited. “Did they find his hand?” we sputtered. “His what?” Was the hand attached to the body or did the handcuff break?” “I don’t know if they found his hand!!!” and she began to sob. After that, she couldn’t deal with any more of my snooping. Jim urged me on, but he was an alcoholic at the time, and couldn’t be much help. Later, when I finally caught up with the Denver Post article, it confirmed the accuracy of much of what she told us. She actually had more information from Dr. Boyd than the reporters had. That article was not in the cedar chest, so it was 1980 before I could get to Denver to read it and to interview the reporter. I asked him if the Post could have been cooperating with the military in covering anything up. He assured me that that was not the case.

Mom never went to the crash site. She was a believer that tough jobs are best left to men, and she had those two male friends at the site who identified her husband’s body. When Walter Winchell reported the possibility that the plane was short-cutting the turn, the threatening phone calls began. How does it feel to be the wife of a murderer?

In 1999 my husband Ted and I were on our way home from Pasadena, California where I had just received a graduate diploma from Fuller Theological Seminary. My dad’s sister Mary and her husband Hoad were visiting my cousin and his family in Fresno, so we stopped to visit. We were all sitting around the pool when Hoad asked me how the crash investigation was going. I told him what I knew. He said, “You really should keep on this story. You know, your dad’s last words were, ‘What are you doing in here. You don’t belong in here.’ I shrieked ‘What???!!!’ He also told me that when my mother was in Pennsylvania at my grandparents’ house, Patterson called her and told her that she shouldn’t feel bad about what anyone thinks about the crew because the crash was not my father’s fault. He couldn’t say any more than that due to issues of national security. I said, “You knew this all these years and you didn’t tell me??” In unison, they replied, “We thought you knew! Didn’t your mother ever tell you that?” No, she never did. I can’t imagine why.

The pilots, of course, were blamed for the accident. Official reports said that they pressed the wrong button the in darkness of the cockpit when looking for a vector to carry them from Cheyenne to Denver, causing them to think that they were further east than they actually were. Thus, they maintained an improper heading toward the mountains until they crashed into a ridge.


My belief is that Flight 610 got caught in the crosshairs of the desperate espionage war going on over atomic secrets and Russian moles. In 1945, a Russian defector based in Ottawa, Canada fingered a large number of atomic spies and other Soviet agents and sympathizers in the ABC countries (America, Canada, and Britain). Igor Gouzenko, a cipher clerk who worked in the Russian Embassy, warned of highly-placed moles in the British government whom he only knew by code name. His revelations would result in the prosecution of 18 Soviet spies, including Alan Nun Mays, an important atomic physicist. Eight of those prosecuted would be convicted (Intrepid’s Last Case and The Philby Conspiracy, ch. 10). The impact of that situation was incalculable for America because during the Korean War “all U.S. secret intelligence from the Far East went through the British embassy in Washington” (Shadow Warriors, 101).

Decrypted Soviet espionage signals spoke of an agent with the code name of ‘Stanley’ who not only had access to most of our encryption efforts and products, but ran some kind of operation in Mexico as well. Stanley later was identified as Kim Philby (The Spy Book and The Venona Secrets), a British liaison between British, Canadian and American intelligence who was stationed in Washington DC. Philby represented the British group SIS (not the same organization as the U.S. Army’s Signal Intelligence Service). The British SIS was the English version of our CIA. Since he interfaced with the SIS, MI5, the FBI, and the CIA, Philby had access to just about everything going on in Western intelligence.

Another Soviet spy working in the British Embassy in DC from ’44 to ’49 was Donald MacClean. MacClean was also the British secretary for the Combined Policy Committee on Atomic Development. He passed on much valuable information to the Soviets during the Korean War about U.S.-British atomic policy and capability. Although he knew nothing of physics, he was later called an ‘atomic spy’ because of the access he had to atomic policy and supplies. In 1949, MacClean left Washington DC and went to Cairo as First Secretary of the British Embassy. His alcoholism was getting the better of him, and the appointment was a complete disaster. After a few years, he returned to London to work for the British Foreign Office, American Department, which dealt with all of Latin America. In October, ’50, he was incredibly promoted to the head of the American Department. He was on all top-secret distribution lists and had access to much sensitive cable traffic pertaining to the war. He was also in a position to read policy messages and captured Soviet cable traffic information that we shared with Britain and France.

Guy Burgess was a hedonistic homosexual and alcoholic. In spite of the fact that his whole career was one disgrace after another, he managed to hold a job in the British Foreign Office. In the fall of 1950, he was ‘given one more chance’ and posted to the British Embassy in Washington as second secretary. In this position, he was able to come into contact with valuable classified information. Although he was seen to be a possible security risk, whenever he asked for material concerning the Korean War, it was given to him (Shadow Warriors, 102).

