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Carl Ben Eielson: Encyclopedia Arctica 15: Biographies
Stefansson, Vilhjalmur, 1879-1962

Carl Ben Eielson

EA-Biography
(Jean Potter [: ] )

CARL BEN EIELSON

Carl Ben Eielson (1897-1929), pioneer arctic aviator of the United States,
was born on July 20, 1897, at Hatton, North Dakota. He was one of nine chil–
dren. The father, Ole Eielson, a prominent local citizen, served twelve terms
as Hatton's mayor. Both parents were of Norwegian ancestry.
His youth was characterized by restlessness. Entering the University of
North Dakota in 1914, he transferred to the University of Wisconsin at the end
of his sophomore year to embark on the study of law. In 1917 he enlisted in
the air service and, at a time when the Army had a total of only 35 certified
airmen, qualified as a pilot. Commissioned second lieutenant, he received
orders for European duty which were cancelled by the Armistice. He returned
to North Dakota, determined to make aviation his life work. Re-entering his
State University, he soon persuaded a group of Hatton businessmen to buy him a
plane, a Jenny. After organizing the town's first flying club, he barnstormed
throughout the Middle West until the plane was wrecked in an accident. Reluc–
tantly he resumed his law study, this time at Georgetown University, Washington,
D. C., working as a Congressional guard to help pay the tuition. In a chance
meeting with Den Sutherland, Alaska's Deledgate in Congress, his interest in the
Far North was stirred and, when Sutherland offered him a job in the Territory,
he abandoned his legal career and traveled to Alaska.
Eielson arrived at the town of Fairbanks in the autumn of 1922, where he
taught mathematics and general science at the public high school, and also

EA-Biography. Chelnov Potter : Carl Ben Eielson

coached basketball. Former pupils recall most vividly his extracurricular
lectures on the subject of aviation. Air routes of the future, he declared,
would cross the north; and Alaska, lying on the Great Circle route between
the United States and the Orient, was bound to be a center of international
flight. He also argued the local need for air transport within the borders
of the vast, roadless Territory itself. Townsfolk, young and old, were moved
by his enthusiasm and in the winter of 1922 a group of Fairbanks bankers and
businessmen agreed to finance his second plane, also a Jenny. The aircraft,
along with an OX-5 engine, was shipped crated from the States by boat and ar–
rived in Fairbanks by rail in the summer of 1923.
His first flight in Alaska was made on July 4, 1923, from Fairbanks to
the settlement of Nenana, 50 miles distant. In a single stunting performance
at Nenana, he earned more than half the cost of his new plane. When the late
President Warren Harding visited Fairbanks that summer, another stunting ex–
hibition was made, impressing the distinguished visitor and his party. Aerial
acrobatics, however, were of slight interest to the serious young aviator, to
whom flight was both a trade and a cause. More important, during the warm months
of 1923 he gave interior Alaska its first commercial air service, speedily haul–
ing passengers and light freight to outlying mine towns of the hinterland. Despite
the small size and short range of his aircraft, he demonstrated that the new
means of transport could revolutionize the Territory's economic life.
Unlike most men of action on the frontier, he keenly felt the limitations
of individual effort. The development of aviation in Alaska, he held, was a
matter for national concern, deserving and requiring government support. He
wrote many letters to Washington, setting forth these views and urging larger
aircraft and other aids to more systematic flight. In November 1923, his optimis–
tic mail campaign brought result. The United States Post Office Department agreed

