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After The Accident: 1972 Cessna 310C Alaska Disappearance

A new investigation and podcast have brought renewed interest to the mystery of N1812H and the many theories behind its disappearance.

A screen capture from a flight simulation game of a early, straight-tail Cessna 310 put together by Ryan Vince and tweaked by digital artist Michael Kline before being modified one last time by the folks at Plane & Pilot. The plane here represents a best-guess depiction of N1812H, a 1959 Cessna 310C that disappeared on a flight from Anchorage to Juneau, Alaska, in 1972 with four aboard, including two U.S. Congressmen, Nick Begich of Alaska and Hale Boggs of Louisiana. Not a single confirmed piece of evidence has ever been found. This is likely what the flight that day looked like, with weather reported to be at least this bad.
A screen capture from a flight simulation game of a early, straight-tail Cessna 310 put together by Ryan Vince and tweaked by digital artist Michael Kline before being modified one last time by the folks at Plane & Pilot. The plane here represents a best-guess depiction of N1812H, a 1959 Cessna 310C that disappeared on a flight from Anchorage to Juneau, Alaska, in 1972 with four aboard, including two U.S. Congressmen, Nick Begich of Alaska and Hale Boggs of Louisiana. Not a single confirmed piece of evidence has ever been found. This is likely what the flight that day looked like, with weather reported to be at least this bad.
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In Robert Frost’s poem Fire and Ice, the poet weighs the pros and cons of what he guesses are the two most likely ways the world will end—either in fire or in ice. By the end of the very short poem, he’s on the fence, saying that either one would do the job nicely. Forgetting for a moment the deeper meaning of the poem, it’s the same question that investigators are asking as they rethink the 48-year-old disappearance of a small plane somewhere between Anchorage and Juneau, Alaska. Was it ice that brought the plane down, or could it have been something more explosive?

Here’s what we know: On Oct. 16, 1972, at just before 9 a.m., a Cessna 310C, its registration number, N1812H, laid out in 10-inch tall block letters across the lower margin of its vertical tail, departed from Anchorage International Airport’s Runway 24R (since renumbered as 25R) under gray skies and into what was, at best, marginal flying weather.

The plane seemed fine. The evening before, the pilot had flown the light twin-engine Cessna down from Fairbanks just for this flight. Fresh out of its regular 100-hour maintenance check and fully fueled up again in Anchorage for the charter flight, the 1959 Cessna 310C was in game shape for the planned 575-mile jaunt down to Juneau. No one took special notice. It was just a small plane with four men aboard heading down the coast, just as thousands of small planes had done before and thousands more have done since.

U.S. Congressmen Nick Begich (left) and Hale Boggs.
U.S. Congressmen Nick Begich (left) and Hale Boggs.

But it wasn’t just any flight. Two of the passengers were United States Congressmen, Nick Begich, who was Alaska’s sole representative in the House, and House Majority Leader Hale Boggs, D-La., who was in Alaska to campaign for Begich’s re-election. Boggs had served on the Warren Commission, which investigated the assassination of President Kennedy, and despite being from the Deep South, he was an ardent supporter of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s landmark civil rights legislation. Russell Brown, 37, an aide to Rep. Begich, was also on board.

The pilot, himself a remarkable character, went by the name Don Jonz, though that wasn’t his original name. Jonz, who was 38, had changed his name earlier in his life to distinguish himself from the many thousands of other “Don Joneses” in the world. Jonz (pronounced like “Johns”) owned not only the Cessna twin he was flying but also the small charter company, which he had grandly called Pan Alaska Airways. It was providing the flight free of charge, he reportedly told friends.

Ten minutes after the Cessna lifted off from Anchorage, Jonz radioed the FAA Flight Service Station in Anchorage to file a flight plan. The pilot told the specialist, with whom he had spoken on the phone earlier in the morning to get a weather update, that the plan was to fly V-317 south all the way down to Yakutat, which is most of the way to Juneau, and then direct from there.