In 1951, Soviet messages mentioning a ‘Homer’ were deciphered, and the net closed even tighter around MacClean. Burgess was instructed by Philby and their Soviet handlers to behave so obnoxiously as to get himself recalled to London to warn MacClean that it was time to disappear. Both men were scheduled to be questioned by the British on Monday, May 28, but they vanished on May 25, 1951, a month before the crash.

Since Burgess had been staying with Philby in Washington, Philby then came under suspicion himself. He was stunned and furious that Burgess left with MacClean, but the wily old spy hung on and managed to maintain the loyalty of his SIS colleagues. The CIA chief in Washington had every agent that knew Philby write a memo about him. Some were supportive, but on June 13, ’51, one agent noted that Philby was here when this betrayal took place and Philby was there when that betrayal took place. The evidence was circumstantial, but it was enough for the CIA to press London to recall Philby. In late June, London interrogated Philby, but despite rumors and speculation, he held his ground. He was grilled in November in what was called ‘the Mock Trial.’ His SIS supporters seemed to have no intention of convicting him at that time. The impression was given that Philby had been sacked, but later investigators discovered that he remained a ‘field agent’ for SIS until 1954 (The Philby Conspiracy, 248).

Anthony Blunt completed the Ring of Four, which would also be called the Cambridge Spy Ring, because they were all attending Cambridge in the 1930’s and were recruited at that time to spy for the Soviets. Blunt worked in MI5, the British version of our FBI. Between those four, and many other scientists, code clerks, and couriers, just about all of our atomic secrets, war policies, encryption codes, and decryption progress went to Russia, then to China, then to Korea, to the effect that, with little cost in research and development, Russia tested their first atomic bomb in 1949. Agent networks, covert actions, and Korean War strategies were betrayed, adding up to a huge loss of life in the west and the east. Vital H-bomb information crossed over to the Soviets in late 1951, while Russian spies traveled the globe using stolen Canadian passports, a process which had begun much earlier. Herbert Romerstein (The Venona Secrets) claims that Russia developed the atomic bomb a good five or six years earlier than they would have on their own. “Documents recently released in the former USSR, moreover, demonstrate that, absent an atomic bomb, Stalin would not have unleashed Pyongyang’s army to conquer the entire Korean peninsula” p. xv. My research partner told me that we knew about the ring in 1948, and that we ran a counterintelligence operation against them in 1955. However, no one knew for certain about Philby until 1961.

One of ABC’s most highly guarded secrets was the fact that we were able to capture and decipher Soviet communications. Venona was the code name for the program in which encrypted Soviet communications were monitored and deciphered during WW II and afterward. Some of these signals were called “burst transmissions” because agents from Canada to Mexico communicated in Morse Code too briefly to be traced (Intrepid’s Last Case). Others were cables sent in the usual manner because the code was so sophisticated that the Russians felt secure. A major front in the war was fought as decryption experts struggled to break enemy codes and read the messages. Of course, we hadn’t been reading them for too many years when someone in the signal corps sold out and passed our decryptions on to the enemy.

So, the situation in late June, 1951—The Russians had just acquired and tested the atomic bomb, thanks to so many helpful Canadians, Americans and British. Many Russian recruits in those days were fanatical ideologues who wouldn’t even accept pay for what they were doing (The Venona Secrets). U.S. soldiers were dying in Korea because North Korea seemed to anticipate all our strategies. MacClean and Burgess had recently disappeared from London. The Russians did not publicly admit their defection at that time. Philby was in London under a cloud, but still working for SIS on the sidelines and still in touch with his Soviet handlers and with Anthony Blunt in MI 5. MacArthur had already alerted Washington that just about every operation in the Korean War up to that time had been betrayed to the Chinese, who then informed the North Koreans.

Ethyl and Julius Rosenburg were in prison for selling atomic secrets to the Russians. In April, ’51 Julius was unburdening his mind to a fellow inmate, who was reporting his words to the FBI. Two other members of the Rosenburg spy ring had already disappeared. They would turn up much later in Czechoslovakia and Russia. That month the Rosenburgs were sentenced to die. Other KGB spies were being compromised. Several were spirited out of the U.S. through the Russian Embassy in Mexico City.


The following story is a compendium of information I have spliced together from official crash reports, my relatives, newspaper articles, interviews with pilots, journalists, and military personnel, and a couple of UFO researcher and their confidential sources. I have no official documents to show for any of my investigating, but I have recorded every step of my efforts in a journal since 1976, and I have been as factual and accurate as possible without official confirmation in hand.

