HELENA — Montanans on Wednesday remembered the 50th anniversary of when Gov. Don Nutter and five aides and Air National Guardsmen were killed in a plane crash near Wolf Creek.
"This was one of the darkest days in the history of Montana," Gov. Brian Schweitzer told a crowd gathered in the governor's reception room for a remembrance ceremony.
On Jan. 25, 1962, the governor and five men were killed in a plane wreck on their trip from Helena to Cut Bank. They were aboard a Montana Air National Guard C-47 aircraft. An investigation concluded that the right wing of the aircraft had been sheared off, probably by hurricane-strength winds exceeding 100 mph reported in the area.
Besides Nutter, others killed in the crash were his executive secretary (or what's now called the chief of staff), Dennis Gordon; state Agriculture Commissioner Edward Wren; and Air National Guard members Maj. Joseph R. Devine, Maj. Clifford E. Hanson and the crew chief, Master Sgt. Charles "Chico" Ballard.
Montana has had 23 governors in its history, Schweitzer said.
"This is a bond that will tie us and our families together forever because the things that you do as governor, the nights that you lose that sleep and the work that first ladies do and the entire family," he said. "It doesn't matter about your politics, whether it's left or right, Democrat or Republican. This is a bond that ties us together."
Former Gov. Tim Babcock, who had been Nutter's lieutenant governor, succeeded him. He told how he has missed Nutter, a close friend.
"I've looked upon this day every day the past 50 years," Babcock said sadly.
Former first lady Betty Babcock recalled when her husband was sworn in as governor after Nutter's death.
"He looked over at me and he said, ‘You know, I'll bet this is the only time a governor went into office crying,' " she said. "We were all crying."
Other speakers remembered each of the others who were killed.
Among those attending was Donald Nutter-Watkins, 44, the oldest of the late governor's four grandchildren. He is a potter from Dillon.
"It was good to see the remembrance of it," he said in an interview.
While Nutter-Watkins never knew his grandfather, he knew what his namesake stood for.
"Balancing the budget, that was his touchstone," the Dillon man said. "You can't spend more than you have coming in."
After the ceremony, Schweitzer set a wreath on a plaque outside the Capitol to honor the six men.