A Google Earth view of the flight planned path of N1812H on Oct. 16, 1972.
A Google Earth view of the flight planned path of N1812H on Oct. 16, 1972. We know that the plane got almost to Portage Pass, but after that its path is a mystery. Image via Google Earth, CNES/Airbus Data LDEO-Columbia, NSF, NOAA, U.S. Navy, GEBCO IBCAO Landsat/Copernicus Maxar Technologies TerraMetrics.

For pilots flying VFR, heading down V-317 out of Anchorage was, by convention, not really flying the airway but following the terrain. “The mountainous terrain along the V-317 airway between Anchorage and Yakutat,” the NTSB explained in its final report on the disappearance of the plane, “is such that, weather permitting, pilots of small aircraft proceeding VFR along the route, as a general rule, fly in a southeasterly direction from Anchorage over the Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet through Portage Pass over the Prince William Sound to Johnstone Point, and on to Yakutat.” It then goes on to explain why Portage Pass is so handy: “The lower elevations of Portage Pass proper are approximately 400 feet m.s.l. However, mountains rise steeply on either side of the pass to elevations between 3,000 and 6,000 feet m.s.l.”

There was some confusion as to whether the flight was legally operating VFR or not, and the NTSB’s discussion of it is, they seem to acknowledge, speculative because it all came down to whether the flight was being paid for or not. If it were a paid flight, then it would have been a Part 135 charter operation, and as such it would have been limited to VFR, that is, flight in visual conditions, which is indeed the kind of flight plan the pilot filed. The company was permitted to fly IFR if there were two pilots aboard, which there weren’t, or if it had been outfitted with an autopilot, which it wasn’t. Also, the Pan Alaska pilot flying single-pilot, Jonz in this case, would have to be proficient at using the autopilot, which he surely would have been. By all accounts, Jonz was an accomplished pilot.

Regardless, the flight, for however long it lasted, was officially a Visual Flight Rules affair, though Jonz, based on his writings about avoiding icing conditions, wouldn’t have hesitated to jump on the gauges to stay out of or get out of trouble by flying in the clouds for a bit, and by all accounts he would have done so expertly, had the need arisen. That said, the risk of hand flying in actual conditions with probable strong turbulence and possible moderate icing is very high.

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What role the weather played in the loss of N1812H, however, will likely will remain a mystery. In its report, the NTSB determined that the day’s weather along the route of flight was “not conducive” to VFR flight, though it’s not the forecast or weather reports that determine what VFR is but the in-flight visibility. Again, what the weather looked like to Jonz is a detail we’ll never know. Regardless, the NTSB stopped short of saying that Jonz would’ve violated any cloud clearance or visibility rules along whatever segment of the route of flight he wound up completing before some kind of disaster struck, either fire or ice based.

The flight service specialist who recorded the flight plan and gave Jonz the latest weather, which had come out shortly after the Cessna lifted off, also asked the pilot if the plane had survival gear and an Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT), as required in Alaska at the time. Jonz answered, “Affirmative,” though the NTSB concluded the plane didn’t have an ELT or survival gear on the plane, and Jonz’ portable ELT unit, which was an acceptable alternative at the time, was later found in a different airplane at Pan Alaska’s home base in Fairbanks. It’s likely, though far from certain, that when Jonz headed out from Fairbanks the day before the fateful flight, he simply forgot to grab the portable unit from the other airplane and didn’t realize it until he was already on his way to Anchorage, or already there. And when he was asked if he had an ELT aboard, he did what many pilots would have done in that same circumstance and fibbed.

The NTSB also concluded that the plane was not outfitted with survival gear, as it was supposed to have been. The survival items required make sense, but they add up to a lot of bulk, perhaps too much, for a small plane to accommodate. Among the required items were two weeks of food for everyone aboard, an ax or hatchet, a first-aid kit, a firearm of some sort and the ammunition for it, fishing gear, anti-mosquito headwear and flares or other signaling devices. In addition, the plane should’ve been carrying a pair of snowshoes and a sleeping bag for each occupant, required between Oct. 15 and April 1. That’s a lot of gear, and it would be hard to miss in a small plane. Yet none of the people who saw the light plane off that morning in Anchorage witnessed any such gear aboard, which was because, the NTSB determined, it wasn’t there to see.

