Will Rogers-Wiley Post Memorial, Walakpa Bay

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Will Rogers-Wiley Post Memorial, Walakpa Bay

by | Apr 4, 2021

The Will Rogers-Wiley Post Memorial is at Walakpa Bay, an estuary that extends 6 miles (10 km) east from the Chukchi Sea, and is located about 76 miles (123 km) northeast of Wainwright and 11 miles (18 km) southwest of Utqiaġvik, Alaska.  The memorial marks the location of a plane crash that killed humorist Will Rogers and aviator Wiley Post on August 15, 1935, during an aerial tour of Alaska.

In 1853, Commander Rochfort Maguire of the Royal Navy recorded the Iñupiat name as “Walakpan”. The Iñupiat of today pronounce the name “Walakpak” and say it refers in meaning to a “big village”. This locality has been a campsite for generations because of its proximity to a coastal inlet. William Smyth, who was the official artist of Captain Frederick Beechey‘s expedition to explore the Bering Strait in 1825, reported that in August 1826 a village of nine homes was located 0.5 miles (0.8 km) from the mouth of the inlet. Beechey named the estuary “Refuge Inlet” after the barge sent to explore the coast was trapped there by ice from August 25 to 28, 1826.

Wiley Post was a famed American aviator during the interwar period and the first pilot to fly solo around the world. In 1935, he became interested in surveying a mail-and-passenger air route from the West Coast of the United States to Russia. Short on cash, he built a hybrid plane using parts salvaged from two different aircraft: the fuselage of an airworthy Lockheed Orion and the wings of a wrecked experimental Lockheed Explorer. Will Rogers visited Post often at the airport in Burbank, California, while Pacific Airmotive Ltd. was modifying the aircraft. Rogers asked Post to fly him through Alaska in search of new material for his newspaper column. On August 15, the pair were flying from Fairbanks to Barrow (Utqiaġvik) when they encountered fog and low visibility. They became uncertain of their position and landed in Walakpa Bay to ask for directions from a group of Alaska Natives. On takeoff, the engine failed at low altitude, and the aircraft, uncontrollably nose-heavy at low speed, plunged into the lagoon killing both men. A memorial was built at the crash site that is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Read more here and here. Explore more of Walakpa Bay here:

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