A Morrow County mainstay avoided being trapped in the wilds of Alaska in June of 1969 with a little bit of luck and a whole lot of help.
Retired Lexington-area rancher Orville Cutsforth had a narrow escape in the Yukon Territory of Alaska the second week of June in 1969 as he was ferrying a plane to his large gold fields at Kotzebue. He and Frank Baldwin, the owner of the plane and a passenger in the small craft, had just flown over a 100-mile-long lake full of floating ice when the motor of the plane conked out.
“That’s when the good luck started,” Cutsforth said in an interview with the East Oregonian. He was faced with a sizable mountain, but just managed to get over it, searching for the Alaskan Highway on the other side. The highway was there, and fortunately for the pair a 7,700-foot Army emergency landing strip also was in sight.
“Someone was really looking after us on that trip,” Cutsforth said, shaking his head.
Cutsforth landed without incident and rolled up to a helicopter parked on the field. The crew of men there had leather that Cutsforth used to make a new gasket for the plane’s motor, and tools to complete the job.
The crew was there only because their Native guide was late in appearing. Just as Cutsforth completed his repair job and got the plane’s motor started, the guide arrived and within minutes the crew had left the airstrip. “Had anything been timed differently we would have been in that desolate area by ourselves,” Cutsforth said.
Cutsforth and Baldwin followed the Alcan Highway the remaining 74 miles to Whitehorse, where they discovered a search party had been organized to look for them. Cutsforth took a commercial plane to return to Heppner, leaving the disabled plane in Alaska. The motor of the plane was sent to the Lexington airport for repair. Baldwin took a commercial flight to Kotzebue and rented a plane to use until his was fixed.