Regardless of how the flight was outfitted, that call to Flight Service at 9:09 was the last anyone heard from it. It was, indeed, the last breadcrumb of evidence left by the flight of N1812H. Fittingly, perhaps, the recording of that radio call also has been lost.

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It could’ve been a critical call because soon after the Cessna failed to show up in Juneau, as per its flight plan, authorities initiated a search. Without that flight plan, there would’ve been no mechanism in place to declare the flight missing, but with two United States Congressmen aboard, it surely would’ve happened anyway, though how quickly is anyone’s guess.

The search started, sensibly enough, with a half-hour of calling around to see if the plane had landed elsewhere or if Jonz had made radio calls to another airport or FAA facility along the way. When that effort proved fruitless, the authorities immediately began the physical search effort, contacting an already-airborne Air Force Lockheed C-130 to look for the missing Cessna, which it proceeded to do without finding the plane or any of its occupants.

The ad hoc appropriation of the Air Force C-130 was, as it turned out, just the start of a massive search effort for the missing Begich/Boggs flight, during which numerous government authorities used every resource at their disposal in the hunt, which grew more desperate with every passing hour. Pressed into service over the course of five-and-a-half weeks were hundreds of different planes, including an SR-71 spy plane, many dozens of ships and hundreds of ground searchers. And it all yielded nothing. Well, close to nothing.

After 39 days, and with winter fast approaching, the search was called off on Nov. 24, which that year was the day after Thanksgiving. The four were declared dead on Dec. 29. In the intervening 48 years, no one has found a trace of confirmed evidence of the plane’s presumed wreckage.

The NTSB, in its report of Jan. 31, 1973, concluded that it didn’t have enough evidence to say what caused the disappearance. Not much has changed since then in that regard. That report is still the final word.

Cover of the NTSB accident report.
Cover of the NTSB accident report.

Two Theories

Well, for now the Safety Board’s final report, issued just three-and-a-half months after N1812H went missing, is the definitive statement, though Board members added, “If the aircraft is found, the Safety Board will continue the investigation and make a determination as to the probable cause of the accident.”

But there’s a new theory of the crash, or, rather, an old theory with a lot of new evidence, some of it shocking.

Many observers, myself included, still see the NTSB’s theory, that the plane crashed after encountering bad weather—icing, low ceilings, bad turbulence and poor visibility were all predicted along the route of flight—as the best and most likely explanation.

The weather was pretty bad, and Jonz knew it. The pilot had risen early and gotten an official weather briefing, which called for icing in the clouds and moderate-to-severe turbulence.

The route of flight Jonz planned went through Portage Pass, an almost mile-wide low-altitude valley barely 6 miles long that runs from Turnagain Arm, an eastern extension of Cook Inlet, and Passage Canal, which is part of Prince William Sound. Peaks on either side of the pass steeply rise 4,000 feet, creating a geographic vortex generator, though one that allows planes to sneak south out of Anchorage even when the weather is low, which is exactly what Jonz was trying to do that day. Some speculate that the plane never made it out of Portage Pass. Others say it must’ve made it through, or it would’ve been located.

But the floor of the pass is heavily treed, chiefly with alder and cottonwood, with thick stands of spruce and hemlock leading far up the slopes, carved nearly vertical by a glacier. And before long, the mountain sides turn to bare granite and ice. In its report, the NTSB details the search of Portage Pass, writing, “Much of the Portage Pass area was also searched twice by ground personnel,” though the statement leaves out that much of that terrain is steep, heavily forested and glaciated—in other words, unsearchable. The statement is a nod to the impossibility of conducting a really thorough search in Portage Pass. So could the wreckage have been in the pass all along? Absolutely. Does that mean it is there? Absolutely not.

Or Was It A Bomb?

Another major theory is that someone planted a bomb aboard the plane and blew it out of the sky. It’s not a new theory, though it remains controversial. Without hearing the details, and there are details galore, it sounds like the stuff of tin hats and YouTube rants. But it’s supported by a good deal of real evidence, much of it unearthed by journalist Jon Walczak over the past seven years and presented in a compelling iHeart Radio podcast called Missing In Alaska. Once you hear that evidence, you’ll have a hard time dismissing the theory out of hand. In his excellent podcast, Walczak explores every possibility in seeking to explain the disappearance of N1812H, but his investigation is the first we know of to seriously pursue the bombing theory.

