Will Rogers-Wiley Post Airport in Barrow, AK
The tragic death of Senator Ted Stevens reminds those who live and work in the remote Alaskan wilderness that flying for work or pleasure is not without risks. On August 16th, 1935, America’s beloved Will Rogers along with pilot Wiley Post died when their small aircraft ran out of fuel and crashed in the lagoon at Walakapa, 15 miles south of Barrow. The two had taken off from Fairbanks, headed to Barrow -enroute they encountered fog and poor visibility and got off course. Upon sighting a group of locals camping at a nearby stream, Post put the plane safely down, asking for directions to Barrow. Upon finding out from local Claire Okpeaha that they were only 15 miles from their intended destination where Charles D. Brower was awaiting their arrival, they took off again. Okpeaha reported after ascending four or five hundred feet, the engine sputtered and died completely, the plane taking a nosedive and crashing into the lagoon. Okpeaha ran the 15 miles to Barrow to get help. It was determined the two men died instantly and likely the plane had run out of fuel, thus accounting for the sputtering reported by witnesses to the crash. The above photo is a picture of the memorial across from the airport. Below is the memorial at the actual crash site. Every August, the Claire Okpeaha Memorial Run commemorates the 15 mile trek made by Okpeaha on that tragic August day in 1935 to deliver the sad news of the loss of Rogers, the common-sense humorist, and Post, the one-eyed pilot known for brandishing an eye patch and his high altitude, around the world aviation feats.