When I showed McCallum the LIFE magazine he amazed me by saying that
he was the person who took the photo on the cover!
PILOT MCCALLUM RESCUED YUKON SURVIVORS
The contact with Helen Klaben was memorable indeed.
She was crying, and so was McCallum.
The emotion in being rescued after 49 days in the frozen wilderness was infectious!
How many times had she and Flores fought the hopeless feeling that they might never be found --
only now to realize that their future had been restored to them?
McCallum later commented,
"She was so wasted and haggard that
I really don't know how she or the pilot survived."
This past spring there were write-ups in the news celebrating the 50th anniversary of the rescue of Ralph Flores and Helen Klaben -- heroes of one of the most miraculous survival stories in North American history. For almost 50 days, from February 4th to March 25th, 1963 they kept themselves alive in almost 50-below temperatures -- with no food -- and facilitated their own rescue by stomping out a huge SOS on a frozen beaver pond a few miles below the crash site of their plane.
Survival made for story of a lifetime
Fifty years later, tale of crash victims who fought for lives in wilderness still every bit as gripping
by Marty Klinkenberg, Post Media News, March 23, 2013
Reading the article above, written by a journalist who interviewed the reporter who was first on the scene at the Watson Lake airport when Flores and Klaben were brought in, I was struck by the fact that the name of Jack McCallum was missing from the story. McCallum was one of the two pilots involved in the rescue and although he wasn't the first one to spot the SOS -- that was Chuck Hamilton -- he was the first one to land at the survival site near the SOS.
This ignoring of McCallum's role in the rescue is exactly what McCallum told me was happening to him and I've been planning to write about it for years. Now is beyond the time to share his story with ORWELL TODAY readers.
Six years ago -- in June 2007 -- I read an article in the newspaper about a bush pilot -- Jack McCallum -- who'd written a book about his experiences flying in the Canadian north. He was on a book tour promoting TALES OF AN OLD BOLD PILOT FLYING THE NORTH WHO LIVED TO TELL HIS STORY and would be signing copies at the local mall.
The article mentioned that McCallum had rescued Ralph Flores and Helen Klaben after their plane went down in 1963 -- a famous survival story I'd read about years ago in LIFE magazine and in a book that came out. It also mentioned that Flores had received a commendation for courage from President John F Kennedy -- a fact I hadn't realized but it's a godcidental honour coming from JFK who himself received a commendation for courage after his survival story of PT-109. I've since learned that after the official search was called off the Flores family wrote a letter to JFK begging him to send USA military planes to continue the search -- and JFK did. The Americans didn't find the plane either, but when the plane was found JFK wrote the Flores a congratulatory letter saying "miracles do happen".
I actually own a copy of the April 1963 LIFE magazine describing the Flores-Klaben rescue. Click on the images below to enlarge for reading:
The LIFE article mentioned McCallum being the first rescuer to reach Klaben at the survival site and I took it with me to show McCallum at the book signing.
At that time I'd recently compiled a family history with stories about my bush-pilot uncle Johnny Bourassa whose plane went down in May 1951 resulting in one of the biggest searches in Canadian aviation history. His plane was found intact four months later but Johnny wasn't there -- just a note saying he was walking in a northwesterly direction and "would appreciate a lift". One of my other uncles -- Raymond Bourassa - was a pilot in the RCAF and in February 1963 participated in the search for Flores and Klaben.
I took the booklet with me to show McCallum and he said he remembered when Bourassa's plane went down but he wasn't a pilot at that time and wasn't yet living up north.
When I showed McCallum the LIFE magazine he amazed me by saying that he was the person who took the photo on the cover! He said there was a chapter in his book telling his side of the story of the Flores-Klaben rescue and that it differed in many ways from the official story. He said that most newspaper articles -- and even the book Klaben wrote in 1964 -- never even mentioned his name.
The major role McCallum played in the rescue is that he was the pilot who discovered a landing spot near the SOS when the other pilot said there was nowhere to land and was arranging rescue by dogsled. McCallum had tipped his wings at Flores and then flown up the mountain to where the arrow was pointing and spotted the wreckage and Klaben under the trees.
Then McCallum landed on a tiny swamp and followed Flores' footsteps to the crash site where he'd left Klaben while he stomped the SOS into the snow below. When McCallum reached Klaben she handed him her camera and asked him to take her picture. An hour later the other pilot landed beside McCallum's plane and followed McCallum's trail to Klaben. Then, between the two of them, they carried Klaben and her suitcases out of the wilderness and loaded them into the planes.
