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    Carl Ben Eielson

    Encyclopedia Arctica 15: Biographies

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    (Jean Potter [ ?] )


            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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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,

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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.

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    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

    017      |      Vol_XV-0292                                                                                                                  
    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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