EA-Biography. Chelnov: Potter: Carl Ben Eielson

to ship him a Liberty-powered De Havil l and. Agreeing to pay him two dollars
a mile, less than half the cost of existing mail transport by dog-team, it con–
tracted for ten twice-monthly flights to be made from Fairbanks to the river
town of McGrath.
The contract was considered experimental. Alaskans feared for their new
pilot's life. The 300-mile journey could be made in fair weather by following
a dog-team trail that linked the two towns, but storm could force the plane
from its route to accident in the wilderness. No radio communication existed
between plane and ground, and the only weather report available from the des–
tination point was by relayed telegraph, too slow to be of much assistance. Be–
yond this, aviation in interior Alaska had hitherto been considered a summer–
time possibility only. In this region no experience had been had with the per–
formance of aircraft engines at winter temperatures. Dire speculation was made
as to the hazard of icing conditions.
On the subzero morning of February 21, 1924, hauking the first official
air mail in the Territory, Eielson made the first winter flight in the interior
of Alaska. The open cockpit De Havilland, equipped with a pair of locally built
heavy, flat-bottomed hickory skis, was warmed for its subarctic journey by stoves
in a shed hangar. Take-off was made from the snow-covered Fairbanks ball park.
Following the surface trail in clear weather, he made the hop without incident,
delivering his 500 pounds of mail in a few hours as compared to the twenty-day
service hitherto performed by dog-team. The return journey to Fairbanks, per–
formed during the short daylight hours of the same subarctic winter afternoon,
was more difficult for the pilot. Attempting a short-cut and navigating by com–
pass above the wilds through twilight, he missed his destination. Night fell.
According to his report to the Post Office Department, he was completely lost for

EA-Biography. Chelnov: Potter: Carl Ben Eielson

almost an hour in pitch darkness, until he sighted a light below. Nearly
out of fuel, he risked landing. Not until it had been accomplished did he
learn that he had been guided down to his home base by bonfires which had
been lit by waiting citizens. The De Havilland, striking tree tops in the
descent, turned on its back, damaged. He was unhurt. The mayor of Fairbanks,
on behalf of the people, presented him with a gold watch to express their ap–
preciation of the fast new mail service.
He made seven more round trip mail flights in 1924. Although his con–
trac t specified only the transport of mail, he hauled more than one sick pas–
senger bound from the hinterland to the Fairbanks hospital. On another emer–
gency occasion he delivered a bale of wire to the telegraph station at the
settlement of Takotna. On several of the flights he carried copies of the
Fairbanks newspaper, dropping them by means of small parachutes to towns en
route. Winter cold proved no obstacle to the subarctic flights. It was the
spring thaw that brought difficulty. Exchanging wheels for skis after the
snow melted, he suffered three crack-ups in landing on the soggy surface of
his ball park base. Descending into a boggy spot at the end of its eighth
round trip, the De Havilland was damaged beyond possibility of local repair.
The Post Office Department, informed of the accident, ordered the plane returned
to the States and the contract terminated. He was-advised in a letter from the
Assistant Postmaster General that, although his experiment had been "successful
to a marked degree," further study must be made before legislation could be pro–
posed to permit permanent mail service in Alaska.
Late in 1924 he left Alaska for Washington to seek another mail contract.
Anxious to resume his local Alaskan service, he was also restlessly thinking in
global terms and keen for still more daring work. Inspired by the Army's 1924

EA-Biography. Chelnov: Potter: Carl Ben Eielson

flight around the world, which passed through Alaska by the more southern
coastal-Aleutian route, he sent personal greetings to its leader. He repeated–
ly expressed a wish to fly across the Arctic Sea, stating that in his opinion
such a flight would not be difficult. He proposed to the Army that Great Circle
air service be developed between the United States and China, with main stops
at Reno, Nevada; Nome, Alaska; a city somewhere in Manchuria; and Peking. In
an interview with General Billy Mitchell, he also argued the useful role that
aviation could play within Alaska itself for mapping, photography, and the trans–
port of federal agents. Mitchell sent him to McCook Field, Ohio, to give sug–
gestions on techniques of col weather flight. No further action resulted. Re–
joining the air service, he spent several months at Langley Field, Virginia,
studying navigation and night-flying techniques. Throughout 1925 he considered
his lone campaign for funds for aviation in the Far North. Blocked by indif–
ference, he returned to North Dekota and entered business with one of his brothers
as a bond salesman.
It was the arctic explorer and scholar Vilhjalmur Stefansson who rescued
him from this fate and summoned him back to the calling in which he was to con–
tribute so much to the United States and to the world. In New York Stefansson
had closely followed reports of his pioneer Alaskan work, and, unlike most Ameri–
cans, recognized its importance. Late in 1925 Stefansson was assisting the organ–
ization of an arctic air expedition planned for the following year by the Austral–
ian explorer-aviator Captain George (now Sir Hubert) Wilkins. He telegraphed
Eielson offering him a job on the Wilkins venture.
Eielson promptly accepted, at a nominal salary, and returned to Alaska the
following year with Wilkins. During three years, the two aviators' names were
linked in a series of arctic flights outstanding in all air history. In the