When McCallum was telling me the story I got the feeling he was still hurt about being written out of history. But he said the Flores family had always appreciated him and known the truth -- and that Klaben had contacted him a few years ago and apologised for not mentioning him in her book.
It was a great conversation that day with McCallum and his wife at the book-signing. He was in his late 80s at the time but still flying -- talk about an OLD bold pilot! I bought a copy of his book of course and, of course, he signed it! Below I've scanned and transcribed the pages to share with ORWELL TODAY readers.
All the best,
Jackie Jura, 2013
TALES OF AN OLD, BOLD PILOT FLYING THE NORTH
Chapter 17: Flores - Klaben Rescue
(as told by Jack McCallum's friend Stan Burton)
One would think that having a photo they took appear on the front page of Life magazine would be a source of great pride even though it was taken by a bush pilot and not a photographer. Jack McCallum took the photo as one of the key players in the March 1963 rescue of Ralph Flores and Helen Klaben. They had gone down in a plane crash and survived 49 days in the Yukon wilderness. Though many southern newspapers gave McCallum the credit his actions deserved, some confused matters and soured the experience. Thankfully, in 1998 -- 35 years after the event, the Flores family set the record straight once and for all.
On that March morning in 1963, McCallum came to fuel up his plane at the airport and found an unusual amount of activity around the hangar occupied by the BC-Yukon Air Service (owned by Chuck Hamilton and Hal Komish). When McCallum asked what was going in, he was told that the day before, as Hamilton flew over a site south-southeast of Watson Lake, Frank George, a native passenger, saw a large SOS tramped out in a clearing. They flew straight in to Watson Lake and only then figured out that a survivor of the Flores-Klaben crash must have put it there.
McCallum was surprised to hear that Hamilton hadn't bothered to circle back to investigate or to indicate to whomever had marked out the distress signal, that they had been spotted. For all they would know, they were undetected and were to remain in their misery. Hamilton's flight had left them just as had all the other airplanes that had criss-crossed their crash locale during the official air search a month and a half before.
McCallum and others had passed over that site many times, even after the search operation was called off after ten days. They hadn't seen any sign of the plane or survivors.
Now Hamilton and others were organizing a rescue group to reach the SOS site. McCallum was told that there was no landing site close by the signal. The rescue effort would take people out to a trapper's cabin on Aeroplane Lake, some nine miles from the crash site. The dog team maintained by the trapper would then be used to retrieve survivors. Having flown over the area before, McCallum questioned the assumption that it could only be reached from Aeroplane Lake, but everyone working on the rescue agreed that this was the only reasonable approach.
McCallum was troubled thinking that Flores or Klaben, or both if they had both survived, might linger for yet a couple more days before realizing that help was on the way. The whole organizational effort was taking what seemed like way too much time. One of the delays was in waiting for the CBC TV crew to come on scene.
McCallum suggested he fly out to the site to signal them that help was on the way. Realizing this had the added advantage of pinpointing the exact location of the crash itself, the others agreed. Hamilton left McCallum to the task, stating that he would be taking some of the rescue team to the trapper's cabin.
As McCallum was heading off to his plane, Ed McNeill, a Met Tech from the airport came over and asked if he could come along. McCallum readily agreed, welcoming an extra set of eyes to look for the downed plane. With the Super Cub refuelled, they lifted off from the ski track paralleling the runway and set a compass bearing that would bring them over the "SOS clearing" indicated by Chuck Hamilton and rescue organizers.
Ralph Flores had gotten himself in the predicament in February when, as a DEW [Distant Early Warning] radar site worker, he decided to fly back to Los Angeles. A Mexicon-born American, he piloted his own plane and used it to get home to family more often than was usually possible for contract workers setting up the radar chain across northern Canada and the USA. Flores stopped over in Whitehorse and met Helen Klaben who had been working in Alaska and was looking for a ride back to the USA.
Flores agreed to take Klaben along. His plan was to go to Prince George via Watson Lake following a route referred to as "the trench". In good weather the trip could be made without refuelling. Bush pilots, however, knew that the route was notorious for high winds and few safe places to land. In a storm it could be very unforgiving. The wise pilot topped off fuel at Watson Lake and watched the weather with great care. When Flores and Klaben left Watson Lake, weather was only marginal. They never reached Prince George.
