Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Whitehorse Star

(top) THE SOS IN THE SNOW, south of Watson Lake which led to the rescue of Flores and Klaben, 1963. This Star photo was used by newspapers and magazines around the world. (Bottom) SMALL TENT is little more than a dark spot among the windfall. (Top) Bob Erlam photo/Whitehorse STAR (Bottom) DOT photo/CP WIRE.

Hey, I'm Alive.....Part 2

Part 2 - true story of Ralph Flores and Helen Klaben surviving a plane crash in the yukon wilderness. The date was February 1963 and happened during -40 degree weather.

By Whitehorse Star on March 27, 1963

The Whitehorse Star, March 1963

Hey, I'm Alive.....

Part 2 - true story of Ralph Flores and Helen Klaben surviving a plane crash in the yukon wilderness. The date was February 1963 and happened during -40 degree weather.

The couple had been convinced they were going to be rescued immediately and so did not conserve their meager supplies. After eating two meals a day for 10 days they ran out of food and tried eating protein pills but stopped because of bad stomach cramps.

They fasted for three days and their hunger pains gradually subsided, after which they began drinking huge amounts of melted snow water. Each night Helen would take a jar of hot water to bed with her to sip, all the while pretending that it was a marvelous meal. Then they found a tube of tooth-paste and began mixing an inch or two into each jar of hot water, it was "delicious" according to Helen.

Flores made a crude sling-shot but was unable to hit rabbits so their days were spent reading books Helen had with her and talking about food.

By now they had decided to move to a more open area. Flores built a toboggan and they struggled for five hours through the snow to a clearing three-quarters of a mile down hill (they thought it was two miles) where they erected the small lean-to. Ralph then travelled four miles further and tramped the SOS in the snow where it was spotted by Chuck Hamilton, and the rescue eventually transpired.

In Whitehorse hospital it was found that Ralph Flores was undernourished, had suffered a broken jaw, and required dental surgery. He had lost 58 pounds, dropping from 178 to 120. After he had regained some strength, and been joined by his wife, Flores left Whitehorse and completed the journey he had started almost two months before; to his home in San Bruno California, and his six children.

Helen Klaben was under nourished, (her weight dropped from 140 to 100 in 49 days) and had suffered a broken arm and frost bitten feet. The arm would heal "OK, but slightly crooked," however some toes had to be amputated. Ever the optimist, the 21 year old Helen threw her hand in the air and said "(but) Hey, I'm alive!" after recounting her experience to STAR reporters.

The last the Star heard of Klaben was an article stating the former Helen Klaben married New York securities analyst Robert Kahn in Brooklyn on December 17th 1967 at the home of her sister, Mrs. Lennie Paul.

Klaben's book "Hey, I'm Alive!" 1963/64 McGraw-Hill Book Co., was followed by a 1975 television movie of the same name. It starred Ed Asner and Sally Struthers.

From a news article appearing in the Whitehorse Star Monday, July 22, 1963:

The Federal Aviation Agency ordered Flores' flying certificate be revoked on more than 12 violations. Flores violated more than a dozen rules on a flight southward form Alaska during which he crashed last February.

The FAA said that among other things Flores carried inadequate emergency equipment - only 10 pounds of food, including four cans of sardines, two tins of tuna, a box of crackers and chewing gum, and a hunting knife.

Among other charges listed by the FAA against Flores were that he:

  1. Taxied to the runway at Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, without clearance from the control tower.

  2. Took off after receiving information from the tower which he admitted he did not understand.

  3. Lacked knowledge of techniques and procedures for using navigation aids.

  4. Twice climbed under instrument conditions to 11,000 feet, although he did not know how to operate the plane in instrument conditions.

  5. Twice descended from 11,000 feet on instruments, over unfamiliar mountainous terrain. On the second descent an engine failed because Flores had the gasoline selector device turned on to an empty fuel tank, the FAA said.

It added that he was then at such a low altitude that he was unable to start the engine again before the plane hit a tree and crashed.

If Flores wants to pilot planes again after the revocation period, he will have to qualify for a new certificate.

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.

$3.00 per copy (shipping not included)

To order e-mail: circulation@whitehorsestar.com

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