On Friday, June 29, 1951, a Lt. Col. Merle Parks, chief of technical reconnaissance at Strategic Air Command, Offut Air Force Base in Omaha, Nebraska, arrived at Travis Air Force Base with a briefcase full of Army documents that pertained to what we had hoped would be the end of the Korean War. These war documents were enroute from Korea and Tokyo to Washington DC. He routinely checked the briefcase into the security facility run by the document security area (Nosoff interview and other military sources). Also at Travis at that time were five people from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. These were civilians employed by the Air Force who were specialists in technical reconnaissance and weaponry. One of them was a comptroller. The western newspapers would call them “civilian inspectors” and fail to nail down where they came from and what they were doing. However, they were far more than “inspectors.” What they were working on would actually be secret and sensitive. Three of them had been at Hill Air Force Base in Utah to implement the installation and development of air reconnaissance technology such as night vision and aerial photography (Dayton Journal Herald and Dayton Daily News). Their deaths must have been a stunning loss to the war projects being developed through Wright-Patterson Field.

The other passengers associated with military projects were a civilian atomic chemist on ‘secret assignment,’ and Lt. D. P. Zylla from Treasure Island.

For believers in the Roswell, New Mexico crash of a UFO, the Dayton five are immensely interesting. According to the legend, two saucers and some alien bodies were stored at Wright-Patterson for a time. General Twining, the head of Materiel Air Command at W-P is alleged by Roswell supporters to have been in on the Roswell crash secret from the beginning. He may even have been one of the legendary MJ-12 working group on UFO analysis. Supposedly, after ’47, W-P became a center of UFO secret government research (The Day After Roswell). So, those who believe in the reality of the Roswell incident would wonder if the Dayton briefcases were filled with harvested technology. There was no mention of their briefcases having been checked into the security area, however.

Flight 610 was the first flight out after an eleven-day airline strike. Dad and Capt. Tobie were having dinner at our home when the call came about the end of the strike, so both volunteered to take a flight, with Tobie’s Flight 600 about a half hour behind 610. The flight was normal to Salt Lake City. Another “deadheading” pilot rode in the cockpit for half an hour. He later claimed that the crew were all awake, in apparent good health, and in good spirits (Rocky Mtn. News). Dad had a reputation of being a careful and capable pilot.

Tobie and Dad ran across each other in the preflight prep room before taking off. Dad was grousing about the rough weather to the east. Since 600 was a through-flight to Chicago, it overflew 610 and took the lead as 610 landed in Salt Lake. An additional delay occurred while baggage was being rearranged in the cargo hold at Salt Lake.

Although the newspapers designated ‘Capt. Appleby’ as having made all of the radio broadcasts, my mother claimed that Dick Tobie told her that another pilot did the final radio work on Flight 610. Since all pilots in the same vicinity were tuned to the same frequency, Flight 600 was able to overhear the communication between 610 and the tower. He was able to recognize when Dad was on the radio versus another pilot. All the strangeness of the flight took place after the stop in Salt Lake. For one thing, 610 began to have trouble communicating with the tower. Flight 600 had routinely changed to VHF due to the mountains and the storms in the vicinity. The radio person on Flight 610 tried four times on LF, the usual night frequency, and didn’t turn to VHF until Flight 600 told them that they were getting through just fine on VHF and they would be happy to relay communication. 610 did not answer, but switched to VHF and immediately got through. Just before the last call to the tower, 610 thanked 600, but said that they were getting through just fine.

Most flights were making PIREPS, reports of thunder cells, but 610 made none, in spite of the fact that 600 reported a cell between Cheyenne and Denver. Then the incorrect toggle switches were set, bringing in the wrong A/N signal. This switch was made earlier than it needed to be, contributing to the error. The last communication was a normal report to Denver that they had reached 8,500’. Four minutes later they were not responding to calls from the Denver tower. When they should have been heading straight south to Denver from Cheyenne, they had turned back toward the mountains on a 210 heading and maintained that heading for 10 to 12 minutes, descending all the while, until they hit a ridge on Crystal Mountain.

Several planes searched for the wreck the next morning, but a thick cloud layer hid the mountain all morning. By mid-afternoon, a large group of searchers trekked up the the crash site. It was too late to do anything that day, so guards were posted, and the group left. Among the first people on the crash site was the National Guard. They cordoned off the area and screened who could come and go. Each night during the document search, 24-hour guards were posted to secure the area.