Although the official air search found no trace of the plane and was formally called off, McCallum and Dal Daiziel continued to search almost daily. With temperatures hovering around the -40 degrees Farenheit mark, hopes of finding the two travelers alive became ever dimmer.
Now McCallum was on his way to the SOS, in an area he had flown over many times while searching. He was upset with himself -- how could he have missed them? He was also disappointed that Hamilton had not circled the SOS area to let survivors know they had been spotted and that help would be coming.
As he and McNeil flew along, McCallum couldn't help but reflect on the fact that the rescue effort seemed wrongly focused. Why would they not have done some reconnaissance of the area before leaping to the conclusion that there was no safe place to land? The dog team rescue was a good option, if it was indeed unreachable by plane. On the other hand, the casual approach made one wonder if the major media coverage featuring BC-Yukon Air Service, CP Air and perhaps some political, municipal and other personalities might have diverted attention from the real need, Flores and Klaben.
The SOS was right where Frank George and Chuck Hamilton had said it was. As they came overhead McCallum and McNeill spotted the pilot, Flores, out at the signal marking! McCallum circled the site, tipping his plane's wings to signal Flores that he'd been spotted. Flores flailed his arms in response. McCallum made a wide sweeping circle overhead looking for the actual crash location. It wasn't obvious.
There seemed to be some tracks coming out to the SOS from one edge of the forest surrounding the flooded beaver pond upon which the signal had been tramped out, so they decided to head in that direction -- still to the south. Wagging the wings one more time, McCallum set his flaps and powered up to fly as slow as the PA-18 would allow without stalling. He and McNeill looked intently into the evergreens with their desperate cache entangled below.
Passing over an area within a half-mile of the pond, they saw it! Among the "roughed up" tall jackpines, there was a plane, wings missing but fuselage intact! Within less than 100 feet of the fuselage, in a slightly more open area they also saw Helen Klaben waving frantically.
McCallum knew that, with the days she and Flores had been locked in their desperate situation, even a warm pair of socks and chocolate bar would be more than welcome. McCallum got his passenger to stuff some bars into a pair of socks and, at his signal, dropped them down to the woman. They landed virtually at her feet.
The objective, to let them know that help was on its way, was accomplished. They banked around to head back to Watson Lake. As they levelled off, McCallum noticed a tamarack swamp about a half mile from the crash site. He was sure it would be safe to land. As they flew into the area they'd been so intent on finding the crash itself that they hadn't given thought to landing. The rescue team's assumption, "no place to land" was obviously wrong.
McCallum circled back over the tamarack swamp. There was at least a good two feet of wind-compacted snow covering the area. McCallum told his Met Tech companion he planned to land and got a smile and nod. He set it down on the skis with hardly more than a slight rocking and a few bumps as it slid to a stop.
Realizing how close he was, McCallum decided to walk into the crash site to let them know they would be taken out in short order. Of course, no one had any idea that a complex two-day, media-covered rescue event was in the offing. Leaving McNeill at the plane with instructions to direct others who might land to follow his trail to the survival camp, McCallum headed off, easily making his way without snowshoes on the packed snow.
The contact with Helen Klaben was memorable indeed. She was crying, and so was McCallum. The emotion in being rescued after 49 days in the frozen wilderness was infectious! How many times had she and Flores fought the hopeless feeling that they might never be found -- only now to realize that their future had been restored to them? McCallum later commented, "She was so wasted and haggard that I really don't know how she or the pilot survived."
Klaben commented that Flores had left a few days before to find a clearing where he could mark out a large sized SOS. She related his injuries and the fact that he'd crafted snowshoes from material at hand. He would likely stay at the SOS beaver pond awaiting rescue from that location. McCallum told her it was less than a mile away and that it might even be suitable for landing a plane.
Klaben had serious injuries herself. Although she was standing when she waved to them, she had what might well be gangrenous foot problems -- the odour was very strong. She seemed rational, though rambled over things which didn't seem important considering what she'd gone through. She asked if the press strike in New York was over. Then she insisted that McCallum take three or four photos of her with her camera, from various angles and in different poses. Eventually, when talk turned to how she might be taken out of there, she was very concerned that her luggage also be taken along. McCallum took the photos as they waited, hoping that another plane would come in.
