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Along with fellow pilot Roy Davis and mechanic Cyril Krugner, Merrill arrived in Alaska in 1925, flying into Ketchikan with big plans to establish a flying business.
He loved the area so much that he sent for his wife and children only a week later.
Dearest love to my wife, boys and two fine brothers.” Everyone from the aircraft was found alive, although it would be months before the pilot physically recovered.
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.
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.
Often described by those who knew him as clear-eyed and careful, he was born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa, and learned to fly in the United States Navy during World War I.
Although he never saw combat, he had 376 flight hours when the war ended, all of it on floats.
Merrill was one of the very small cadre of pilots who filled in the map of Alaska.
Along the way this group of aviators created a legend, and the bush pilot myth built from their exploits has remained a critical and problematic component of the Last Frontier story to this very day.
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.