When Travis Air Force Base heard that 610 was missing, it was early Saturday morning, so the person who arranged the escort for Parks was probably off base. The duty officer checked the security register and noticed that Parks had deposited his briefcase, so he sent a TWX to Lowry Air Force Base telling the OSI chief, Maj. William Nosoff, to send an agent to secure the briefcase and see if (a loaded word in this uncertain story) there were any sensitive documents that needed to be secured. Nosoff stated to me that he sent one agent, Bill Hendrix, unarmed and unacquainted with the importance of the briefcase. Nosoff was supposedly never apprised of the fact that later that day, several armed OSI agents from Strategic Air Command in Omaha arrived to help look for the briefcase (Denver Post). They would have been sent by General Curtis E. LeMay, a bulldog of a man who ever met a secret that he didn’t like. Hendrix must have seen them, but he allegedly never told Nosoff and Nosoff never asked (Nosoff interview). Nosoff said he didn’t even read the Denver Post account, or he’d have read about those agents there. Nosoff’s blasé account of the document retrieval threw my first helper totally off the project. Without documents on the plane, there is no motive for sabotage. Nosoff convinced my first researcher and I that he did not believe that there had been top secrets documents in the empty case. There were toys in it, however, so had there been documents, they should have been with the toys. In other words if the documents had scattered, so would the toys. I asked other military people later if a briefcase with only toys in it would have been checked into a secure facility and been handcuffed to a wrist. The resounding answer was no. Nosoff left me with one clue… I told him that only the FBI would really know for sure what happened on that crash. He agreed and repeated very emphatically and slowly, “The – Federal – Bureau – of – Investigation!”

Flight 600 landed in Chicago. Tobie received a call from his wife saying that 610 was missing, so he immediately made arrangements to fly back to Fort Collins. He was part of the search group that went up on Sunday morning, July 1. He noticed a lack of seatbelt stress on the co-pilot and navigator. They had rolled out of the plane at first impact, and “weren’t busted up at all.” The captain was almost cut in two from the seatbelt, and had impacted the console hard enough to make a dent. Tobie felt he was being watched very closely, and was not asked to aid in the identification process. I asked him if there was a stream in the vicinity. He said no. So my mother’s information about him being found in a ‘little mountain stream’ was wrong… or the body had been moved.

Somewhere in this time-frame, our signal hunters in Washington, D.C. picked up a signal from Mexico that was “not supposed to be there.” This information was also passed on to my mother. At first she told my brother and I that it was her old friend Dr. Boyd who told her, but later she hedged on that and said she couldn’t remember who it was. Hardly anyone knew about the certainty of the presence of documents, the signal from Mexico, the handcuffed briefcase, and the escort from Travis. The press knew none of it. In my interview with William Nosoff, he claimed to know none of it. Many years later, his statements to me turned out to utterly contradict what his report said. It borders on the miraculous that this information was relayed to our family.

Wayne Phillips, reporter for the Denver Post, was able to pick up a rumor that the briefcase held highly important army documents that might pertain to the end of the Korean War. Any other newspaper that repeated that possibility was quoting Phillips. OSI men and the FBI and CAB officials admitted to Phillips that they were taking a long look at this crash as to the possibility of sabotage.

On Monday evening, July 2, when all bodies had been found, President W. A. Patterson from UAL hosted a thank you dinner for all volunteers. Late Monday night, the Omaha OSI left. On July 5, after the holiday, all bodies were released.

At that point, Walter Winchell had already broadcast the suggestion that 610 crashed because it was shortcutting. My mother, who was staying with my Dad’s parents in Pennsylvania, began to receive some nasty crank calls. My brother was sitting on the stair steps when she hung up from one of these calls and began to sob. That’s when he figured out that he’d never see our dad again. Mom immediately wrote or called Patterson about the charge. All he could do at that time was comfort her and say that he was sure it wasn’t true. He wrote her a letter telling her that my father was a fine pilot and that they should just wait to see how the investigations turned out. Later, he allegedly called her and assured her that the crash was not her husband’s fault, but that for national security reasons, he could not say any more.

The Civil Aeronautics Board, The Air Line Pilots Association, and United Air Lines all investigated the crash, concluding that the plane crashed due to pilot error. There was no mention of lost documents or handcuffed briefcases. The investigators looked for stray radio signals that could come from known sources, like known radio stations or other airports. Patterson never repeated the statement he made to my mother to any civilian officially investigating the crash. All the pilot rumors about the plane being sabotaged were mere speculation on their part, because the few facts that would strongly point to the possibility were not known to any but a very few intelligence people who were sworn to secrecy. Even if the plane was proven tomorrow to be sabotaged, the civilian investigators cannot be faulted for concluding pilot error. Under the circumstances, they had no other alternative. Many pilots refused to believe that the cause was pilot error, but everyone had a different speculation about how it might have happened. None of the theories were very convincing.


