Plane & Pilot Editor-in-Chief Isabel Goyer spoke with Jon Walczak, executive producer and host of Missing In Alaska about his podcast and the disappearance of N1812H.
IG: How has your understanding of aviation evolved as you investigated the disappearance of N1812H, the Cessna 310 with U.S. Representatives Hale Boggs and Nick Begich aboard?
JW: Researching this story, I’ve delved into everything from radical Croatian separatism to Alaska politics in the 1970s to aviation. And I learned a ton. Before, I only understood aviation from the perspective of a layperson. Now, I fall in the gray area between layperson and pilot. I’m not an expert. I always consult with pilots and experts before stating anything on the show. But I’m able to speak with pilots and understand, for the most part, what they’re talking about.
IG: How did you approach discussing the aviation details so they were accurate and in-depth enough for the subject while not making it too complex for non-pilots to understand and get into?
JW: This was extremely tricky. Nearly every day, we hear from laypeople who think we’re too technical and pilots who think we’re not technical enough. I start from the assumption that the audience is intelligent. I don’t think there’s a need to dumb down everything. People are smarter than media give them credit for, and if they don’t know something, hey, they’re like me: They want to learn. So I had to evaluate every statement to make sure that the show is simple enough that average folks can get it but technical enough that pilots are confident that I know what I’m talking about.
IG: It’s weird, but the more likely it was that N1812H crashed because of weather, pilot error or mechanical failure, the less likely the bomb scenario is. Given this, did you find it hard to weigh the strength of the competing arguments?
JW: Barring physical evidence—and there was none—everything, including the weather theory, is based on speculation. Weather is obviously a strong contender here, but one of the things I explore in the show is how icing is not as likely a culprit as most people think. In my opinion, the assumption that the plane crashed because of bad weather led people to preemptively write off other explanations. It’s a simple narrative: Small plane, Alaska, ice, solved.
IG: One of the most intriguing characters to me throughout the course of the podcast has been the pilot, Don Jonz. Did it feel to you like he somehow emerged as a central character, and if so, were you surprised by that?
JW: Don is absolutely one of the central characters. And he’s a character. A ton of personality. But so much of the speculation about what happened to the plane is based on Don’s personality, when his experience and knowledge should be given just as much, if not more, weight.
IG: The time when you launched your investigation and the podcast about the disappearance of N1812H was about as late as you could have done it while still having living participants. Have you thought about how the investigation might have been different if you had somehow magically started this, say, 25 years earlier or, conversely, if you had waited another 15 years?
JW: Great question. I wish I could have investigated this 25 years ago, but I was in elementary school! It frustrates me that nobody dug into this, in full, until now. If I waited 15 years, there’s no way I could have told this story beyond microwaving a mash-up of old information and archival research. The keys are people, who are dying off, and the wreck, which is still lost.
IG: Everyone I’ve spoken with really wants Missing In Alaska to conduct another search in the waters around Hinchinbrook Island, where a fisherman told you that he found a large section of aircraft tail around 1980. What are the chances we’ll get to see that?
JW: In Episode 10, “The Island,” we [conducted] a search off the coast of Hinchinbrook. But we had a narrow window of time in October 2019 and limited equipment (namely, remotely operated vehicles, or ROVs). We have exact coordinates of where the fisherman found part of a plane tail—new information reported for the first time on the show—and we really want to go back with additional equipment, including tow-behind metal detectors and magnetometers, as well as side-scan sonar. If anyone wants to fund a search—or prod the government to do so—let me know!