No Finding Of Probable Cause

In its report on the disappearance and presumed crash of the Cessna twin, the NTSB laid out what little it knew. “A Cessna 310C, N1812H,” the report said, “operated by the chief pilot of Pan Alaska Airways, departed from Anchorage International Airport, Alaska, at 08:59. Three passengers, including two United States Congressmen, were aboard.” Those Congressmen were, of course, Boggs, who was 58 and the leading contender to be Speaker of the House, and Begich, who was just 40, a rising star in national politics, having sponsored legislation that brokered the deal that helped create the Trans-Alaska pipeline project. The aide to Representative Begich, Brown, was also aboard.

That final radio call, the one to Flight Service, took place at 9:09, exactly 10 minutes after the plane had departed Anchorage. This was, based on the plane’s probable speed and the distance that it had to travel, probably around 10 minutes before it entered Portage Pass, where the weather can be grim and so difficult to predict that the FAA has in recent years maintained live-feed weather cams for pilots to check before they take off.

The NTSB report lays out the details of that final radio call. In filing the airborne flight plan, Jonz told the FAA specialist that, “He had departed Anchorage at 0900 and that his intended route of flight was via the V-317 airway to Yakutat, where there is a VOR ground-based navigation beacon, thence direct to his destination, Juneau International Airport, Alaska. He estimated his flying time en route at 3 hours and 30 minutes.” (The plane held approximately six hours of fuel, so there was plenty for the trip.)

The Weather

According to the NTSB report, Jonz did get weather before the flight, and the forecast was far from promising. “The aviation terminal and aviation area forecasts, issued at 0755 and valid for use from 0800 to 2000 on Oct. 16, 1972, predicted no significant change from the earlier forecasts. Portage Pass was again forecast to be closed, and moderate rime icing was forecast to exist in clouds from 6,000 to 15,000 feet over the Cook Inlet area.”

There was a pilot report for Portage Pass as well. “About 0840 [19 minutes before N1812H took off from Anchorage] a U.S. Air Force Helicopter, en route from Elmendorf to Seward, was over Turnagain Arm, abeam Girdwood, about 7 miles from the Village of Portage. The pilot intended to fly to Portage and follow the railroad tracks south to Seward.” But that didn’t happen. Instead, the pilot reported that he “encountered moderate to severe turbulence at 500 feet m.s.l., headwinds of 55 knots, and broken to overcast cloud conditions 200 to 300 feet above him. He could see Portage,” the report continues, “but the forward visibility was deteriorating.” Due to all of these factors, the pilot of the helicopter abandoned the plan and took an alternate route instead. 

There was no evidence of Jonz having made it through the pass, though Walczak, again, has dug up reports from locals in Whittier, a small fishing town shoehorned into a cranny in the north short of Prince William Sound, that they heard the sound of a small plane flying overhead around the time that the Cessna 310 would have transited that area. How credible are those reports? There’s ample reason to be skeptical, but if they were true, and the plane was indeed the light Cessna twin, then N1812H made it at least to the edge of Prince William Sound on its way south.

That said, one would expect that the pilot would have continued to communicate with controllers after having cleared the pass and headed out over Prince William Sound, if indeed the plane made it that far, but that’s not necessarily a safe assumption. Once past the obstacles and cruising along, there would’ve been no reason for Jonz to communicate with ATC, at least not until he got to Juneau, and we do know that never happened.

A straight-tail Cessna 310 with the gear in transition. The 1959 model 310C that went missing was a capable airplane with a full suite of deicing equipment, including leading edge pneumatic boots, which is rare for a 310 of that vintage to have.
A straight-tail Cessna 310 with the gear in transition. The 1959 model 310C that went missing was a capable airplane with a full suite of deicing equipment, including leading edge pneumatic boots, which is rare for a 310 of that vintage to have.