My first real source was a UFO researcher and author. He had a military intelligence source who discovered that, in spite of repeated assurances to my FOIA requests that there were no files pertaining to the crash, there were two files. I won’t repeat here all that was passed on to me because it came orally, and it’s very easy to garble technical information unless it is written down. I just knew there was some kind of summary file out there which was allegedly Nosoff’s report. In it he stated that there were two packets in the briefcase, one labeled atomic spy information and the other atomic secret information. I was given a file number, 5114D-34-161. The first two numbers stood for the date, the next three for Lowry district, the 34 for counterespionage. I pressed the researcher for clarification, but got no response. He told me his source went off on TDY to ****, and was unavailable. When I sent new FOIA requests with the file number, and my somewhat muddled memory of what I was told about the summary file, I was told again and again that the file had been destroyed.

My next partner, Rick Doty, a former intelligence man, had several sources, two of whom found the summary file that was supposed to have been destroyed, and references to several investigations by different organizations over a period of fourteen years. None of these classified investigations dealt with the possibility of sabotage, but only of the conspiracy to steal the documents and of the possibility of a courier spy ring. The information that was passed onto to us came from OSI/FBI summary files that mention one CIA file, and one FBI file. The information presented in summary files is unclassified, but they describe the actual investigation files, all of which are classified, and to which we had no access. Many of the actual files may have been destroyed or refiled. When people apply for information through the Freedom of Information Act, the military punches about five possible key words into the DCII index. It takes about five seconds. They tell you that all their files are in that central index, when, in fact, the files they use for counter-intelligence investigations are not in the DCII, but in the top secret, secret, or confidential files. If a file is classified, the law says that you can appeal to have it declassified or you can try to get a limited clearance just for that subject. But if the files you seek are in any way related to an important counter-intelligence operation, they will deny that they exist. In my desperate, pleading requests, I was given this fool’s routine by the OSI, the FBI, and the CIA. But I don’t take it personally. Even when my uncle, who was an Army lawyer and a Colonel, signed the letter to OSI in 1980, we got the same answer. He made discreet inquiries to Army intelligence and was told that I may have demonstrated ‘conspiracy,’ but not sabotage. He was told, “She’ll never find anything out.” He thought I was a total fool for pursuing the investigation and told me so in no uncertain terms.

The law also says that you can appeal to have certain files declassified. I was told by Rick’s sources that declassifying files is a bureaucratic nightmare that can take years. Files are automatically declassified in a series of steps over a long period of time, but eventually they are destroyed. Only the summary file remains.

When I first interested Rick in the investigation, we turned up a few intriguing facts, then came to a dead end until he made queries to his old intelligence colleagues. First Matt and Brad, then Lenny (not their real names), then an old spymaster called ‘the Colonel’ began digging into the old case. The Colonel had been their boss when these men were part of an elite counter-intelligence team working overseas. All of our correspondence was by email, and I was never told exactly which agency any but Rick and Lenny worked for (OSI and DIA). Without Rick’s strong recommendation, these men wouldn’t have given me the time of day. It was a thrill and a privilege to have had a quick glimpse into this secret world.

As it turns out, they had their own reasons for being interested in the case. Over time we made some startling discoveries, beginning with the James Eustus story. Some investigation summary files were listed under Eustus, some under the crash. The dates of the reports meshed perfectly. The more we discovered, the more the pieces fell into place.

As you read the following, be cautious about jumping to conclusions about who is guilty or innocent. The spying business is complex, and very little is what it seems. However, there are at least three confessed spies in the following story.


Contrary to what William Nosoff told me, the initial AFOSI crash report, which Nosoff assured me he wrote, claimed that there were two military couriers on the plane. Between them, they were carrying 40 secret and top secret/coded atomic items. Only seventeen were found. These seventeen were probably in Lt. Zylla’s briefcase, since witnesses declared that Park’s briefcase was empty. In 1970 the Larimer Co. coroner told me that the president of one of two Fort Collins banks was called in the wee hours of the morning to put documents in the vault. They were turned over to the OSI, which transported them to Lowry AFB, which turned them over to the Atomic Energy Commission in Albuquerque New Mexico. That suggests that Nosoff deliberately lied to my first partner and myself.

The OSI file, #5114D-34-161, which was stored in the FBI section (remember Nosoff’s clue?) was dated September 12, ’51. That would be Nosoff’s report that there were two military couriers on the plane carrying 40 documents, etc. In January of ’52, the Atomic Energy Commission investigated the loss of the documents on board the flight.

