His logbook read “Forced down, gas and oil out, walked 40 miles back.” And Merrill himself was famously missing for three weeks with members of a Fox Film crew while en route to Barrow in 1928.In a final message he left in his aircraft before hiking out, Merrill wrote, “Hope to make Barrow or a Native home but rather doubt whether I can.But he did not arrive in Sleetmute that night, and was never seen again.
He also did everything he could to get back into the air.
Hunters and fishermen found their way to remote camps with Merrill, establishing a burgeoning tourism economy for the region where one had been largely impossible before the airplane.
Merrill was also late, lost or long overdue more than once.
What became of him in the hours that followed is one of Alaska aviation’s most enduring mysteries, and a turning point in the perception of the job of a pilot.
* * Merrill was thirty-five years old when he disappeared; tall and thin with a prematurely receding hairline.