After an hour of waiting, they heard a Super Cub landing on the tamarack swamp and, in another 20 minutes or so, saw Hamilton's large frame coming down the path McCallum had made into the survival site. After a short discussion, it was decided that Hamilton would "piggy-back" Helen Klaben and fly her out while McCallum brought her suitcases out to the planes. The bags were unusually heavy! It was a toss-up as to who had the preferred load. The luggage may have been heavier but, understandably after the 49 days, Helen was not a pleasant smelling burden to hike along even if she was very light with the weight she'd lost.
Hamilton said he'd take Klaben to Aeroplane Lake then come back to see how they might reach Flores. With the luggage aboard his plane, McCallum couldn't take McNeill out on the same flight. They agreed that McCallum would drop the luggage at the trapper's cabin then return. As Klaben was still being settled into Hamilton's plane, McCallum started up and headed down the ski run.
Taxing up to the lakeshore [of Aeroplane Lake], several fellows came down to meet McCallum, including the RCMP Sergeant who was in charge of the cabin-based rescue team. When told that Hamilton had Klaben on board and that they'd been able to land close to the crash site and the SOS, things took a confusing turn. McCallum outlined Klaben's physical condition as he knew it and what she'd described of Flores' state. Now, with events coming on faster than anticipated, the Mountie in charge decided he urgently needed an air ambulance.
Though Hamilton had still not arrived with Klaben (he was about 20 minutes behind) the Sergeant insisted that McCallum fly to Watson Lake to get CP Air to send in an air ambulance. McCallum objected, reminding the Mountie that he had left his passenger [McNeill] back in the bush and needed to get him before returning to Watson Lake. At that point the Mountie said, "I'm ordering you to head in there right now. We'll take care of your passenger!" There was no question in anyone's mind that the most important issue was doing what was right for Klaben and Flores, so McCallum headed out.
When he arrived in Watson Lake, CP Air had already been informed of the need. Apparently Hamilton had radioed it in while airborne on his second leg. CP Air sent in a plane with a couple of seats removed to take the survivors on to Whitehorse.
Hamilton or another Super Cub apparently picked up McNeill after a couple of hours of waiting at the tamarack swamp.
Although he was back on the job by this time, it was obvious to McCallum, as the day pressed on, that news reporters stuck in Watson Lake were working overtime to make something out of the story. They were searching for every detail which could be put into sensational context. Unfortunately, in their grasping, they got aspects of the story wrong and ended up creating considerable discord in an otherwise harmonious community.
Erroneous press narrative, aided by Helen Klaben's account, had McCallum jumping the gun on the rescue, even abandoning his passenger [McNeill] in the process. The picture Klaben asked him to take was presented as a picture McCallum took for profit! Making matters still worse, local officials jumped on board the distorted outline of events and brought DOT [Dep't of Transportation] officials into the picture. Lines of loyalty among bush pilots, who knew what went on, placed them at serious odds with commercial flying, RCMP and government leadership for some time.
Klaben herself had been taken to Whitehorse to be hospitalized, dealing with frostbite injuries she'd suffered. Had she carefully considered what hapened, she would have realized that McCallum's intervention brought them out of the crash site a good three or more days earlier than would otherwise have been the case.
With the blizzard that blew in two days later, Flores, Klaben and their dog-team rescuers would likely have been trapped at the crash site until the storm moved out of the area. While they may have been slightly more comfortable with the goods brought in by the rescue team, they would have continued in their isolation for those extra days. This realization did not escape other bush pilots, or the northerners whose ethic was to focus on the needs of the crash victims rather than press coverage and sensationalism.
The Flores family were well aware of the notable intervention by McCallum in the rescue, despite his name having been left out of every account of the event, including Helen Klaben's book "I'm Alive". It remained so until 1998, when Ralph's two sons and daughter came to Watson Lake. They were there to see the crash site and to assess the possiblity of retrieving their Dad's plane.
While there, they held a town hall meeting, and a friend made sure McCallum attended. It was then, in the recollection of their Dad's account of rescue events, that they made it clear to McCallum and others that, over all the intervening years, they had known the truth.
As much as McCallum was delighted to realize the gratitude of the Flores family, they were equally eager to get to know the one whom their father spoke of as an angel who brought news that they were still in the land of the living. As a pilot, Ralph Flores was obviously aware of McCallum's determination, skill, and selflessness in landing where he did and in hiking into the crash site.