It was Lenny that turned up James Eustus. In 1949, Eustus was a private in the Army stationed in West Germany. At that time, he was recruited by the East German KGB. By 1950, he was stationed at Travis AFB, where he was a travel clerk with Army Transportation Command. His duties included assigning military couriers to commercial flights. On the night of Flight 610, he assigned Parks and Zylla, then alerted the KGB that something important was coming down the line. According to his own account, he assisted a spy ring of six American couriers whom he himself recruited. He would notify his KGB handlers of the assignments, and they would be intercepted by KGB agents along the route. For $300, they would open their briefcases and allow the contents to be photographed. Years later, Eustus claimed that he was very sad because two of those couriers were on the UAL Flight 610 that crashed.

In 1955, a CIA source tipped off the FBI about a sergeant who led a courier spy ring, but they weren’t sure just who it was. That may account for a 1955 investigation that is listed under the same file number as the above. Eustus was reassigned to Berlin in 1959. During a double agent operation, he was discovered as being a spy, so he fled to East Germany. While AWOL, he returned to West Germany and raped a 15-year-old German girl. He returned to East Germany, and was captured by a special operations team (covert operating unit) in 1960. One member of this team happens to be one of the retired agents who helped me. Eustus was arrested and returned to the West. He was tried by a General Court Martial for rape and being AWOL and improper contact with East Germans. He was sentenced to 20 years at hard labor at the U. S. Discinplinary Barracks, Fort Leavenworth, and reduced to the lowest enlisted grade. He also lost all his pay and allowance.

At that time the U. S. Armed Forces Courier Service requested an investigation through the US Army Criminal Investigations Division.

In 1960, he confided to a fellow inmate that in 1951, he had put two courier recruits on a commercial airliner, but the plane crashed before they could reveal the contents of their briefcases. The inmate alerted authorities, and Eustus was interviewed by military intelligence. He confessed to being a spy, but he told a lie in that interview, which eventually led to the death of double agent whom we will call James Kelly. It turns out that Kelly was on one of the teams led by Lenny.

In 1961, the FBI investigated the two couriers who were named as having died in the crash in ’61, concluding that they were both spies. There was a classified FBI investigation from ‘62-’66, but I don’t have any details on all of that.

Eustus was Court Martialed again and condemned to death. In 1963, two months before he was due to die, he saved his life by a ‘full confession.’ He claimed to have recruited six couriers into a KGB spy ring. They would alert him that they had important documents; Eustus would inform the KGB, and a meeting would be arranged along the route. They would open their briefcases, which would be photographed, then they would receive $300. He gave six names and lamented that two of them were his friends and had died in the ’51 plane crash. He passed two lie detector tests, and his sentence was commuted to life. A report was written, which was also later filed under the OSI file number given me by my first source. That summary file was stored in the FBI section.

Two of the spy ring members were arrested, convicted of espionage, and died in prison. The other two were recruited as double agents by Military Intelligence. They served so well, that they received the Intelligence Medal of Valor from President Reagan in 1987. One of them is retired and living in California today.

Eustus also traveled to Mexico several times, possibly to contact his KGB handlers. It was the Colonel that told us about KGB handler Nicholas Anton. Eustus would point out a likely recruit, and Anton would recruit them. Sometimes there was another nefarious character that was called a “cut out” because he came between the handler and the spy. The Colonel wrote:

Phillip Canbe was a US Air Force clerk, who spied for the KGB for many years. He actually was so good, the KGB used him to control other spies. When Canbe was detected by OSI, he was quickly moved from Germany to Moscow. Canbe unofficially defected to the Soviets. In 1980, we captured Canbe (Rick’s team) and two other spies…It was one of the most exciting operations in US Intelligence History. My hair still curls when I think of the brave and daring nature of this operation. Once Canbe was returned to our control, he was confined without trial. We threw away the rules on him. Canbe confessed to everything. He also fingered twelve other spies. Canbe was found to have been associated with Eustus. He provided Eustus with spy equipment in 1957. Canbe told us about the six spies that Eustus pointed out to Anton. Canbe confirmed everything that Eustus told us years before. Except one thing. Canbe told us about another person that Eustus recruited in Germany. Because Canbe cooperated with us, he was placed in prison for life instead of being put to death. Canbe died in prison in 1990. We went back to Eustus, who at this time, was still a prisoner, and asked Eustus. Eustus confirmed the information. This person was arrested by OSI. This person was a Colonel in the Air Force. This was when the pandora’s box was opened. This Colonel told us about Eustus and his courier spy ring. However, instead of six spies, Eustus and Anton recruited eight spies. Two were killed in 1951 in the crash or your father’s plane. However, two got off the plane in Salt Lake City. The Colonel didn’t know the names of these two spies. An investigation started (in 1982) but most information had been lost over the years. It wasn’t until 1992 that the two were identified. They both died of natural causes over the years but were spies that were never caught. The Government was so mad about this they canceled all entitlements for their families, including retirement benefits. The Colonel spy was tried, convicted and placed in a German prison because of a prior incident involving Germany. The Colonel was released from prison in 1995 and disappeared. We think he went to Moscow.”

