Monday, October 10, 2011
The Lost Plane...and a Winner!
The Lost Plane
This story is for my grandchildren. I put this story together from the pages of Grandma Zetta's old scrapbook; from her writings, old newspaper clippings and letters. The pages are brittle with age, but filled with adventure.
The Lost Plane Looked Like This!
Once upon a time, in the winter of 1936, a little more than a week before Christmas, something would occur that would change the lives of many people. My daddy was only two years old. He and his parents, Grandpa and Grandma Devey, lived way up in Fort Canyon on a fruit farm at the base of Lone Peak, right above Alpine, Utah.
The night was cold and snowy. The little family shivered in their beds in the drafty old farmhouse. In the wee hours of the morning, they were awakened by the sound of an airplane flying over the farm. Grandma Zetta wrote, "...It was so loud we thought it was almost over the house. I jumped out of bed and looked out of our east window. The loud roar passed (it lasted about 90 seconds) and then silence. It was as tho' it had been cut with a knife."
It was still snowing and she couldn't see the plane's lights. "There's something wrong. It's stopped!" she said to Grandpa. They lay awake the rest of the night wondering about the plane and what happened to the people in it. She didn't know then that a media circus was about to pitch it's tent in the little town of Alpine.
The missing plane was a Western Air Express transport plane from Los Angeles with seven persons on board. When it failed to arrive in Salt Lake City, an extensive search was launched. The airline offered a huge reward of $1000 to anyone who could find the plane. A thousand dollars doesn't sound like much today, but this was during the Depression. Do you know what the Depression was? It was a time when millions of people were out of work. Many people were homeless and hungry. Those who could find work were often paid only a few dollars for a whole week's labor. The prices of food and other goods were very low compared to today. But if a loaf of bread costs a nickel and you don't have a nickel to spend, life can feel pretty low if your children are hungry. So a thousand dollars to the poor people of Alpine must have seemed like a small fortune.
Over the next few weeks many volunteers joined the search. Men on skis and on horseback scoured the mountainsides from Milford to Salt Lake City. But they weren't looking on Lone Peak. They didn't know that the plane had gone off-course in the blinding snow. Everyone had a different theory about where the plane had gone down...and of course they were eager to share in the reward money. Even a famous lady flyer joined in the search.
Do you know who Amelia Earhart was? She was a famous aviatrix. Instead of an aviator, a woman flyer was called an aviatrix. On May 20-21, 1932, she became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic ocean. It took her 14 hours and 56 minutes. It was also the fifth anniversary of Charles Lindberg's Atlantic flight.
On December 21, 1936, Amelia Earhart arrived very unexpectedly in Salt Lake City. She was flying her fancy red low-wing Lockheed Vega monocoupe. She must have been a dashing sight in her leather aviator's costume, her cheeks all red from her flight in the open-air plane. She told officials she had a hunch that the plane would be found between Salt Lake and Brigham City and wanted to check it out.
Why do you think this famous woman came all the way to Utah? I think she wanted the reward money to help pay for her trip around the world she was planning for the coming summer. But even Amelia Earhart couldn't find the lost plane. Do you know why? Because none of the officials believed the plane had lost its way in the snow. The pilot had reported in as scheduled. No one except for Grandpa Mel believed it was on Lone Peak.
None of your maps can help you, Amelia!
Grandpa Mel's Search for the Plane
By now the winter snow was too deep to look any further. Grandma Zetta said, "The storms of winter buried the mystery of the plane and the seach was abandoned until Spring." As soon as Grandpa Mel could walk on the snow, he would go out to hunt for some clue to the mystery. Between February 13 and June 6 he climbed the mountain 35 times looking for clues. Sometimes he and his neighbor Emery Andrews would do each other's chores so they could take turns climbing the mountain. Lone Peak is over 11 thousand feet in elevation. Can you imagine climbing it 35 times in the snow?
Meanwhile, a couple of local men found some mail that belonged to the plane. This got the people of Alpine very excited. They all wanted that reward! Some of them would follow the two men up the mountain, but they were very sneaky and hid their trails by jumping from rock to rock.
Finally, one early summer morning, Grandpa and Emery made one last climb. Grandma Zetta wrote, "The morning of June 6, he and Emery left the house about 5:00 a.m. They headed for Lake Hardy country, for everyone had come to the conclusion that the letters were coming from somewhere. At [about 8:00] that morning, Mel saw a shiny object and when he came to it, found it was part of the plane." He took the object to airline officials who were happy that the search for the plane was nearly over.
Emery Andrews is on the left. Grandpa Mel is in the center with his dog.
But what about the poor people who were in the plane when it crashed? Do you think that anyone survived such a horrible crash? The terrific speed of the plane had carried it on up the ridge and over the sheer cliff to drop to the canyon below...Hogum Basin...which is on the other side of the mountain. The falling snow, and then avalanches, covered the main part of the plane and the bodies of the occupants. When the plane was found, no bodies could be seen. It would be two months more before all the bodies of the victims were located.
The first victim was found on July 4, 1937. Her name was Hazel Skinner and she was just returning home to Chicago with her new husband. They had been honeymooning in Mexico. Gradually over the next few weeks the rest of the bodies were located. Do you want to hear a strange coincidence? On that very same Fourth of July, the Salt Lake Tribune announced that Amelia Earhart had disappeared somewhere between Lae, New Guinea and Howland Island in the Pacific and was never heard from again! What happened to Amelia is one of the twentieth century's biggest mysteries.
Little Tad...your Great Grandpa and my Daddy!
So who got all that reward money? After months of waiting and a long court case, the money was finally awarded. Four men got a share...$250 each to Grandpa Mel, his neighbor Emery Andrews and the two men who first found the mail. The radio station asked Grandpa what he would do with his share. He said that all he wanted was a radio so he could listen to the news...and a pair of shoes for his little boy, Tad.
On September 11, 2004, Grandpa George and his friend decided to climb up the backside of Lone Peak and see if any of the wreckage was still there. An old newspaper article from the late 70s said that pieces of the plane could still be seen at the bottom of the cliff. Look at this picture of Grandpa George...do you think he found the lost plane?
Family stories can be filled with adventure. All you have to do is look and listen. Look at the pictures your grandparents show you...Listen to the stories they tell. When you know your ancestors' stories, they come alive. I'm sure Grandma Zetta and Grandpa Mel would be happy to know that they live on through their stories.
Keep the memories of those you love alive!