Missing

If you’re from Alaska or intimately familiar with it, the thought of a plane going missing, even with national politicians aboard, and never being found despite a massive search is unsurprising. Planes get lost all the time in the state. Alaska is immense, by far the largest state in the union, and it’s very sparsely populated. It’s also covered in ice and snow throughout much of the year. And it’s forested. And mountainous. With tens of thousands of lakes, a rugged coastline and glaciers galore. The salient fact is this: The flight of N1812H from Anchorage to Juneau, or however much of it the Cessna 310C completed that day, was a wilderness trek across a stunning, rugged and unforgivable wilderness landscape that is among the most wild, beautiful and deadly in the world. That a plane has gone missing in Alaska isn’t surprising.

Where did it wind up that it hasn’t been found all these years later? The possibilities are endless. Perhaps it crashed into Prince William Sound, sinking into the depths, never to be seen again. Or maybe it slammed into a glacier where it was buried in snow and ice. Perhaps it crashed into the side of a mountain and slid down into a steep ravine or high, forested section of steep rock. There are so many other scenarios that could’ve played out to hide the wreckage from history, which makes it no different than many other crashes in Alaskan aviation history in which a plane never showed up somewhere and, despite heroic efforts to find it, was never seen again.

The wildly popular new podcast Missing In Alaska, hosted and executive produced by Walczak, is a fascinating deep dive into the mystery. (Coincidentally, “Missing In Alaska” is the title of a 2017 article by Colleen Mondor in Plane & Pilot magazine about lost aircraft in Alaska. While its focus is general in nature, it discusses in passing the disappearance of N1812H.) You can read much more about the podcast in the companion article in this issue by Alaska writer Robin Barefield.

In the podcast (available from just about any podcast app), Walczak explores the possibility that a bomb brought the flight down. It’s not a stab in the dark. The circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the Cessna 310 are troubling, to say the least, and the FBI at one point in the 1990s conducted a limited probe into it. A prisoner, Jerry Max Pasley (pronounced like “paisley”), a low-level mob figure in Tucson who by the mid-1990s was serving a life sentence in Arizona for an unrelated murder and bombings, told the investigators about his involvement in what might have been a plot to blow up the flight.

Before you dismiss that link out of hand, know this. Just over a year after the Begich-Boggs flight went missing, Pasley, who has since died, married Pegge Begich, the widow of the Alaska Congressman lost on the Oct. 16, 1972, flight and declared dead on Nov. 24. The marriage was short-lived, and two of Nick and Pegge Begich’s children went on to become respected legislators, including former United States Senator Mark Begich, who also served as mayor of Anchorage.

How likely is it that the plane was taken out of the sky by a bomb? Given the tentative evidence turned up by the FBI and subsequent researchers, chiefly Walczak, it’s impossible to say. But until some far more convincing evidence emerges, the most likely explanation is the simplest one, that the plane crashed after encountering bad weather.

The Aviation Actuality

And there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the plane crashed in bad weather, as many hundreds of other planes have crashed over the years in Alaska, though, again, there is no direct evidence to support that theory either.

Remember that, in 1972, flying in small planes was a very different thing than it is today. While they were mandatory in Alaska, ELTs weren’t mandated yet in the other 49 states, there was no GPS navigation, no satellite weather, no public internet, no personal locator beacons and no cell phones. While the risk of an off-airport landing was about the same then versus now, the risk of not being found after an off-airport excursion was much greater in the early 1970s.

A vintage Cessna ad for its Cessna 310, which was the first really modern light twin. Fast and with a good range and payload, the 310 commanded the market for several years before the Beechcraft Baron and Piper Aztec came along.
A vintage Cessna ad for its Cessna 310, which was the first really modern light twin. Fast and with a good range and payload, the 310 commanded the market for several years before the Beechcraft Baron and Piper Aztec came along.

The airplane, N1812H, was a 1959 Cessna 310C, a light twin-engine four/five-seat plane that was equipped with two fuel-injected Continental IO-470 six-cylinder engines of 260 hp apiece, which was an upgrade for that model year. That particular plane, according to the report, had 3,177.2 hours of total time, and its engines had right around that same amount of time, the left one with 1,182.6 hours of time since a major overhaul and the right engine at 400.6 hours since overhaul.