Within weeks of her return home, Flores' daughter, Lisa, sent McCallum a pair of pink sockx -- a good-humoured gesture of repayment for the socks dropped to Klaben so many years before.
On several occasions since the town hall meeting, McCallum has talked to Flores' two sons, one of whom is a commercial pilot. They took their Dad's plane to California and rebuilt it.
They now plan to fly the plane back to the crash site and, to reinforce their appreciation for what Jack did for their Dad, they've invited him to come along on that flight.
The Flores family in the final telling of the story, proved the press, local officials and some commercial flying interests wrong. As other bush pilots told McCallum at the time, "Every aspect of what you did, considering the circumstances, was the right thing to have done. Given another chance to do it again, you wouldn't -- couldn't -- do anything differently!"
~ end quoting from OLD BOLD PILOT FLYING THE NORTH by Jack McCallum ~
Connecticut Man Aided JFK in PT-109 Incident 70 Years Ago, by Corey Fyke, Aug 19, 2013
Hall of Fame swim coach Jim Farrar taught survival swimming to John F. Kennedy before the future president shipped out to war...Those survival skills undoubtedly came in handy on the moonless evening at 2:30 a.m. near the Solomon Islands when the Japanese destroyer Amigiri cut Kennedy's PT boat in half. Responding to the challenge posed by the incident, Lt. Kennedy directed the 10 other survivors on how to save themselves. He towed one of his crewmen, badly burned Patrick McMahon, to safety by clenching a strap in his teeth while he swam. He proceeded to swim with them for 4 miles to Plum Pudding Island, where they rested and found sustenance. Kennedy had to swim again to two other islands. Eventually, he contacted two native islanders who transported an emergency message carved on a coconut. That message led to their rescue. JFK kept that coconut on his desk in the Oval Office throughout his presidency. The story of PT-109 and Kennedy's truly heroic and courageous actions in saving his crew has been largely forgotten over the years, as the president's controversial assassination in 1963 and his alleged affairs with other women have dominated the publicity on his life in recent years. It should not be forgotten, however, that Lt. Kennedy showed great courage and judgment in guiding his crew to safety under very dangerous circumstances. Let's not forget that JFK also got an assist from a future Hall of Fame swim coach from Connecticut named Jim Farrar.
YUKON SURVIVOR FLORES FRIEND'S STORY
(Flores lived with Alaska family before crash)
50th anniversary Flores-Klaben Yukon survival
(49-days in 49-below still every bit as gripping)
PILOT MCCALLUM RESCUED YUKON SURVIVORS
(took the photo on the cover of LIFE magazine)
THE FLYING BOURASSA BROTHERS
B-17 PILOT SPOTTED BOURASSA PLANE
PostMedia/Email, August 17-24, 2013
50 Year Old Tale of Survival, Master Woodsman, Mar 25, 2013
Bob Hill was in Whitehorse to report on a minerals conference half a century ago when he got wind of the greatest news story of his career. Forty-nine days after their small plane had crashed into a remote mountainside in northeastern British Columbia, a man and woman had been found clinging to life. Given up for lost, Helen Klaben and Ralph Flores had endured bitterly cold temperatures without survival gear, drinking melted snow, with little more than toothpaste to eat. “Nobody could believe they were still alive,” says Hill, 81, a scrapbook brimming with newspaper clippings at his fingertips....
Survival made for story of a lifetime, by Marty Klinkenberg, PostMediaNews, Mar 23, 2013
...Nine days after the search was officially called off, Chuck Hamilton, co-owner of BC-Yukon Air Services Ltd, was on his way to deliver supplies to Skook Davidson’s hunting lodge on Terminus Mountain when a plume of smoke caught his eye late in the afternoon. It was March 24. Believing the smoke came from a campfire started by trappers, Hamilton continued with the delivery, but decided to take a closer look during his return flight to the airport at Watson Lake. Flying overhead in his two-seat Piper Super Cub, Hamilton saw the reflection from the coffee tin Flores held in one hand, then spotted a large SOS he had stomped in the snow with an arrow pointing to a snowshoe trail up the mountainside. Following it, Hamilton found the lean-to where Klaben was staying, the source of smoke he had noticed a few hours earlier. “I remember the shock I felt when I ran across them after all of the searching that had gone on,” says Hamilton, now 81 and living in Victoria, BC, where he has a piece of Flores’ plane stored in his basement as a souvenir. “Search and rescue teams had exhausted all of their time and money looking for them. “They were pretty much forgotten by then.” With little daylight remaining, Hamilton flew back to the wilderness lodge and asked the outfitters to set out with a dogsled team to fetch Flores. Desperate to be rescued, the pilot had left the lean-to in hope of flagging down a motorist on the Alaska Highway. He didn’t realize it was 80 kilometres away.