Rick later told me that he lost his two best friends during the capture of Canbe.

In a previous communication about Eustus, Lenny wrote that in ’82, the two still living recruits were reinterviewed. “They denied the allegations.” I assume that the allegations they denied was the accusation of Eustus, Canbe, and the Colonel spy, that they were part of a KGB courier spy ring. These are the two that became double agents and won medals.

In 1965, Rodney Pullam, a former writer for the Army Times, interviewed Eustus in prison. Eustus provided Pullam with two pages worth of his life story. Pullam later wrote a paper, which was in the Pentagon Library. The paper covered several spying incidents, but Chapter Three was about Eustus, entitled, “A Traitor Within the Ranks.” Pullam is no longer living.

Eustus was scheduled for release in 1973, but two months prior, he tried to escape in a laundry truck. He was recaptured two days later by the Kansas Highway Patrol and returned to prison. He was sentenced to 20 years. He was released on parole in May, 1987. He was from Rapid City, South Dakota, but he moved to Baltimore, Maryland with his wife. He died of cancer in 1995. His wife Gloria never divorced him. She lived back east for a while, and his children lived in Canada. He had one brother Phillip.

There is one classified file, still remaining on Eustus being held by the FBI. Another classified file remains with the CIA. U.S. Army Historical Records shows one file on Eustus, but that file is exempt from release.


There was one more surprising shock to this tortured story. During our time of discovery, there was an easy camaraderie and a real joy in discovery. Lenny wrote, “Hey guys, this is fun.” Rick complimented me for making the connections between file dates and info of Eustus and the crash. We marvelled at the amazing coincidence that we all had a connection of some sort with this story. The Colonel (the good one) was friendly and free with information. He said it wasn’t classified, but it was sensitive, so be careful how I use it. He had a couple of problems with the sabotage theory. One was that the Soviets had two major assets on the plane, so why would they crash the plane and lose them for one shot at documents? That objection was a good one—a head scratcher for me. The material being apprehended would have to really be something, and the loss of two assets must have some obscure justification that we don’t know of yet.

His other objection was that the original report said that there were no clues found that would point to sabotage. Nothing seemed out of order. I answered that one by pointing out the sloppy flying and the lack of seatbelt stress on two crewmen in spite of the fact that they were descending toward the mountains and there was a lot of turbulence. There was the loss of documents, the fact that my dad did not make the last call, the surveillance I had been under for a decade by Russian spies. I reminded him that Nosoff told me he didn’t even go down to the crash site. I pointed out that he was obviously ordered by someone to lie to us, to throw us off the investigation. But by which side?

There was the signal from Mexico. For so many years I dismissed my mother’s statement about the signal from Mexico as being puzzling and unimportant, but it turns out it is a major key to knowing what happened on the plane. It was one of the reasons why the government crash investigation was so secret. Our ability to retrieve and decipher Russian signals and communications was a matter of top national security. These Venona messages have recently been made public by the NSA, the code-breaking agency of our government. There doesn’t seem to be one in the time frame of the crash, but some of them are still classified.

However, in The Venona Secrets I learned of another possibility for what the signal might have been. During WWII, the Germans developed a technology whereby a radio beam sent from France could guide bombers sent out from Germany to specific targets in Britain. With this guidance, Germany had the ability to bomb Britain to its knees. Fortunately, Britain found out about this ability, and found a way to subvert the technology. Most of the German bombs missed their targets. The signal from Mexico could have been just such a beam, originating from the Russian Embassy in Mexico City, to guide the plane to a specific location on Crystal Mountain where people were waiting to search for the documents. If my theory is correct, one of the two KGB recruits willingly invaded the cockpit and risked death to fly the plane to those waiting on the mountain.

Radio beams were not the only German technology routing through Mexico at that time. The Rosenburgs used $200 Leica cameras, which came to them from Germany through the Russian Embassy in Mexico City. Mexico City was the spying center for all of Latin America.

I kept pressing the Colonel to see if we could get the military records of Parks and Zylla. After all, they had to be the two couriers that died. They were the only two military people on the plane as far as the news clippings I had went. All the Dayton people were civilians, definitely not couriers. I also had seen two men that I believed were part of a KGB surveillance team, and I kept pushing to see if he remembered anyone from those days that fit the description of one of them. A couple of times he asked me, “Who is Parks? Who is Zylla?” At one point he rechecked the Eustus reports and pulled out the six names, sending me the two he thought must have been the ones who died on the plane. I didn’t recognize them. I went back to my news clippings and checked the passengers listed there. As far as I could tell, those two men weren’t on the plane. The two that were certainly on the plane, Parks and Zylla, were not named in the courier spy ring! One of them had to be a spy, because one of them had to fly the plane in, but the other might be completely innocent. We had also knocked out a major argument against sabotage, because the named assets weren’t on the plane and weren’t lost.