Because of its good performance, the 310 was a popular air taxi aircraft for many years. With cruise speeds of around 180 knots (around 210 mph) and the ability to carry around 1,750 pounds of weight, including fuel weight, it was a capable traveling aircraft. Despite its good load-carrying ability, N1812H was likely slightly over its max takeoff weight when it left Anchorage that morning, though the Board wrote that even if that were so, it wasn’t by much, and besides, it added, the density altitude of minus-2,000 feet MSL would have obviated any climb performance issues. The plane was not, it pointed out as well, outfitted with any anti- or equipment, except for a heated pitot mast.

This is an assertion that looks to be in error. Walczak has unearthed documentation from the manufacturer, which I have reviewed, that shows that the plane was outfitted with boots and other de-icing equipment, which the mechanic who worked for Pan Alaska confirms. It was rare for Cessna 310s of that vintage to be outfitted with boots, and the mechanic’s recollections were based on nearly-50-year-old memories, but the evidence is convincing. The addition of boots and other anti-ice equipment does indeed lower the likelihood of a weather-related crash, at least by a little.

Blame

Soon after the plane went missing, fingers were pointed at Jonz, in part because he had been involved in a couple of forced landings before. One was in Alaska about six months before the Begich/Boggs flight. He was flying by himself on a brutally cold February day in a Cessna 185, a rugged single-engine model that’s among the most popular bush planes. The engine lost oil pressure because he let the engine idle for longer than normal while he disconnected from external power, resulting in congealed oil in the sump—operating in extreme sub-zero temperatures complicates everything. As a result, Jonz was forced to land in the wild of the remote Brooks Range. After successfully putting down near a frozen river, Jonz, who was dressed in survival gear for the flight, hiked in -54° F over deep crusty snow for what he estimated as 18-20 miles before he found a remote camp.

Before he moved to Alaska full time, Jonz was involved in an incident that some find more troubling. It was in Florida, in 1966, where he made a forced landing on a freeway in another small plane, a Piper Cherokee, and clipped a car in the process. Jonz had planned to fly a record-setting trip in the plane and had outfitted it with a large, additional, unapproved fuel tank. The FAA found that the plane was over its maximum allowable weight by 700 pounds and temporarily revoked Jonz’ Airline Transport Pilot certificate for the lack of a permit for the flight. But by 1972, the enforcement action was a distant memory. Jonz was legal and good to go, and the truth is, if he had gotten the FAA to sign off on the flight, as they often do with record attempts, the whole thing would’ve been moot.

Based on his writings, Jonz had a bit of an anti-authority personality, something more than a few pilots can relate to. Though he worked closely with them in every aspect of his business, he felt that the federal agency was enforcement happy, and he said so in a story he wrote (but never published during his lifetime) called “A Day On The North Slope,” in which he concludes that anytime you make an off-airport landing, the FAA will find some violation. An audio version of the story is available on the Missing In Alaska podcast. (It’s a great listen, though Jonz’ language and humor might offend some listeners.)

All in all, it’s hard to imagine a more qualified pilot, and the NTSB said so in its report on the disappearance. Jonz had 17,000 hours of flight time and was an experienced and respected Alaska bush pilot, though some questioned, and continue to question, his judgment. They also bring up his seemingly anti-authority attitude, an attitude, it must be said, that was and is not unknown among aviators in general and in particular Alaskan pilots then or now. Still, some wonder if Jonz’ attitude convinced him it was okay to make the flight that day when others were turning around or not taking off at all.   

One of my first reactions upon the reading the report all these years later is that it is brief. The full narrative is just 10 pages long, and the Safety Board writes that it took depositions from just 16 people during the course of its investigation. That investigation lasted just over or just under a year, depending on when the clock started, either after the plane went missing or after the search was abandoned. Moreover, the only party to the investigation was the FAA. That Cessna, the plane’s manufacturer, was not a party to the probe is telling, in that the board, according to documentation obtained by Walczak, missed the fact that the plane was outfitted with a full suite of deicing gear. I don’t draw any conclusions from the brevity of the report or in the NTSB’s surprisingly thin investigation except that it might have thought it would dive into a full-fledged investigation once the wreckage was found. And there is much evidence investigators could have turned up, even if it could draw no conclusions from it, that might have helped investigators down the line. Instead the official NTSB Report on the disappearance of a Cessna 310C on Oct. 16, 1972, in which two United States Congressmen went missing, is more notable for what it didn’t produce than for what it did.

