History: Anniversary of disappearance of Rep. Nicholas Begich - Must Read Alaska
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History: Anniversary of disappearance of Rep. Nicholas Begich

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On Oct. 16, 1972, a Cessna carrying House of Representatives Majority Leader Hale Boggs of Louisiana, Alaska Representative Nicholas Begich, and a Begich aide, Russell Brown, disappeared between Anchorage and Juneau, Alaska, during a campaign trip.

Boggs, who had served 14 nonconsecutive terms in the U.S. House, was trying to gain the friendship of Begich, who had opposed him a year earlier in a leadership contest. Boggs agreed to barnstorm the state on a 48-hour trip with the freshman congressman from Alaska.

After a speaking engagement on Sunday, Oct. 15, in Anchorage, the congressmen left the next morning for Juneau. The plane departed Anchorage just before 9 am, piloted by Don Jonz. The last it was heard from was at 9:09 am, in a routine check-in with the tower.

“The twin-engine Cessna never arrived, vanishing in abysmal weather conditions,” according to the House History, Art, and Archives Office.

At noon on Oct. 17, Rep. Tip O’Neill made the announcement in the well of the House: “It is our hope and prayer, of course, that the men will be found safe,” he told the chamber.

“The disappearance set in motion the largest search and rescue operation to that point in American history, involving 40 military aircraft, 50 civilian planes, a search grid of 325,000 square miles, and more than 3,600 hours of search time. After 39 days, the search was called off, with no sign of wreckage or survivors.”

By today’s standards, Begich was a conservative. He was a pro-life Democrat and was pro-labor and pro-development.

Today, Nicholas Begich III, age 42, is the co-chair of Alaskans for Don Young campaign. Young succeeded Begich in Congress in a March, 1973 special election.

Begich was 40 years old when his plane disappeared and Don Young was 40 years old when he became “Congressman for all Alaska.”

Tune into this week’s Must Read Alaska podcast interview with Don Young.

Read more about the flight and the search at Plane and Pilot blog at this link.

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • Thank you for this story. It is a reminder of a time long ago, of what happened and what could have been. I think Begich was on track for a return to the U.S. House that fall and was even then probably being groomed for a top slot in the US House. Fortunately. for Alaska , Don Young , was elected following the tragedy. Both men were good if not great candidates. It would be somehow fitting if Nick Begich III replaces Don Young someday.

    • Yeah, Nixon did all they could. Even sent out a blackbird with all its equipment to try to find the wreckage. Now with supposed global warming happening, maybe it’ll emerge from a glacier one day.

      • More likely it is on the bottom of the Gulf of Alaska. Most of the stuff I’ve read points to icing. I don’t know how much anti-icing a twin engine Cessna has, but I think not much, so a pilot has to be very careful about flying into icing conditions.

        Portage Pass to Yakutat is just a straight shot over open country; you can fly a bit inland or stay out over the Gulf; that is just time and compass setting flying, with nothing to hit really. It only gets complicated after Yakutat and the descent into Juneau, and there is a good bit of aluminum on the Chilkats. There is no reason to believe the flight made it that far, and if it had crashed over land, the odds are pretty good that the massive search effort would have found it.

        If the reports of hearing an a/c overhead Whittier at about the right time are to be believed it either suffered a catastrophic mechanical failure or succumbed to icing somewhere over the Gulf of Alaska. Since there have been no authenticated finds of wreckage, the odds are icing just took it out of the sky and into the Gulf.

        • Art: I think that with all the thousands of hours by aircraft and boats scouring the beaches and waters that some debris would have been found floating or on the shore had the plane crashed into the water. Nothing, not a single thing was found. Elmendorf search and rescue’s coordinator Col Carley was a friend of mine and he said they were more of the opinion that the plane was in the hills buried by snow. Kind of like the KC 97 that the glacier finally spit out of the glacier. But who knows!

          • I’ve done JNU – ANC and ANC-JNU hundreds of times on the jets and several times on “executive” twins. Other than back in the “good old days” when AS would occasionally take you on a “glacier tour” and show you the “million dollar bridge” in good weather. I could count on my fingers the number of times we stayed over land for much of the trip from Whittier/Portage Pass to Cordova or Yakutat. He’d have had to be way off course to even be over glaciers until he got well along the course and might have been over the Bering or Malaspina.

    • Nick Begich III would be an excellent replacement for Don Young. He is a brilliant, hard working conservative that loves his state. What a twist of fate if this could be so. He certainly would have my vote.

  • I listened to a podcast called “Missing in Alaska” in which the author explores the history of the lost plane. I remember the sad day. I had met Representative Begich in Ketchikan. Nice guy.

    insideradio.com/podcastnewsdaily/new-podcast-missing-in-alaska-takes-on-50-year-old-mysterious-plane-disappearance/article_385c65e8-9b81-11ea-b5ae-bb39e1734444.html

    • That was an interesting podcast, I learned all sorts of stuff from it. Like that an SR-71 Blackbird was used to assist in the search for any wreckage. And that Begich’s widow married a mafia hit man who claimed to have delivered a bomb to Anchorage earlier in the month. He made that claim while serving a life sentence for murder in the 90’s.

  • Don Jonz was one of my instructors teaching me how to fly in 1968. We became good friends. So when his flight went missing I spent most of the next seven days flying from Anchorage, with a friend observing , looking for the plane he was flying.
    He was considered one of the best pilots in Alaska and had extensive experience flying in the arctic. Regrettably he had little experience flying in the Prince William Sound in fall weather. There was lots of moisture and temperatures conducive to significant rime and clear icing.
    The Cessna 310 he was using had limited de icing capability. Knowing him I do not believe he would let ice develop and lose control of the plane. Instead he would most likely lose altitude hoping to shed the ice, even if he was in the clouds. . That probably resulted in him hitting mountain terrain allowing the continuing snowfall to permanently cover up the plane.
    An interesting fact is that a Twin Commander left Anchorage a few days later on a similar trip and it also disappeared. Neither have ever been found.
    As the saying goes, “ it’s much better to be down here wishing you were up there, than up there wishing you were down here”.