EA-Biography. Chelnov: Potter: Carl Ben Eielson

course of these flights, which totalled some 300 hours, Eielson served as
pilot; Wilkins, experienced in Arctic exploration by surface means served as
navigator. It should be emphasized that the purpose of the expeditions, on
which the two men were firmly agreed, was neither sensational nor commercial,
but strictly scientific. The aviators proposed, in Wilkins' words, "to explore
that area of the polar ice pack never before seen by man . . . to discover
whether north of Barrow there is any land on which to establish a meteorologi–
cal station." Such a station would, of course, mean much to aviation as well
as to general weather-reporting throughout America. Finally, it was proposed
to make a flight from the northern shore of Alaska to Europe, in order to demon–
strate the shortness and feasibility of arctic air routes between the earth's
large continents.
The 1926 Wilkins' expedition, the first large air expedition to be based
in arctic Alaska, was sponsored by the Detroit Aviation Society, the American
Geographical Society, and the North American Newspaper Alliance. It was equipped
with two Fokker planes, one of which, the Detroiter , was powered with three
Wright whirlwind engines; the other, the Alaskan , with a Liberty. The personnel
included several pilots and technicians but on this, as well as on the expedi–
tions of the next two years, it was Eielson who did the bulk of the flying.
There were discouraging initial setbacks in 1926, including three accidents in
landing and take-off on trial flights at the Fairbanks field. Undeterred, Eiel–
son and Wilkins repaired the Alaskan , replacing the badly damaged propeller with
an old Club model. In this plane, late in March, they made the first flight in
history from subarctic Fairbanks far into the Arctic, traveling more than 500
miles to Barrow, on the continent's northern shore.
The overland flight from Fairbanks to Barrow at that time was little less

EA-Biography. Chelnov: Potter: Carl Ben Eielson

of a venture than a flight out over the Arctic Sea. No radio contact existed
with the distant point of destination, and the route crossed a vast expanse of
rugged terrain that had been seldom traversed on foot. Passing through the
jagged Endicott Mountains, the two aviators barely missed disaster when peaks
marked on existing maps at five thousand feet proved to have twice this altitude.
Subsequently navigating for hours above flat, snow-covered tundra, the men
reached and passed the northern shore line without knowing it. Wilkins soon
recognized from the character of the ice ridges below that land had been passed.
He allowed Eielson to proceed unaware for one hour, then notified him that the
plane was 100 miles offshore. Flight out over the ice pack was deliberately
continued for another thirty minutes.
In the return toward Alaska a sudden blizzard was encountered. Navigating
with difficulty through driving snow, the men succeeded in locating Barrow, and
Eielson made a smooth landing on the frozen lagoon. Arrival at the tiny, isolat–
ed settlement under conditions of such poor visibility was remarkable in itself;
many pilots subsequently equipped with modern radio and ground aids have exper–
ienced difficulty in locating Barrow under better weather conditions. During
the rest of the 1926 season Wilkins and Eielson made four more pioneer flights
from Fairbanks to Barrow, heavily loading their plane with fuel and supplies
required at the northernmost base for the more extensive expedition planned for
the following year.
In 1927 they returned to Alaska with two Stinson biplanes, powered with
Wright engines. On March 29th, equipped with a stock of emergency food supply,
they left Barrow in one of these planes for their first long flight out over
the Arctic Sea. Ground temperature at Barrow at the time of take-off was 30°
below zero. They had traveled for five and a half hours in a northwesterly