The Flying Magazine Article

Many of the doubts about the pilot’s aeronautical decision making are related to a now-notorious article Jonz wrote for Flying Magazine that was published just before the accident flight—Jonz was an intellectual and a gifted writer. In the article in the October 1972 issue, Jonz discussed the actualities of flying in icing conditions.

When I first heard about the piece, in Walczak’s podcast and elsewhere, it was discussed as an irresponsible take on flying in icing conditions, and a couple of quotes were pulled from the piece that do indeed give that impression. But it misses the larger, far more important truth. Jonz was a stone-cold expert on flying in icing conditions.

And in full disclosure, I worked at that title for nearly 20 years and was editor-in-chief from 2010 until 2015. Moreover, even though I knew or in some cases worked closely with several of the people on staff there at the time, including then-editor-publisher Bob Parke and executive editor Richard L. Collins, who would go on to run the magazine for many years shortly thereafter, in 1972, I was still more than 20 years from showing up at Flying, where I started in late 1994. So knowing the people who worked there at the time the Jonz piece was published, I found it hard to believe it would’ve been an irresponsible take on flying safely. After reading it, I found I was right.

In the piece, entitled Ice Without Fear, which itself sounds like blasphemy to many, Jonz made a number of inflammatory statements about operating in icing conditions, including his opening statement: “The thought of inflight structural icing inspires the crazies in a lot of airmen. In my opinion, most of it is a crock.” He continues to seemingly downplay the seriousness of flying in icing conditions, expressing skepticism for modern “gadgetry,” and orders his preferences for “deicing/anti-icing accouterments,” listing boots way down on the list but thermometers at the very top. The flippant tone of the article belies the brilliance of the advice. It’s the single best article on icing that I’ve ever read, covering a range of potential icing scenarios and sensitively discussing the pilot’s potential responses to them. He knows for a fact that ice is a danger, writing at one point, “There isn’t an airplane alive that can handle prolonged heavy icing, 707s included,” and he includes a list of common-sense, step-by-step measures to take should you encounter ice.

I have pored over the piece a half-dozen times. It’s compelling in a dozen different ways. To find it, search in your browser for “Flying” on Google Books, and look for the October 1972 issue.

After reading it, you might find yourself asking the question that pilots familiar with the case have been asking for decades. Did Jonz’ expertise and sensitive understanding of icing conditions and how to navigate them while flying a small plane make him the ideal pilot for such a trip? Or did those qualities make him too bold to back away from the known risk that day’s flight presented?

Probable Cause

So what to make of it all? Like the NTSB pointed out in its 1973 report, what we have is an investigation that lacks a body. Were the plane to be recovered, or even parts of it, even after all these years, it would yield clues. One, of course, would be the location of the crash. What was the terrain like? How far along its planned course did the plane actually get? Were the engines producing power when it crashed? And from the perspective of one theory Walczak explores in some depth, that a bomb brought the plane down, that evidence is even more critical to proving or disproving that theory. It’s possible that even after nearly five decades, investigators would be able to figure out based on chemical signatures, metal failure analysis and other forensic evidence if the plane were blown up by a bomb or not.

And it’s possible that the plane will still be found, as was the case in 1977, when Boy Scouts on a hike in the California Sierras stumbled upon the wreckage of an Air Force plane that had been missing since 1957 under sensational circumstances. Its pilot, Lt. David Steeves, who walked out of the Sierras 54 days after the crash, was accused of selling the plane to the Soviets and of staging the whole affair. After the jet’s wreckage was found, all questions were answered, and Steeves’ name was finally cleared, though too late—after leaving the Air Force under a cloud of suspicion, Steeves died in an unrelated plane crash several years before the discovery of the wreckage of the T-33.

Would the discovery of the wreckage of the Cessna 310C registered as N1812H provide similar clarity and long-awaited answers to those family members who are still alive, including Nick Begich’s widow, Pegge?

It’s probably the only thing that could. 

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