Cook Inlet, Russell Merrill, and Bush Pilot Heaven

Today, while waiting for the family to arrive, I sat on an overlook of Cook Inlet, a wide finger of water that extends 180 miles from the Gulf of Alaska eventually passing alongside Anchorage. I couldn’t quite figure out what I was looking at because there was a total lack of WATER. It was all tidelands and sand bars – the nearest water seemed to be miles out:

All that grey - it's not water, it's sand...

Still beautiful though, huh?

Then the tide started coming in:

That solid blue-grey out there is water...

Within another 15 minutes, the entire inlet was full of water. Truly amazing the speed in which the tide came in. When I got back to the hotel, I looked it up – the tide tables show that the tide shifts 28 feet every seven hours. That makes seabirds and other shallows scavengers very happy and people dumb enough to venture out to the sandbars VERY SORRY.

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In the baseball game I attended yesterday, they had a Breast Cancer Awareness event going on and the players were all wearing pink ballcaps that you could bid on and the winner gets the game-worn hat, an autograph, and photo with the player you bid on. Nice fundraiser.

Best part: It was called “Saving Second Base”.

If you don’t get that, ask your teenager.

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Spent some time downtown strolling around Merrill Field, a smaller commercial airport located pretty much within the downtown area. It is the original Anchorage airport built in 1930 and named for Russell Merrill, an early aviation pioneer who went missing on a flight to Bethel in 1929.

R. H. Merrill

Merrill, who initially flew in Curtis F Flying Boats, often flew into unknown areas searching for shorter flight paths to connect remote sections of Alaska together as well as with Canada and the Lower 48.

In 1927, he was the first pilot to successfully cross the Alaska Range and, during that same year, he received a message that there was a schoolteacher in Ninilchik, near death from a gunshot wound, who needed to be airlifted to Anchorage. When he and his passenger flew over Anchorage, he had to circle numerous times to try to determine where the landing strip was. When Anchorage residents realized what was happening, they set bonfires at the ends of the path and used automobile lights to light the length of the strip. This enabled Merrill to make the first night landing ever in Anchorage.

Curtis F Flying Boat

By 1929, commercial aviation was booming in Alaska and Merrill was flying 10-12 hours a day. On a third consecutive day of flying, he took off with a load of heavy machinery for Bethel and was never heard from again. A month later, fabric was found on a Cook Inlet beach that was identified as coming from Merrill’s plane. Guesses were that (1) he just fell asleep and crashed into the inlet or (2) that he had engine trouble, landed in the water, and had torn the fabric from the tail of the plane to fashion a sail – before the plane was eventually swamped by a severe gale the next day. Either way, he was gone.

Alaska bush pilots are renowned for their heroism and flying skills. I had seen some unusual aircraft while driving by Merrill Field and decided to take a closer look:

The family's flying in from Chicago on this tonight

Lookin' a little flimsy here

What are the chances of getting Donna and Matt up in one of these to go bear watching?

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One response to “Cook Inlet, Russell Merrill, and Bush Pilot Heaven

  1. Zero!

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