EA-Biography. Chelnov: Potter: Carl Ben Eielson

direction when the engine missed. Eielson skillfully landed the wheeled plane
on the pack ice. The position was 77° N. 175° E. — approximately 500 miles
north of the shore of Alaska. The unforeseen descent proved a contention which
Wilkins had long made in exploration circles: that safe landings on wheels may
be made [: ] on the ice pack far out in the Arctic Sea. Eielson was
sufficiently impressed by the scientific value of the mishap to stop the engine
in order to permit echo soundings; although, he later admitted, he had serious
doubts as to whether he could start it again. The depth of the water was found
to be more than three miles, the greatest registered up to that time in the Arc–
tic Sea.
The Journey back to land was likewise marked by historic triumph over
accident. Starting the engine after two hours of effort, Eielson made a suc–
cessful take-off and headed toward Alaska through gathering storm. When engine
trouble developed ten minutes later, he once more made a landing on the ice.
When he accomplished take-off again, the plane resumed its lone course through
snow and dusk. Progress was slowed by a 40-mile side wind. A third time the
engine gave trouble, this time stopping suddenly and completely. Eielson made
a complete emergency landing on the ice pack, a landing that was both skillful
and fortuitous. Turbulence threatened the descent and this time darkness pre–
vented selection of a possible runway among the rough pressure ridges. One of
these was struck as the plane came down, with serious damage to the skis. The
aviators were not hurt. Landing had luckily been made on a smooth stretch of
ice less than 30 by 15 yards in area, which was surrounded by ridges higher than
the plane. The position was some 65 miles northwest of Barrow.
The Stinson was no longer flyable. Storm continued for five days and the
isle of ice on which the plane had landed drifted in the wind to a position

EA-Biography. Chelnov: Potter: Carl Ben Eielson

approximately 100 miles east and north of Barrow. On the sixth day the storm
abated and, most important, the temperature dropped. Colder weather, as so
often is the case in the Arctic, brought conditions more favorable to trans–
port. Ice formed across the open leads of water that had separated drifting
frozen islands. The men improvised sleds from the Stinson's skis and cowling,
loading them with their stock of emergency food. They drained and loaded the
remaining fuel. Embarking on another historic test, they abandoned their air–
craft and set forth to walk to the Alaskan shore.
The journey required thirteen days. Locomotion through the deep snowdrifts
and over the sharp pressure ridges was arduous but sure. For eielson, the trip
was more difficult than it need have been had he been more experienced in arctic
conditions. In his hasty work on the engine, he had thoughtlessly exposed his
hands to bare metal, freezing several fingers. As a result it was necessary
for him to haul supplies by means of his armpits. According to Wilkins, he made
no complaint. He quickly learned from his partner the techniques of living on
the ice pack, which presented little problem. Snowhouses were built at night
for shelter and snow was melted for drinking water. On April 16 arrival was
made at the coast settlement of Beechey Point. It was later necessary that the
little finger of Eielson's right hand be amputated. This was the only casualty
resulting from the perilous trip. He and Wilkins had shown that trained men,
marooned by forced landing far out on the ice pack, can walk with safety to shore.
In 1928 the aviators returned once more to Barrow, prepared for their most
daring attempt, the first airplane hop in history across the Arctic Sea. The
significance of the flight and the feat of navigation which it involved have not
yet been sufficiently recognized by the general public. Richard Byrd, in his
1926 flight from Spitsbergen to the North Pole and return, had directly paralleled

