The date was Jan. 5, 1943. The scene was set deep in rugged Alaska wilderness in subzero temperatures. Six people found themselves injured and stranded. Next to them was the horrid sight of the plane crash they all had just survived.
Who got out and made it home?
Author John Tippets is giving a free presentation at the UAA Bookstore May 3 from 2-4:30 p.m. His book, “Hearts of Courage,” is the true story of the 1943 Gillam plane crash, about 30 miles southeast of Ketchikan.
Famous bush pilot Harold Gillam, along with five others, including John Tippets’ father, Joseph Tippets, were en route to Annette Island before the crash. The story tells how the remaining survivors endured 29 days before their rescue.
“It’s an Alaskan, aviation, winter-survival, faith, prayers-answered, love story,” John said.
John lends his voice to tell his father Joseph’s account of the ordeal as one of the four survivors who were rescued. The book is packed with historical photos, including images of the crash site still there today.
Rebecca Goodrich, editor and consultant for Ghostwriters. She worked closely with John for a number of years and knows the story well .
“The survivors thought they were somewhere else very close to help, and they weren’t. After a certain amount of time, no one was looking for them,” Goodrich said.
Goodrich said the story is “flat-out spectacular and says a lot about the survivors involved” because they were able to endure harsh winter weather with a lack of food and a few supplies.
“It’s a beautiful book with great photos from the ‘40s. It’s a part of Alaska’s history about Alaska’s people,” Rachel Epstein, UAA Bookstore special events coordinator, said.
She said it is an important story for students to hear as they reflect on their own lives.
John still has a letter his father Joseph wrote his mother, Alta Tippets, on New Year’s Eve before the crash.
Joseph wrote, “Alta, I miss you and love you! I thank God for having you as my wife, and, needless to say, I haven’t been able to get you and Johnny out of my thoughts. God speed our quick reunion, and I hope I beat this letter to you!”
John said his father’s faith as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his love for his wife and children is what helped keep him alive.
How exactly did Joseph and the other passengers survive for a month in the wilderness? The details will be divulged in the presentation May 3.