After flying back to Watson Lake and alerting authorities that evening, Hamilton returned to the scene on the morning of March 25, landing his plane at a nearby lake and hiking five kilometres through the snow to rescue Klaben. “I am so glad to know you,” she said upon his arrival. “I’d like to kiss you, but I can’t walk.” Hamilton, six-foot-two and 200 pounds, then hoisted Klaben, badly hobbled by her crushed foot and gangrene, onto his back. For three hours, he carried her, falling again and again. “The snow was so deep my snowshoes kept getting caught underneath,” Hamilton recalls. “I worried each time I fell. I didn’t want to hurt her.” At the same time, a separate search team found Flores, who had been rescued by the hunters and camped with them in the wilderness the night before. Both groups then met back at the hunting lodge, and after a meal of thin moose steaks and pieces of hard tack, the survivors were flown to the airport at Watson Lake. “It was 35 degrees (Fahrenheit) the day I carried Helen Klaben out,” says Hamilton, who later appeared on the television game show What’s My Line?. “The next day the temperature plummeted to 40 below. That would have been the end of them.”...
A 50-year-old aviation survival story, with lessons for today, by Tom George, AOPA News, Feb 13, 2013
...Initially searchers had no luck finding the downed aircraft. Missing was 42 year old pilot Ralph Flores and his passenger, 21 year old Helen Klaben, who had been sharing expenses for what was planned to be a three-day trip from Fairbanks down the Alaska Highway. As the days passed, searchers found no trace of the missing pair. Winter temperatures in the areas plunged to 40 below and colder, and hopes begin to fade. After two weeks, search efforts were called off, with the assumption that no one was able to survive in those conditions. It definitely made headlines when 49 days after their disappearance the couple was found— ALIVE! Not equipped with conventional survival gear, the little food they were carrying had been consumed in the first few days, leaving them to survive on melted snow and a tube of toothpaste for the better part of 40 days in the sub-Arctic wilderness. Both had sustained injuries in the crash, so how did they survive?...
McCALLUM, JOHN ELVIN (JACK), born September 27, 1916; died May 31, 2012 at the age of 95 years
...He worked for D.O.T., then airport manager at Beaton River, Watson Lake, Smith River, then settled for many years in Dease Lake. They moved to Sicamous in 1971, where he worked at the forestry tower on Queest Mountain and Lake Forester on the Shuswap Lakes. Retirement came where he and Flo enjoyed their time together in their home on Silver Sands Road. He enjoyed hunting, fishing, flying, and spending time telling stories with many friends. In 1988 he wrote a book with friend Steven Hill, “Old Bold Pilot”, about his many adventures as a bush pilot in Northern BC and the Yukon. On his 93rd and 95th birthdays, he went sky diving with two of his granddaughters. Recently returned to Scotland, England and France, for the 75th anniversary for D-Day reception & celebration of the 1st & 2nd World War in Dieppe,France, where he participated in the parades...
Hey, I'm Alive, Part Two, Left Eye Stories, April 19, 2012 (The photo assignment was to drive to a little town in Missouri where a fellow had some pieces of a plane his late father had crashed in 1963. The man was planning to gather more of the plane, rebuild it and fly it...)
