If you live in Alaska, especially rural Alaska, you fly a lot. Mostly, it’s safe. But sometimes it isn’t. There are plane crashes and sometimes fatalities. No aircraft crash in WC’s lifetime impacted Alaskans more than the crash of N1812H on October 16, 1972.
There were four people on board that Cessna 310C charter flight: pilot Don Jonz, congressional aide Russell Brown, U.S. House Majority Leader Hale Boggs and U.S. Representative Nick Begich. Despite a then-record search effort, no trace of the aircraft or its passengers has ever been found. The National Transportation Safety Board was unable to officially determine what happened.
In Alaska, it’s the flight that killed Nick Begich, Alaska’s sole congressman. While being dead didn’t stop Begich from defeating his Republican rival, Don Young, in the general election, in the subsequent special election to fill the seat Don Young did win, and Alaska has suffered the embarrassment and incompetency of Don Young ever since.
In the rest of America, it’s the flight that killed Hale Boggs, the highly-regarded U.S. House majority leader, who had come to Alaska to campaign for his colleague. Hale Boggs, the father of NPR commentator Cokie Roberts and the husband of U.S. representative and ambassador Lindy Boggs, had a major role in the Civil Rights Act and President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society initiatives. Like Johnson, he had risen above a segregationist past.
But among Alaska pilots, the focus is on the pilot, Don Jonz. And it is a cautionary tale. WC knew Don Jonz. He was a skilled pilot, no question, but he was also arrogant and over-confident. The month of the crash, a Don Jonz article was published in Flying magazine titled, “Ice Without Fear.” “Ice,” in this context, means icing, the build-up of ice on the wings and hull of an aircraft that can pull that aircraft out of the sky. Jonz wrote, “If you are sneaky, smart and careful, you can fly 350 days a year and disregard 99 per cent of the [b.s.] you hear about icing.” There were icing conditions present along the projected flight path when N1812H departed Anchorage and disappeared.
The aircraft wasn’t configured for instrument flight rules; that means it had to fly under visual flight rules (VFR), but the conditions along N1812H’s flight path weren’t suitable for VFR flight.
So yes, an object lesson and cautionary tale among pilots.
When an aircraft disappears without a trace, conspiracy theories pop up like weeds among our fellow Americans. There are at least three such theories about the disappearance of N1812H.
One theory is that Boggs, a member of the Warren Commission investigating President John Kennedy’s assassination who, at least at one point, dissented from the “single bullet theory,” was whacked by nameless shady folks covering up the Real Story.
A second theory holds that Boggs, a harsh critic of then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, was whacked by rogue FBI agents on Hoover’s orders.
And the third theory holds that it was Begich who was assassinated, by Don Young.
WC thinks the unfortunate mix of an arrogant, over-confident pilot and bad weather is the only thing necessary to explain an aircraft crash that changed the course of Alaska’s politics and a lot of lives.
It’s not the worst air crash in Alaska history. But it might be the most politically significant.