James Murray

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Murray in Omaha 1924.
- Courtesy of NASM

James Murray flew for the Air Mail Service from 1920 until 1927. In October 1920, while flying the Salt Lake City, Utah to Cheyenne, Wyoming route, Murray found himself caught in a blinding snowstorm that struck while he was trying to traverse through mountains as high as 12,000 feet.

Murray tried to slip through the Medicine Bow mountains to Laramie Valley. He saw his chance to sneak through the weather and headed for a gap in the storm, but by the time he reached it, the gap had closed in and was now a blinding snowstorm ahead and behind him. Unable to turn around, he continued flying into the white wall between his position and Cheyenne. Occasionally, he could catch a glimpse of tree tops as he flew, but little else.

Murray recalled, "I gradually climbed the machine full engine, until it stalled. The treetops were 50 feet away. I cut switches and pancaked into treetops." Murray crashed into the trees just as the sun was beginning to set. Using that direction as a reference, he walked for an hour in two feet of snow before giving up and hunkering down under a cedar tree for the night. The next morning he continued his slow pace down the mountain and finally came across a road out of the forest. By the time he found his way to help, he had spent eight hours walking 14 miles.

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Telegram on crash October 1920
- Courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration

Fad to Fundamental: Airmail in America