Mrs. WC’s First Day in Alaska


Mrs. WC came to Alaska “for a few years” in 1991 and ended up staying for 24 years. WC accepts responsibility for some few of those years. But what made her 24 years in Alaska truly remarkable was that she stayed in spite of her first day in the state.

Mrs. WC first came to Alaska to work as a volunteer for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in June 1989, censusing raptors nesting along the North Slope’s Colville River. She flew from Boise to Fairbanks on commercial flights, and the next morning boarded a 40 Mile Air charter flight, filled with supplies for the trip. The aircraft was a single engine DeHaviland Otter.

A little less than an hour north of Fairbanks, the engine quit. The shocking, panic-inducing silence after the noisy roar of the engine is brief. It’s replaced by the shriek of the stall alarm.

The pilot brought the aircraft down on a treeless ridge top few miles from the Yukon River. No one was badly hurt, but it wasn’t pretty.

All photos by Mrs. WC; her camera suffered damage in the crash as well

You can see in this photo that the pilot had the flaps cranked all the way down, getting as much lift as possible and slowing the aircraft right to the edge of stall speed.

When the plane hit the ground, the wheels collapsed and the propeller struck the ground, looping the plane in a quarter circle, where it came to rest. They were high enough on the ridge top that they had radio contact with Fairbanks.

A few hours later, a helicopter came to collect them.

This is not the kind of phone message you want to get as a supervisor. “Skip” is Skip Ambrose, the supervisor of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service as the time.

The next day, Mrs. WC climbed into a different bush plane – another single engine DeHavilland Otter – and made the long flight up to the Colville River. And ended up staying in Alaska, despite that first day. When she told her colleague on the Colville float about the crash and, that since very few people are ever in a second aircraft crash, she felt safe, he reminded her that the statistics involve independent events.1

WC is deeply grateful for her decision to stay. We met in 1994 and married in 1995. We have flown together in dozens of different aircraft on various adventures, including a single engine DeHavilland Otter on floats to and from McNeil River.2 But without her courage following that crash, we never would have met and WC’s life would be far poorer.

The wrecked Otter, N1037G, was snowcatted out the next winter, repaired and returned to the air. 40 Mile Air flew it for a few more years and then sold it, with the other two Otters they were flying at the time. After it went through a several different owners, it was modified with a turboprop engine and is still in service today with Rainbow King Lodge, in southwestern Alaska.3

1 Mrs. WC’s parents were less than enthusiastic about her visit to Alaska. It was some time before she told them about her first day in Alaska.
2 Admittedly, aircraft trips from time to time afterwards involved tranquilizers, but no longer.
3 WC had his own airplane crash, reported here earlier. WC’s was over before the adrenaline glands even had time to get involved. Mrs. WC had a much longer descent, and a lot more chance to “appreciate” her situation.

4 thoughts on “Mrs. WC’s First Day in Alaska

  1. Thanks for sharing this amazing story! She became a true Alaskan on her very first day in the State.

    Thought you might like the below exchange.

    Kris

    From: Wallace Cole Subject: Re: Lowell Thomas Jr. passed away Date: October 3, 2016 at 18:09:28 AKDT To: neal brown Dear Neal,

    Jerri and I landed at Paget Farm, NH today, with plans to stay the month. I saw Lowell about 7 or 8 days ago as I was headed out of state. He acknowledged who his visitor was but he was very, very tired and slowly drifted away as I held his arm. I am glad that I had the chance to see him one more time, he was a most special friend! This floods me with such a lot of wonderful memories, even those of Tay and Lowell taking good advantage of this old farm house for periods of time while visiting Anne and her family who live just a few miles away.

    Jerri has passed your kind email on to Anne, Lowell’s daughter. She thankfully was with her Dad as he passed away.

    Much love and appreciation from the two of us to you, Fran and your clan who likewise have made such a wonderful impact on our “community” and family. Stay well, come stay, don’t rush off……………..Wally

    PS………. The turbo fuel issue was MY fault, by accident I gave him a barrel of car gas that had ethanol mixed in it (which was common for a few months in Alaska at that time) which vaporized in the hot fuel lines/ fuel pump, which of course built reverse pressure and blocked the fuel flow. The landing strip was just up on the west ridge above the Kantishna Road House. We were all very lucky that day.

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  2. Wowzers! That is dedication to nesting raptors. So glad no one was seriously injured and amazed that the little Otter is still in use; albeit as a turboprop.

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  3. You are a lucky guy that she decided to stay after her ordeal but she’s also a lucky gal to have met up with you. You guys have a great partnership and work well together.

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