History: Anniversary of disappearance of Rep. Nicholas Begich – Must Read Alaska

On Oct. 16, 1972, a Cessna carrying House of Representatives Majority Leader Hale Boggs of Louisiana, Alaska Representative Nicholas Begich, and a Begich aide, Russell Brown, disappeared between Anchorage and Juneau, Alaska, during a campaign trip.

Boggs, who had served 14 nonconsecutive terms in the U.S. House, was trying to gain the friendship of Begich, who had opposed him a year earlier in a leadership contest. Boggs agreed to barnstorm the state on a 48-hour trip with the freshman congressman from Alaska.

After a speaking engagement on Sunday, Oct. 15, in Anchorage, the congressmen left the next morning for Juneau. The plane departed Anchorage just before 9 am, piloted by Don Jonz. The last it was heard from was at 9:09 am, in a routine check-in with the tower.

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“The twin-engine Cessna never arrived, vanishing in abysmal weather conditions,” according to the House History, Art, and Archives Office.

At noon on Oct. 17, Rep. Tip O’Neill made the announcement in the well of the House: “It is our hope and prayer, of course, that the men will be found safe,” he told the chamber.

“The disappearance set in motion the largest search and rescue operation to that point in American history, involving 40 military aircraft, 50 civilian planes, a search grid of 325,000 square miles, and more than 3,600 hours of search time. After 39 days, the search was called off, with no sign of wreckage or survivors.”

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By today’s standards, Begich was a conservative. He was a pro-life Democrat and was pro-labor and pro-development.

Today, Nicholas Begich III, age 42, is the co-chair of Alaskans for Don Young campaign. Young succeeded Begich in Congress in a March, 1973 special election.

Begich was 40 years old when his plane disappeared and Don Young was 40 years old when he became “Congressman for all Alaska.”

Tune into this week’s Must Read Alaska podcast interview with Don Young.

Read more about the flight and the search at Plane and Pilot blog at this link.

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