EA-Biography. Chelnov: Potter: Carl Ben Eielson

a meridian. The only direction change required was at the Pole. The 1926
trans-Arctic hop of the dirigible Norge involved no more difficult a naviga–
tion problem. It followed a direct line - in this case straight north and
straight south. Eielson and Wilkins, in their scientific curiosity to explore
unknown regions and to hunt new land, decided to make their flight from Barrow
to Spitsbergen along a curved path around the polar area. In this case, since
meridians must be crossed, some fifty direction changes must be made en route
to maintain the course.
Wilkins' navigation was based on a method and map prepared by O. M. Miller
of the American Geographical Society. Weeks of detailed calculations were made
by Wilkins at Barrow prior to departure. However, because of the primitive stage
of Alaskan ground equipment in that year, no calculations, however exact, could
be sure to succeed. There was a large element of chance in the journey, for the
compass, in the arctic region of maximum declination, must be supplemented by
solar navigation. Sight of the sun was all-important; but no weather report
could be received from Spitsbergen, as Barrow in 1928 had no radio station.
The plane selected for the undertaking was a relatively untested Lockheed
Vega, second of its kind ever built. It was powered with a Wright J-5 engine
and specially equipped for the long flight with two extra gas tanks in each wing
and with an unusual assemblage of available instruments, including altimeters,
fore-and-aft and lateral inclinometers, drift indicators, and compasses. A novel
feature, designed to aid Wilkins' observations, was a window built into the floor
for vertical vision.
On the morning of April 15th the plane was heavily loaded with the maximum
supply of fuel, which allowed scant margin for the mileage. Eielson made a most
exacting take-off from a narrow strip of glare ice cleared between snowbanks at
Barrow by Eskimos. The flight proceeded smoothly for eleven hours, as Wilkins

EA-Biography. Chelnov: Potter: Carl Ben Eielson

made frequent and valuable notes of ice conditions. Intermittent progress
reports were broadcast by means of a small hand-driven generator. Many were
received by the Barrow schoolteacher, whom the aviators had provided with a
small receiver, but because of Barrow's isolation months passed before civiliza–
tion learned that these messages had been heard.
At midnight local time the sun, a "dull red orb," was still visible. Fog
banks lay ahead. Thirteen hours after take-off the mountains of Grant Land were
sighted. More than half of the journey had been made, and the plane was accur–
ately on course. Gas consumption, however, had been higher than expected, and
weather ahead looked extremely threatening. All signs indicated that storm would
be encountered off Greenland, increasing to a violent gale at Spitsbergen. The
aviators weighed the possibility of attempting landing at Grant Land, but de–
cided to proceed. In the extreme cold (−48° F.) the engine faltered repeated–
ly, requiring Eielson to put the plane into frequent steep climbs. Navigating
between cloud layers, he ably compensated for the deviations from course. The
Vega was rocked by increasing turbulence. It approached its destination through
one of the severest storms that had been experienced in this month in this part
of the world for many years.
Land was dimly sighted, but surface wind was violent and snow and frozen
oil almost completely obscured Eielson's vision. He was guided by hasty notes
passed to him by Wilkins, who had better sight through a side window. When Wil–
kins advised him that a smooth, snow-covered stretch of land lay to the right,
he circled to sea, returned and brought the plane down safely. Twenty gallons
of gas remained in the tank. For five days the men were stormbound. On the
sixth day they made a take-off, after several tries, from a runway tramped in
the snow. Almost immediately they sighted the radio masts of Green Harbor,

EA-Biography. Chelnov: Potter: Carl Ben Eielson

Spitsbergen. Upon landing, Eielson addressed inhabitants in "Old Norse," the
language of his grandparents. "This is Captain Wilkins," he replied in answer
to their queries. "WE have come across from Alaska." The Green Harbor radio
station was soon busy with messages. Wilkins wirelessed the National Geograph–
ic Society that no land had been sighted. More interesting to an astonished
world was the fact that he and Eielson had crossed the Arctic Sea in twenty
hours and twenty minutes.
Crowds and fanfare everywhere attended the aviators' slower return journey
to America. They were feted and honored by the rulers of Norway, Denmark, Sweden,
Belgium, Holland, Germany, France, and England. Eielson was most moved by the
Lief Eiriksson Memorial Medal which, in the land of his forebears, was presented
to him as a "Transpolar Flier of Norwegian Ancestry, for Viking Deed and Daring."
Ovations also welcomed the two men on their arrival in the United States.
They wasted little time in the role of professional heroes, but began prepara–
tions for an expedition to be made in the same year to the southernmost part of
the world. They took off from Decemption Island in the South Shetlands late in
December. In this and succeeding flights the expedition covered a total of 1,200
air miles. It was the first aerial exploration ever made in the Antarctic.
Early in 1929 Eielson was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for "one
of the most extraordinary accomplishments of all time." President Herbert Hoover
presented him with the Harmon Trophy for the outstanding air contribution of
1928. Considering another Antarctic expedition with Wilkins, he reluctantly
decided to interrupt their rare flying partnership, choosing instead to renew
his old campaign for the development of flight in the Far North. During his years
of exploration in the far Arctic, a number of small, struggling commercial air
services had been initiated in subarctic Alaska. In New York he persuaded offic–
ials of the Aviation Corporation to finance a stabilizing merger of several of

