The Vixen 03 was a C-97 Stratofreighter in the service of the United States Air Force in the mid-1950s. The aircraft was built by Boeing and carried a registry number of 75403. The aircraft was assigned to the MATS.
In 1954, the Vixen 03 piloted by Major Raymond Vylander and left NAS Buckley, Colorado on a top secret mission for the United States Navy because the Vixen 03 was the only heavy transport stationed within a thousand miles of NAS Buckley. The orders were given by Admiral Walter Bass with a cargo of seventy thousand tons in various metal cylinders with a top secret code of 1A, which is the highest level. If in an emergency, the plane's crew was ordered to take the plane into an unpopulated area and not abandon it. The plane's destination was Hickam AFB, Hawai'i in official reports, but actually the airplane's real destination was Rongelo Island. The plane was delivering the cargo to be eliminated during the Nuclear Bomb Tests. Also, official reports state that the plane left Travis AFB near San Francisco, California.
The Vixen 03 crashed soon after leaving the naval air station during a blizzard. Admiral Bass believed the airplane crashed into the Pacific Ocean, but actually crashed in an iced over Table Lake, Colorado. An exhaustive search conducted by the naval vessels, Air Force air units, and army land units, which was called off by Admiral Bass, when no leads were discovered.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Secretary of Defense Charles Wilson both inquired about the Vixen 03. After learning of the aircraft's disappearance, President Eisenhower ordered the matter to be buried deeply. One of the ways the plane was buried was switching the departure from Colorado to California.
In 1985, Charles Smith discovered the wreckage of the Vixen 03 while fishing at Table Lake. Smith recruited Lee Rafferty to help salvage the aircraft. Smith and Rafferty were able to recover some of the wreckage and placed it in Smith's garage. After finding ammunition shells, Rafferty killed Smith and made it look like an accident. In 1988, Dirk Pitt discovered the wreckage in Smith's garage and took them to Harvey Dolan, an principal maintenance inspector with the Federal Aviation Administration at Stapleton Airport, who suggested they go to see Phillip Devine, a maintenance chief working for United Airlines. Devine was able to identify the wreckage as coming from a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser, the civilian version of the C-97 Stratofreighter.
Dirk Pitt led a search team at Table Lake and he was able to locate the site of the wreckage. He, also, discovered the remains of the crew and the murdered body of Charles Smith.