Young soldier's grandfather at center of famous survival tale, by Jimmy Smothers, Gadsden Times, Dec 23, 2010
...Adam Weissmiller's most interesting story was about his grandfather, Ralph Flores, a former boxer, electrician and amateur pilot, who made international headlines by living 49 days in sub-zero weather after his plane crashed in the Yukon Territory, just inside the Canadian border. He was caught in a snowstorm as he was flying from Fairbanks, Alaska, to San Bruno, Calif., and crashed into some trees on the side of a mountain. Seven weeks was the longest anyone had ever survived in those kinds of weather conditions. Helen Klaben, a 21-year-old passenger, later wrote a book on the experience and a movie was made from it, starring Ed Asner as the 42-year old Ralph and Sally Struthers as Helen. In some of the long shots at the crash site, Helen and Ralph play themselves. The book and movie, both entitled “Hey, I'm Alive!” catapulted her to fame and 47 years later she still gives speeches. Weissmiller said the family has copies of the movie and will play it occasionally for civic or church groups who want to see it. “I think it's great and never tire of watching it,” he said. “We've stayed in touch with Helen and invite her to all our family events.” Ralph, a man of few words, didn't like the spotlight and soon went back to work as an aircraft mechanic. After retirement he purchased a 60-acre farm in Missouri. “He was a tough man who worked hard his entire life,” Weissmiller said. “I first started hearing about the crash at an early age. I'd hear something from someone and then when I'd next see Grandfather, I'd ask if it were true. ‘Mijo, that's true' he would say, filling in the details first hand.”...
Helen was a Jewish girl; Flores was a devout Mormon convert who had been born Catholic. He did not drink, smoke, gamble or cuss, and friends said he was “forever talking up the Mormon faith.” He told Helen from the beginning that they would be rescued if she'd read the New Testament. She followed his advice and just a few hours after she finished the final chapter in the book of Revelation, they were rescued. Flores said the timing could be a coincidence, but he believed it was divine intervention. He never doubted that they survived because of his faith. Helen agreed, saying she passed the time meditating and reading books she had with her. She read the Bible and said Flores' devout Mormon faith sustained them both. She said it was a great experience to find that she could cope with such a crisis.
“The Canadian government had set a three-week search limit, but our family never gave up hope. They knew Grandfather was strong and determined and if anyone could survive that ordeal, he could,” related Weissmiller. “They believed some native hill people found him and he would resurface after the spring snow thaw. “My mother wrote President Kennedy, begging him to send U.S. planes to help the four RCAF planes in the search. She pointed out there was a lot of territory to cover, and she didn't believe her father was dead.” Clara, age 16 at the time, closed her letter by telling the president, “I want my dad home safely”. After her father was found alive, she received a response from the White House that said, “As I know you are, we are most happy that miraculous happenings as this sometimes do occur”. That Flores and Helen survived was hailed as a miracle throughout the world. “Mother has that letter and the reply framed back home,” Weissmiller said, promising to get me a copy. And he did....
Son Works To Restore Father's Lost Plane -- His Project Is A Promise To Dad Who Survived Crash, by John Rogers, Seattle Times, Jan 17, 1999
Willard, Missouri - The last few years were rough on Ralph Flores. The boxer-turned-pilot had been a scrapper, a survivor, but he was sick now and he knew he was dying. Still, his son Frank always knew how to put spark back in the old man's eyes. "The only thing you could ever do to pick up his spirits," Frank Flores says, "was to talk about airplanes." So that's what they would do, right up to his father's death in 1997. And whenever they did, the talk invariably turned to one plane in particular: a Howard DGA-15P, a little five-seater with a 450-horsepower Pratt & Whitney engine. A wonderful aircraft, says Flores, a pilot for Trans World Airlines who knows a little something about planes....
Congressional Record: 103rd Congress (1993-1994): HON. TOM LANTOS remarks in the House of Representatives, September 23, 1993
Mr. Speaker, this year marks the 30th anniversary of one of the most remarkable stories of survival under seemingly impossible conditions. The story received international attention at the time because it was so extraordinary. On February 4, 1963, a small private plane crash-landed in the Yukon Territory in northern Canada. Aboard were the private pilot, Ralph Flores, and his passenger, Helen Klaben. Their story of survival for 49 days in sub-zero temperatures is truly incredible.... Mr. Speaker, how were these two people able to survive this incredible ordeal? The only explanation that seems to be adequate was expressed in a letter to Mr. Flores from the President of the United States at that time, John F. Kennedy: 'We are happy that miracles still happen in this day and age'...
