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Unsolved: The Disappearance Of House Majority Leader Hale Boggs And Rep. Nick Begich

On October 16, 1972, then-House Majority Leader Thomas Hale Boggs, along with Alaska Rep. Nick Begich and one of Begich’s aides, were flying from Anchorage to Juneau when their twin engine Cessna 310 vanished into thin air. No trace of the plane, or its pilot and passengers, has ever been found.

Boggs was born in 1914 in Long Beach, Mississippi, and received a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a law degree from Tulane University. He quickly became a public figure, working to break the political machine of then-Sen. Huey Pierce Long Jr., a Left-wing radical who criticized President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal as not being extreme enough.

At age 27, Boggs became the youngest member of Congress when he defeated incumbent Rep. Paul Maloney in the 1940 Democratic primary, which paved the way to victory, as he ran unopposed in the general election. During the next election, however, Boggs lost to Maloney and joined the U.S. Navy, serving in the final years of World War II.

(Original Caption) The closing session of Congress is always an interesting event, and this time the family of Representative Hale Boggs of Louisiana had ringside seats at the ceremony. The Representative is shown with the family, after the curtain had rung down. Left to right are Mrs. Boggs, Tommy, 6 1/2 years old; Congressman Boggs; Barbara, 8 years old; and Corrine (aka Cokie), 3 1/2 years old. Bettmann. Getty Images.

When the war ended, Boggs again ran for Congress, and was elected in 1946 after Maloney retired. In 1951, he ran for governor of Louisiana, but lost. He continued to rise as a congressman, however, and became the youngest member of the Warren Commission, which investigated the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Boggs dissented from the commission’s majority report, POLITICO reported in 2016, believing the single bullet theory – a lone assassin – may not have been accurate. Boggs reportedly said he “had strong doubts about” the theory.

(Original Caption) Watching the blastoff. Washington: The White House released this picture today showing President Kennedy and the Democratic Congressional leaders watching astronaut John Glenn’s blast off on TV. Left to right: Rep. Hale Boggs, LA.; Speaker John McCormack, Mass. (in rear); Rep. Carl Albert, Okla.; Sen. Hubert Humphrey, Minn.; and Vice Pres. Lyndon Johnson. Bettmann. Getty Images.

Hale Boggs, John Cooper, and Richard Russell, Warren Commission members, leave the Texas School Book Depository after inspecting the President Kennedy Assassination scene. Bettmann. Getty Images.

In 1962, Boggs became the Democratic majority whip, and became majority leader in 1971 – a position he served until his disappearance.

Boggs regularly campaigned for other Democrats around the country, so it was not unusual that he was in Alaska in 1972 campaigning for Rep. Begich, who was locked in a tight race with Republican candidate Don Young. On October 16, Boggs, Begich, and Begich’s aide Russell Brown boarded the tiny Cessna in Anchorage, Alaska, setting off for a campaign event in Juneau, nearly 600 miles away.

The weather in Alaska was fierce that day, and at some point during the flight, the plane disappeared, never to be seen again. All four people on board, including pilot Don Jonz, vanished along with the plane.

At noon the following day, Rep. Tip O’Neill, then the Democratic whip, told members of the House that “it is our hope and prayer, of course, that the men will be found safe,” according to POLITICO.

The search for the missing men became the largest search and rescue operation ever conducted at the time. A 325,000 square mile area was searched by 40 military aircraft and 50 civilian planes. More than 3,600 hours were spent searching for the missing men and the plane.

(Original Caption) Washington, D.C.: Mrs. Hale Boggs, with her son, Tommy, and daughter, Mrs. Barbara Sigmund, of Princeton, N.J., wait at the Boggs home in nearby Bethesda, Md. for word of the missing House majority leader. Boggs, 58, Rep. Nick Begich and two others were in a twin engine plane that disappeared in a rainstorm on a flight from Anchorage to the state capital of Juneau. On the wall is a portrait of Rep. Boggs as a young man. Bettmann. Getty Images.

After 39 days of searching, however, the search was ended without any sign of a plane crash or survivors. Boggs and Begich were both declared dead on December 29, 1972, following a hearing and quick jury deliberation.

Despite being missing, Boggs and Begich were both re-elected posthumously. House Resolution 1, enacted on January 3, 1973, recognized that Boggs had died and allowed a special election to take place. A similar resolution passed for Begich. Don Young, who was Begich’s Republican challenger in 1972, ended up winning the special election and served in Congress until his death in 2022.

For Boggs, his widow, Lindy, won his seat during the special election and served the second district of Louisiana until she retired after the 1990 election. In 1997, President Bill Clinton appointed her as the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, a position she held until 2001.

American politician and ambassador Lindy Boggs (1916-2013), United States House of Representatives member from Louisiana’s 2nd district, in New Orleans, Louisiana, 4th April 1973. Lindy is the widow of the late House Democratic Leader Hale Boggs. (Photo by Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)

The Boggs’ had four children, including famous TV and public-radio journalist Cokie Roberts. Begich had six children.

The disappearance of the men in Alaska led to new requirements for flights. No emergency transmission signal from the plane was ever heard during the extensive search and rescue effort. In its report on the disappearance, the National Transportation Safety Board said that the pilot, who was supposed to carry a portable emergency transmitter if one was not fixed to the plane, did not follow procedure. The portable transmitter was found in a different aircraft in Fairbanks, Alaska. The incident resulted in Congress passing a law that mandated all U.S. civil aircraft must install emergency locator transmitters.



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