That little grenade cast a shadow over all the accusations made by the three confessed spies. I guess this was a fact that no one had ever thought to check. By the time Intelligence was looking for the two who disembarked at Salt Lake, passenger manifests must have been unavailable, or they might have discovered the conflict then. No one checked the newspaper accounts. We also had the prospect of three or four spies, the ones named, whom everyone assumed were dead, who were not dead at all. They were still out there with new identities and passports and lives. I would love to know the exact date of that search. I would love to think that Eustus tried to escape because he got word that questions were being asked that might pull the cover off all of his lies.

At the same time that we turned up this new conflict, Rick sent my research journal to the Colonel. He said that he’d read it. He was a pilot and knew how to assess the pilot error possibilities of that era. He asked me to give him a few days to digest it all.

That was the last I heard from any of them. I waited on pins and needles to hear something. I emailed notes, asked questions. Nothing. As time went on, I understood that this old, dead story that the government was willing to let slip out was suddenly a fresh new problem.

I’m going to make another wild speculation and suggest that the escort on Flight 610 and the heightened state of alert may actually doomed the plane. Because of the escort assigned to watch Parks, there would be no surreptitious exchanges on this passage, in spite of documents more prized than usual. The KGB had to fall back on plan B, which was to get their agents off at Salt lake and then crash the plane.


Everything I have just written indicates that important documents really did disappear from the crash site, but it does not prove that the plane was sabotaged. However, there are several reasons why I believe that it was:

The change in pilot voices (or at least the fact that the last broadcasts were not done by my father). If he made that last radio transmission, the plane could not have been sabotaged.

The delay in switching to VHF, the odd circumstance of the plane being where it shouldn’t have been, the sloppy radio work.

The fact that the documents disappeared before the search party arrived at the site.

The lack of seat belt stress on two flight officers. The lack of PIREPS.

The signal from Mexico.

There was also the intense surveillance that I was under from coast to coast for years. It would tend to indicate that someone or something was still being protected in the years from ’75 to ’85. Perhaps not every incident that I recorded in my journal involved Soviets, but there were several that clearly were. If some incidents were not Soviets, it would indicate that some U.S. agency was as interested in where my investigation would lead as the Soviets were. At times I wondered if the FBI and the Soviets were playing cat and mouse with each other with me in the middle.

There was the man who came to retrieve his bug. In 1975 I was teaching in a small, local church Bible College. Three of our girls went traipsing into the Russian Embassy in San Francisco to collect information about Russia because one of them wanted to be a missionary there. I believe that got our Bible College bugged for a while. I came to my (bugged?) classroom and told my students about the Korean War dream (oh to have been a fly on the wall…). At the end of the school year, the Bible College librarian, Janet Reichelt, sort of ‘ran into’ the man who came to retrieve the bug. That story is in my journal.

I had two critical packets of investigation mail on two separate occasions, in two separate locations, disappear enroute, never to be seen again.

There was also the strange appearance of Mr. Dragonsuit, a man who I believe played a part in the disappearance of the documents. He appeared in Arby’s in June of 1980.

Who, or what, were the Soviets and the U.S. trying to protect? It would make more sense if it were a who, because the crash itself was part of a distant cold war. We were fully at war with Korea in ’51; and they knew that we were threatening in our most secret chambers to nuke China or use biological warfare against them. Spies are highly motivated under such conditons. But by ’75, Stalin was long dead, as were many of the participants in the war. It would make little sense for the Russians to expend so much energy to cover up the crash so many years later.

Now at this point, ‘05, anyone left who would know anything or even care is deceased or in his or her 80s or 90s. Unless British files or some recent Russian defector knows something beyond what the U.S. knows, only the summary files and government insiders remain to tell what’s left of the tale.


Breuer, William B. Shadow Warriors: The Covert War in Korea. New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 1996.

Knightley, Phillip. The Master Spy. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989.

Lindsey, Robert. The Falcon and the Snowman. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979.

Marrs, Jim. Alien Agenda. New York: Harper Collins, 1997).

Page, Bruce, David Leitch, and Phillip Knightley. The Philby Conspiracy. Garden City: Doubleday, 1968.

Polmar, Norman and Thomas B. Allen. Spy Book: The Encyclopedia of Espionage. New York: Random House, 1997.

Stephenson, William. Intrepid’s Last Case. New York, 1983.

Wright, Peter. Spycatcher.

Romerstein, Herbert and Eric Breindel. The Venona Secrets. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2000.

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