    • Nick Begich III would be an excellent replacement for Don Young. He is a brilliant, hard working conservative that loves his state. What a twist of fate if this could be so. He certainly would have my vote.

  • Just The Facts:
    .
    On Saturday, October 14, 1972, a young pilot named Robert Thomas landed N1812H, a twin-engine Cessna 310 into Anchorage. He worked for Pan Alaska Airways and his supervising pilot was Don Jonz, the chief pilot for Pan Alaska.
    .
    Thomas noticed that the de-icing system on N1812H was acting up, sometimes working, sometimes not working. Thomas told the chief mechanic at Pan Alaska to red-tag N1812H until the problem was resolved. Somehow, that information either did not get to Don Jonz, or, Jonz ignored it.
    .
    On Sunday, Pan Alaska was hired to fly Begich, Boggs, and a staffer to Juneau the next morning, a Monday. Don Jonz would fly the Cessna 310.
    .
    Robert Thomas became a civil engineer and had a successful career in Alaska. He died about four years ago. His widow, Betsy, is still alive.
    .
    Thomas had no verifiable evidence, but he made this remark in private, that Don Jonz was certainly apprised of the faulty de-icer on N1812H but still took the chance to fly to Juneau with the congressmen. In that regard, Jonz was grossly negligent. And Thomas never had any doubt whatsoever that N1812H iced-up and plunged to the earth at high speed, either into a glacial field, or into the Gulf of Alaska never to be seen again.

    • You have some of the facts correct, but your conclusion that Jonz flew the 310 knowing that the wing de- icing boots were not working properly is very inconsistent with how everyone else viewed Jonz.
      Jonz owned Pan Alaska , a charter operation in Fairbanks. He also owned the Cessna 310, which he flew from
      FBX to ANC the day before the planned flight to Juneau. Thomas did not fly the plane the day before.
      I personally flew with Jonz on many occasions and he NEVER would fly his 310 with an icing system that was not fully operational.
      A logical opinion of what happened is that the icing he encountered overwhelmed the capabilities of the 310. No pilot familiar with the PWS icing potential would have taken off in a 310 into the terrible weather conditions that existed when departed ANC. That Jonz chose to fly in those conditions is a legitimate topic. I do not think he knew enough about the PWS icing potential to make a safe decision. That’s on Jonz. But a unsubstantiated non verifiable kept secret for nearly 50 years by a man now deceased hardly qualifies as anything credible.

      • It was not meant to be a secret. Bob Thomas was the last pilot to fly N1812H before Don Jonz took off with it on October 16, 1972. Thomas told me that he requested a “red tag” be placed on the steering yoke of that particular plane until the de-icer was inspected and/or repaired. Thomas also lived in Fairbanks.
        .
        There are many stories about the cavalier attitude displayed by Don Jonz the pilot. The one I heard most often was, “cowboy.”

        • That’s what they are, stories and hearsay. Not facts.

        • Well since Marla, Mitch and NPpatriot’s personal feelings are fact perhaps you should have the final report revised which states it isn’t known what happened. Oh and make sure you all call Jonz’s family and let them know what a reckless irresponsible maverick he was and how he had it coming. But I bet none of you can do that.

          • RIP,
            all aboard N1812H.

      • Marla got it right.
        Google: “Wickersham’s Conscience N1812H.”
        Here, it discusses the real problem:
        pilot Don Jonz.
        I flew with the Magoffins in Fairbanks in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.
        Many topics included the arrogant and bullish Don Jonz. Everyone within my circle of aviation in Alaska knew that Jonz was a disaster in the wings, waiting to happen.

        • It’s still opinion and not fact.

          • ……….opinions from accomplished pilots who knew Don Jonz’ character. Yes, he was a good pilot. But arrogant, cocky pilots hardly ever grow old. Jonz was 38 and trying to be very important by shuttling two national politicians into an ice storm. A recipe for disaster. And yes, I’m a pilot. And yes, I knew Don Jonz.

    • First you write that Jonz may or may not have known of the de-icer issue. Later you write Jonz was certainly appraised of the issue and was grossly negligent. Doesn’t sound like just the facts to me. It sounds like a bunch of supposition. But thanks for your opinion.

      • I think what Marla was saying is that the other pilot told Jonz of a de-icer issue with that particular aircraft. That information would have been crucial for Jonz in making his decision to fly that aircraft on that day. No one will ever know for sure what actually happened, but given the additional facts about the weather on the day of disappearance, common logic shows that the plane’s wings “probably” iced up. At least, the other pilot inferred that.

  • Let’s not forget Hale Boggs was only dissenter in the JFK assassination coverup in the committee he sat on…. Money is on it that he was main target.

    • Ford sat on the Warren commission. He lived quite a bit longer than the crash date.

  • Sad day as I remember it. My late husband and I (in our 20s) were flying across Turnagain Arm in our first airplane, a little Aeronca Chief, and the air was so rough the right door flew open. I was so terrified, he turned around and we landed safely at the Birchwood airstrip. We later heard the news that Nick Begich’s plane was missing. I’ll never forget that. Was not thinking about politics then.

  • There are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but their are no old, bold pilots.

    But actually I believe the bomb story. Missing in Alaska featured thorough research and some very convincing evidence.

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