EA-Biography. Chelnov: Potter: Carl Ben Eielson

these pioneer firms with a view to launching an eventual airline to the Orient.
The resulting subsidiary company, of which he was named vice president and gen–
eral manager, was entitled Alaskan Airways. His contract specified executive
duties, with the understanding that he would hire other men as pilots.
In the summer of 1929 he returned to Alaska in this new capacity, eager
to demonstrate, at last, the commercial possibilities of northern flight. Late
in the year he found a dramatic opportunity. The American trading ship Nanuk ,
which had been operating from Alaska across Bering Strait and along the northern
coast of Soviet Siberia, was trapped in the ice offshore from the Siberian vil–
lage of North Cape. Fifteen passengers and $1,000,000 worth of fur were aboard.
The Swenson Fur & Trading Corporation, owner of the vessel, offered Alaskan Air–
ways $50,000 to fly across the Strait and ferry passengers and freight to Alaska.
It was the largest single transportation contract ever offered in the Territory.
The season was hardly suspicious. Only one previous round trip had been made
between Alaska and Siberia, by Pilot Noel Wien, and this in summertime. Weather
along these subarctic coasts and in the narrow strait between continents was
characterized by frequent fog and precipitation. These, coupled with the dusk
of winter, would make for conditions far less favorable to flight than those
pertaining, in general, above the Arctic. Eielson accepted the offer and pre–
pared to make some of the flights himself.
In October 1929, accompanied by mechanic Earl Borland, he left the Alaskan
settlement of Teller in an all-metal Hamilton provided by the New York corpora–
tion, and arrived safely at the Siberian destination. One of his pilots, an
Alaskan pioneer named Frank Dorbandt, accompanied by mechanic Bud Bassett, also
reached the Nanuk in a Stinson. The two planes were grounded on the Siberian
coast for several days on their return trip. Safely reaching Alaska, they were

EA-Biography. Chelnov: Potter: Carl Ben Eielson

grounded there by bad weather for most of a week. On November 9th Eielson,
with mechanic Borland, left Alaska under foggy conditions for a second trip.
They failed to reach the Nanuk . It was later learned that, despite extremely
poor visibility, they reached Siberia and followed the coast to a point only
some 60 miles short of their destination. There the plane crashed and the two
men met death.
The wreck of the Hamilton was not discovered until nearly three months
later. During this long period Eielson's fate was unknown. The Eielson Relief
Expedition as it was officially called, was one of the most hazardous searches
in aviation history. This was due in part to the unusually stormy 1929-30
winter in the subarctic region. It was also due to technical handicaps. The
events following Eielson's death gave striking proof of the contention that he had
tirelessly made in life. The United States, through lack of experience, was
unfortunately in a position to do little on behalf of the search for its dis–
tinguished arctic aviator.
Alaskan pilots gathered at Teller for search operations soon after his dis–
appearance, and two of them, Joe Crosson and Harold Gillam, flew to Siberia in
mid-December to base at the Nanuk . The others were foiled by bad weather. It
is remarkable that any of the Alaskans reached Siberia, for their small, open–
cockpit aircraft were pitifully inadequate for the long winter journey. The
Aviation Corporation in New York, which was to spend more than $500,000 on the
hunt for Eielson, contracted in Canada for three ski-equipped Fairchild 71s to
be manned by Canadian pilots and mechanics. Assistance from this quarter was
painfully slow. Against the advice of Stefansson, who took an active advisory
role in the search, the Aviation Corporation decided to crate these planes and
ship them north by steamer rather than to fly them, as Stefansson urged, up the