Hey, I'm Alive, ABC made-for-TV special (1975), watch YouTube
The 'Miracle' Survivors of a Yukon Air Crash Relive Their Ordeal, People, Mar 24, 1975
...Not long ago Klaben, a divorced mother of two, and Flores, now a San Bruno, California, aircraft mechanic, returned to the crash site -- this time as advisers to an ABC dramatization of Klaben's 1964 book on the accident, Hey, I'm Alive. For both, the story has lost none of its incredulity. "Who would've thought I'd survive and be back here 12 years later?" marveled Klaben. In the intervening years Klaben and Flores had faded into obscurity. For awhile Klaben, now as then the more voluble of the two, actively sought the limelight. ("Hey, I'm a celebrity," she gushed after her rescue.) If she hadn't flown with Flores that day, she recently speculated, "Things wouldn't have been too much different. I still would probably have gone back to school, gotten a job [she has had several: as editor, stockbroker and, most recently, operating tennis workshops], married and had a couple of kids." She now lives in Vermont. Flores, once reunited with his wife Teresa, became just another suburban father trying to support a family which numbers six children. He was grounded by the FAA after the crash for various reasons -- carrying insufficient supplies, misreading his fuel gauge -- but resumed flying in 1966. In the Yukon again, Klaben could look back on the disaster partly as a blessing. "Those weeks gave me an opportunity to meet myself," she said, recalling the hours spent meditating and reading books she had brought along, among them the Bible and Walden. Herself Jewish, she admitted that Flores' devout Mormon faith sustained them both. "Most people expect they would not be able to cope with a crisis," she declared, "and it was a great experience to find out that I could." In the TV film Sally Struthers and Edward Asner play Klaben and Flores (with the originals acting as doubles in long shots) and reenact the improvising of a shelter and tramping of an SOS into the deep snow near the plane. Playing herself in one scene, Klaben was instructed to "wave and shout as I did when we would hear a small plane flying overhead." Said the real survivor wonderingly, "I was right back in it again, screaming and frantic, pleading with the invisible plane, 'See me! See me!' "
Hey, I'm Alive!, by Helen Klaben, published by Hodder & Stoughton, 1964
Here's the story of two who struggled for 49 days against Yukon winter, Ocala Star Banner, Apr 3, 1963
...Meanwhile the two Indian trappers had done their job well. They found Flores the previous evening about about three miles up the creek toward Airplane Lake. They fed him sourdough -- a hard pancake-like biscuit -- made camp, stayed with him overnight and brought him back on their dog sled the next day. They landed just before Hamilton, Helen and others landed on Airplane Lake and trudged up to the cabin...
Yukon crash heroine to lose 5 right toes, Eugene Register-Guard, March 27, 1963
...Bush pilot Jack McCallum said he had been reprimanded for making the risky landing the resulted in Miss Klaben's rescue. McCallum said he landed his plane in a narrow, tree-lined clearing about three miles from Miss Klaben's campsite. The pilot who had spotted the pair, Chuck Hamilon, had been cautioned earlier by Indians not to try to land in the hazardous flue. After McCallum landed safely, Hamilton followed in his plane. McCallum, a pilot of the Canadian Department of Transport -- which corresponds to the US Civil Aviation Agency -- said he had been docked a half-day's pay -- $15 -- for making the landing. His superior, WL Martel, denied McCallum had been fined but refused to say whether he had been reprimanded...
Hey, I'm Alive, Part One, Whitehorse Star, Mar 1963 ("HEY, I'M ALIVE!" said New Yorker Helen Klaben at the Whitehorse General Hospital after she had survived a plane crash and 49 days in the wilderness south of Watson Lake. The Star got pictures of the crash site and of Flores and Klaben before journalists from around the world descended on Whitehorse to buy the rights of the greatest survival story in decades...)
JFK SOLOMON SWIMS SAVED SURVIVORS
Searching for Johnny Bourassa (compilation of articles and photos)
LEGENDS LOUIS & JOHNNY BOURASSA and YUKON SURVIVORS FLORES FRIEND STORY and PILOT MCCALLUM RESCUED YUKON SURVIVORS and B-17 PILOT SPOTTED BOURASSA PLANE and THE FLYING BOURASSA BROTHERS and JOHNNY BOURASSA DIAMOND IN ROUGH and POEM MEMORY OF LOUIS BOURASSA and SNOW WALKER JOHNNY BOURASSA and U-2 SEARCHERS FIND BOURASSA and JOHNNY BOURASSA'S MISSING PLANE and JOHNNY BOURASSA FLIES FARLEY MOWAT and THE BOURASSAS OF PEACE RIVER and TRIBUTE TO LOUIS & JOHNNY BOURASSA
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