Whitehorse Daily Star

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"HEY, I'M ALIVE!" said New Yorker Helen Klaben at the Whitehorse General Hospital after she had survived a plane crash and 49 days in the wilderness south of Watson Lake. The Star got pictures of the crash site and of Flores and Klaben before journalists from around the world descended on Whitehorse to buy the rights of the greatest survival story in decades. Pictured above RALPH FLORES and Helen Klaben in Whitehorse hospital. Bob Erlam photo/Whitehorse STAR.

Hey, I'm Alive! Part 1

"I opened my eyes and looked outside, Hey I'm alive" I thought. "Well what do you know?" I realized I was sitting in a crashed plane, but I did not understand right away that I had been blacked out for perhaps half an hour. Then before I even looked to see, I felt my left arm was broken.

By Whitehorse Star on March 26, 1963

The Whitehorse Star, March 1963

Hey, I'm Alive!

Part 1

"I opened my eyes and looked outside, Hey I'm alive" I thought. "Well what do you know?" I realized I was sitting in a crashed plane, but I did not understand right away that I had been blacked out for perhaps half an hour. Then before I even looked to see, I felt my left arm was broken.

I was surprised, and I remember thinking I had never broken a bone in my life. My right foot was wedged between the seat and the side of the plane; I couldn't move it and it hurt. I wasn't conscious of cuts, but there was blood on the map in my lap. Then I realized my chin was split, and the right side of my face was bruised.

I looked around toward Ralph, hoping he was alive...There was blood all over his face from deep cuts on head, lips, and chin. Blood was pouring out of his mouth...the thermometer in the plane said -48 degrees (F)."

This exerpt, from the book "Hey I'm Alive" by Helen Klaben, marks the start of a 49 day survival in sub-zero temperatures by 21 year old Helen Klaben and pilot Ralph Flores in February and March 1963.

LITTLE HOPE FOR MISSING PLANE was the February 7, STAR headline. "Drifting snow under the cold blue of the northern sky may hide the fate of the pilot and passenger aboard the Howard aircraft that has been missing since Monday on a flight from Whitehorse to Fort St. John."

A search, based in Fort Nelson, was immediately started. Local pilots including Lloyd Romfo of Yukon Flying Services, Pat Callison of Klondike Helicopters, Lloyd Ryder, Morris Grant, Bob Campbell, Jack Chapman and the R.C.M.P. Beaver were in on the hunt but snow storms made prospects of a happy ending grim.

49 days later Flores and Klaben were found...Alive.

MIRACULOUS SURVIVAL trumpeted the Star on March 26. In that issue their story was told:

A miracle. No other words can adequately describe the survival of two persons in the rugged bush country southeast of Watson Lake for 49 days after their light plane crashed February 4 on a flight from Whitehorse to Fort St. John.

Out of the wilds that could have been their only memorial, today came Ralph Flores, 41, and Helen Klaben, 21, injured and weak but still alive.

Their plane struck trees near the brow of a hill as they flew low in a snowstorm searching for the Alaska Highway. They had filed an airways flight plan which would have taken them direct to Fort St. John but apparently had sought to land or reach Watson Lake when they became lost in the storm.

An intensive air search involving R.C.A.F. Search and Rescue and private planes was called off about two weeks ago after criss-crossing the country between here and Fort St. John with no success.

Flores, the pilot, from San Bruno, California, and Miss Klaben of Brooklyn, New York had no food--apart from four tins of sardines, two cans of tuna, some fruit cocktail and crackers--no axe, no rifle, no sleeping bags, and yet they managed to survive weather that ranged down to forty below zero.

They made a shelter from a 6x10 piece of tarpaulin and cushions from the plane. They lived primarily on melted snow and luckily had matches to keep a fire going. Their only implement was a five-inch hunting knife.

In the crash one of Miss Klaben's feet was trapped and crushed in the twisted wreckage...both feet later froze and her left arm was broken. Flores suffered a broken jaw and cracked ribs.

During the massive search they and their plane were hidden by the timber. The tragedy of their lonely vigil was that less than 10 miles away was an occupied trapper's cabin at Airplane Lake. It was not until the last 10 days that Flores was physically able to move from the meager camp. Miss Klaben could move only with great pain because of the condition of her feet.

Wednesday, Flores heard the sound of a chain saw from the cabin and set off on homemade snowshoes toward the sound.

It took him four days to make the short journey to a frozen beaver pond where he tramped out a huge S.O.S. in the snow.

The sign was spotted Sunday by sharp-eyed Frank George aboard a B.C.-Yukon Flying Services plane flown by Chuck Hamilton. The two men were heading for Skook Davidson's Rocky Mountain Trench big game outfitting headquarters.

When they spotted the S.O.S. they circled the area, saw Flores and then followed an arrow tramped in the snow which pointed toward the wrecked plane a few miles away. At the wreck scene they spotted the numbers 588 which were part of the serial number N5886 on the lost Howard.

Miss Klaben had been able to get a good fire going with plenty of smoke to guide them in.

Hamilton completed his scheduled trip then flew back to assess the scene.

Next day Chuck and Jack McCallum flew a rescue team with a Super Cub and a Beaver to the beaver pond where they were able to land. They followed Flores' snow shoe tracks to the crash scene and brought Miss Klaben out.

The two were then brought in to Watson Lake and just before two today were flown in via CPA to Whitehorse General Hospital. Flores, looking weak and haggard was able to walk with support but Miss Klaben was in a stretcher--though looking astonishingly bright and very pretty.


For more Yukon history, purchase the three editions of history totaling over 300 pages and covering 100 years of stories reported in the Whitehorse Star from 1900 up to 2000.

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