EA-Biography. Chelnov: Potter: Carl Ben Eielson

Mackenzie River. As a result, the Fairchilds did not arrive in time to par–
ticipate in the search effort.
An appeal was made to the War Department in Washington. The Department
replied that it had no planes capable of operating in the Far North, and that
Eielson himself would have been the only military pilot it could have suggested
for search flight. Stefansson suggested that an appeal be made to the Soviet
Union, which was known to have done considerable arctic air work. This sugges–
tion, presented in Washington by Assistant Attorney General Mabel Walker Wille–
brandt, was vetoed by the State Department, as the United States in 1929 had not
accorded diplomatic recognition to the Soviet Union. However, cables were de–
spatched to Moscow by Senator William E. Borah, Chairman of the Foreign Relations
Committee, and by Secretary of the Interior Ray Lyman Wilbur. The Soviet Union
agreed to assist, offering Siberians a reward for news of Eielson, and ordering
planes and dog teams to join the search.
Discovery of the wreck was made by Alaskan pilots Crosson and Gillam on
January 25, 1930, before the Russian and Canadian planes arrived. The wing of
the nearly obliterated Hamilton was sighted in the snow on the side of a sloping
mound close to the Amguema River. Damage to the aircraft indicated a violent
crash. There was no sign of the aviators. Cause of the accident could, of course,
only be a matter of conjecture. By the account of a local trapper named Brokhanov,
who had persistently claimed to have sighted the ill-fated plane on the day of
its disappearance, weather in this area had not been stormy. Hands of the plane's
clock, however, indicated that night was falling when disaster was met, It was
the guess of Crosson and Gillam that Eielson, circling in the dusk for a place
to land, had struck earth under those conditions of poor visibility, well-known
in the winter north in bad weather, which make it extremely difficult to dis–
tinguish snowy terrain from dim sky.

EA-Biography. Chelnov: Potter: Carl Ben Eielson

Siberians digging through deep snow at the scene of the wreck found the
body of Borland on February 13th. On February 18th they found the body of
Eielson. After an international memorial ceremony in which Alaskans, Canadians,
and Russians participated, the aviators' remains were flown to Alaska, The
Canadian Fairchild which carried the body of Eielson on its last flight was
accompanied by a Soviet escort plane. Solemn pomp attended arrival of the body
in the United States. Proposals were made that Eielson should be interred with
full military honor at Arlington. His father declined, and he was buried, with
a simple ceremony, in the family plot at Hatton.
The name of Ben Eielson is today little known to the American public as
compared with the names of flyers who have crossed land or sea more familiar
to the average man. His disregard for peril, a quality which he had in common
with most pioneer pilots, was less remarkable than his keen scientific vision
of what the Arctic could mean to aviation and of what aviation could mean to the
Arctic. In his short lifetime he took risk after risk to combat indifference to
these concepts. In one historic action after another the young North Dakotan was
first to prove in the cockpit what Stefansson had prophesied with the printed word.
When he launched interior Alaska's first commercial air service in 1923, with
his small Jenny, he fired enthusiasm in a Territory which within a decade would
be flying more miles, per capita, than any country in the world. When he made
Alaska's first winter flight, warming his De Havilland with stoves in a shed, and
taking off on home-made hichory skis, he pointed the way to such developments as
the great Al-Sib operation of World War II, in which more than 7,000 planes were
ferried along the short northern route from the United States through Canada and
Alaska to the Soviet Union. When he formed Alaskan Airways, shortly before his
death, he laid groundwork for the extensive northern operation of Pan American

EA-Biography. Potter: Carl Ben Eielson

Airways, into which his company was absorbed; and for the service more recently
launched by Northwest Airlines from the United States through Alaska and the
Aleutians to the Orient. When he flew across the Arctic Sea with Wilkins, he
deeply impressed men of science everywhere and captured the imagination of the
layman as well. As flight in this part of the world, now routine, increases
in volume and importance it may be expected that Americans will honor more fully
the name of the greatest arctic pilot that the United States has produced.
Jean Potter
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