One problem I’m having with writing the stories of Highway 99 is connected to the research.  This week I’ve been working on the background of a story set in Canyonville-a place with a long record of travel disasters.  The earliest emigrants over the Oregon Trail had a whole wagon train, or what was left of it get stuck there, unable to go on, exhausted and without food.  Rescuers did come to help but not soon enough to save everyone. 

The story that caught my attention this time was more current than that.  This one was about an airplane crash in the mountainous terrain near Canyonville on Oct.2, 1928.  It was a Boeing 40 plane, designed in 1925 as a mail plane.  This airplane was particularly attractive because a passenger could sit in an enclosed compartment although the pilot still sat in an open cockpit.  The Boeing 40 belonged to Pacific Air Transport .  (early airline)  The route of the ill-fated plane was from Portland, OR to San Francisco.

The pilot was Grant Donaldson.  He was following the road, Highway 99 and the South Umpqua River.  He  could not see over the front of the plane so he was looking over the side.  The airplane clipped some trees, went for about a quarter of a mile, crashed into a hillside and burned.

The passenger was D.P.Donovan of Las Angeles.  He owned a string of drug stores along the west coast.  He was killed on impact.  The pilot, badly injured, made it down the hill to a road where a motorist picked him up.  A preacher and his family took him into town in their Model A.  The injured pilot muttered there had been a crash so the airline was notified.  That is when the townspeople were discovered there had been a passenger.  A search party was organized but it was two days before the plane was located on the forested hillside. 

An airline official came to take over the recovery effort.  They found the engine, the remains of the passenger and all the diamonds they could.  “For the next four years or so, people would visit the crash site and sift through the dirt looking for diamonds.”  Local lore has tales of someone who knows someone who found a diamond and had it set as a family heirloom.  However, the crash site itself remained hidden for more than seventy years. 

Finally located in 1992, the remaining parts of the airplane were in recovered in 1994.  In March of 2007  the restoration of the airplane was nearly completed, the only flying model of the Boeing 40 left.   Pemberton and Sons of Spokane, Washington have a website where that restored plane, and others, can be viewed. 

As an author, I can feel a story here.  A wealthy businessman traveling with a stash of diamonds?  Where did he get them?  Were they legal?  Or were they in the mail?    This could be a good place to play around for awhile. 

This story referenced  in an article by Meg Godlewski, writing for General  Aviation News, March 23, 2007


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