TV show looks at Begich crash

History Channel discusses new theory on disappearance of plane

Posted: Tuesday, June 26, 2001

Tonight, the History Channel re-examines one of the state's greatest unsolved mysteries in "Alaska's Bermuda Triangle."

The one-hour "History's Mysteries" segment, airing at 7 and 11 p.m. on cable TV Channel 42, revisits the Oct. 16, 1972, crash of a plane carrying U.S. Rep. Nick Begich, an Alaska Democrat, Begich aide Russell Brown, U.S. House Majority Leader Hale Boggs, a Louisiana Democrat, and pilot Don Jonz.

The four men were traveling from Anchorage to Juneau when their small charter plane went down. A 39-day search - one of the longest in U.S. history - uncovered nothing, according to search officials. Documents found later raised questions about that conclusion.

The disappearance remains unexplained, which the program appears to dramatize.

"In Alaska, people, planes and ships disappear," the History Channel's program description states. "Natives say that shape-shifting spirits kidnap lost travelers. Scientists tell of giant crevasses that swallow the unwary. Others tell of conspiracies to wreck aircraft."

Nick Begich, Rep. Begich's son, was interviewed for the program and hopes it will renew public interest in the crash.

"If the right people see it, maybe we'll get the answers we've been looking for for almost 30 years," Begich said.

Both Begich Sr. and Boggs were up for re-election in November 1972, and Boggs was in Alaska campaigning for Begich Sr. at the time of the accident. After his death, Boggs' wife Lindy inherited his Louisiana seat and served for 18 years.

Begich Sr.'s wife, Pegge, later tried to regain her late husband's seat and stayed active in Democratic politics - until two FBI teletypes were discovered through a 1992 Freedom of Information Act Request by Roll Call, a bi-weekly magazine of news and commentary from Capitol Hill.

The teletypes contained potentially relevant information about the crash that had not been revealed to the Begich family, said the congressman's son. The younger Nick Begich discussed them in his interviews with the History Channel.

"For my mother (the discovery) ended her political life," Begich said. "She left Alaska shortly after that story ran. ... It was like the last sacrifice this family needed to make."

One teletype, dated Oct. 18, 1972, and originating from the FBI's Los Angeles field office, is marked "Urgent." It states that a previously reported location for the downed plane has been checked and confirmed by a "larger unit;" names and identifying details are obscured. The location is then relayed, along with hints that some of the passengers may have survived the crash.

The teletype states that the information was passed on to the U.S. Coast Guard. The FBI spokesman in Anchorage, Eric Gonzalez, did not know if the information was ever acted on.

"Unfortunately this happened 30 years ago and there's no one in this office right now that has any information on this case," Gonzalez said.

Scott Price, a historian with the U.S. Coast Guard, said the agency's records of the search for the missing plane likely were destroyed after about 10 years.

"It's standard procedure for search-and-rescue documents to be destroyed after a certain number of years," Price said. "Any time it's a small plane it's generally not considered something that they would keep."

Despite the fact that they were missing and presumed dead, both Boggs and Begich Sr. won their elections in November. When Begich Sr. was declared dead, a second election was held. Republican Don Young won, and has held Alaska's lone seat in the U.S. House ever since.

Though informed of the teletypes' discovery, Lindy Boggs stated in a 1997 Associated Press interview that she believed the plane went down over the ocean.

Genevieve Gagne-Hawes can be reached at geneviev@juneauempire.com.



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