On Jan. 5, 1943, a twin-engine Lockheed-Electra airplane left Boeing Field in Seattle with legendary bush pilot Harold Gillam and five passengers en route to Anchorage, Alaska.
Thirty miles from a refueling stop on Annette Island, rough weather and mechanical problems forced a crash landing in the Alaskan wilderness. Everyone aboard survived the crash, but only four withstood the ordeal that followed.
Among them was a man with credit union ties: Joseph Tippets, a government aeronautics administrator—and father of John Tippets, long-time CEO of American Airlines Federal Credit Union.
Tippets wrote an account of his father’s 29-day trial during the coldest winter the area had seen in decades. More than a survival story or adventure yarn, “Hearts of Courage” is a testament to the power of hope, faith, courage, and endurance.
Here’s how the elder Tippets recalls the moment of impact:
“For 20 lifelong minutes, the plane skimmed treetops with snow-capped peaks occasionally visible through the overcast. While waiting for the crash to come, I calmly put on my galoshes. Others did likewise or performed some inconsequential act. There was almost complete silence in the group, each member of the party mentally preparing himself for the end.
“It was about 6:30 p.m. I yelled at Dewey to fasten his seat belt! Avoiding one mountain, Gillam veered the plane left, then seeing another mountain straight ahead, Harold tried to pancake into an open spot, but the right wing hit two or three trees, shearing off their tops and perhaps slowing us just a little as the wing broke off.
“Just before impact, to reduce the risk of fire, Gillam cut the power to the still functioning right engine. The crash was as if we were in an explosion—a shuddering impact, the sound of crushing metal, blindness, and pain all at the same moment.”
The story of how Tippets and three others survived caused one of his colleagues to exclaim, “The age of miracles is not yet past!”
Bill Merrick is deputy editor of Credit Union Magazine. Follow him on Twitter via @CUMagazine.