But he did not arrive in Sleetmute that night, and was never seen again.The last picture of Merrill was snapped as he took off from Spenard Lake in Anchorage at p.m.He also had planned a viable alternate destination at a hunting camp at Chakachamna Lake in case he had trouble along the way.After flying out of Anchorage for the past four years, Merrill knew the region well; in fact there was no one in Alaska who knew it better.Eielson did not plan to initiate a massive search of the region or call in other pilots to help, or put his own life on hold for weeks in a vain attempt to find his fellow pilot.In his Travel Air floatplane, Merrill’s September 16 flight from Anchorage to the western village of Sleetmute should have taken three hours.In 1925 Noel Wien was blown off course and ran out of gas on the way back to Fairbanks from Wiseman.It took him three days of wading through slush and swamp before he stumbled into civilization.
Along with an observer, he flew the 225 miles to Sleetmute believing he would soon find Merrill, or hear word of his location.
(Other pilots had arrived there by ship with their aircraft in crates.) Everywhere they went, crowds formed and business quickly followed.
There were not many pilots in Alaska in the 1920s and ’30s, so with Merrill, Davis and those that followed came a litany of firsts: first to fly across the Arctic Circle, first to fly across the Bering Sea, first to land on a glacier and first to land within an active volcano.
News articles announcing pilot departures and arrivals made the front page back then, as did those reporting pilots were okay: “There is no truth to the report that Pilot Young is missing,” reads a headline from The Anchorage Daily Times.
Overdue aircraft were common, as were the stories of pilots emerging unscathed after all manner of delays, breakdowns and mishaps.