Here’s another incredible story that was recently discovered during research for the newly reopened Cedar Hills Pub. It is tragic, but also reveals the connection between the small, local Bernard Airport (site of today’s pub) and critical advances made to the global aviation industry at large.
“I had mostly forgotten about the story of the Oien family until I began regularly visiting your McMenamins Cedar Hills pub about 20 years ago. While having a beer and meal with friends and/or family, I would always look at the many aviation photos commemorating the Bernard Airport (which had operated on and around the site of the pub) and think about the Oiens and wish there was a photo of them on the wall and something to tell their story.
When I was a 15- or 16-year-old kid, I washed airplanes [at Bernard Airport] and begged for free rides. Mr. Oien never let me wash his aircraft, he was very particular. Mr. Oien’s plane was a beautiful Cessna 195. I still have a photo [shown] I took of the plane in 1966 when I printed a copy using my school photo lab to give to Mr. Oien. However, the airport manager who gave me my first flight lessons told me not to bother Mr. Oien. My memory of [his step-daughter] Carla is of a nice-looking girl about my age who read books while her dad did maintenance work on his aircraft. When I talked to Carla for more than a moment one time, Mr. Oien told me leave her alone. . . . Funny how many years later I recalled that incident, and thought differently about it, when my daughter was 16 years old.” – John Hyde, 2017
The Oiens, a local Beaverton family who kept their Cessna airplane in a hangar at Bernard Airport, were involved in a terrible accident that spurred legislation making it mandatory for all U.S. civil aircraft to carry emergency locator transmitters (ELTs) onboard. Today, because of the Oien family incident, and the subsequent widespread use of ELTs, thousands of lives have been saved in search-and-rescue operations.
On Saturday, March 11, 1967, local pilot Alvin Oien, his wife Phyllis and step-daughter Carla (shown, at the Oiens’ wedding 9 years earlier in 1958) took off from the former Bernard Airport bound for San Francisco in Oien’s private aircraft. Carla, who was 15 at the time, didn’t want to go – she wanted to stay home with her boyfriend. But off they went.
Somewhere over the Trinity Mountains in northern California, the weather quickly turned and visibility went to zero. Despite Al being a seasoned, disciplined pilot, the plane went down in the snowy and rugged terrain somewhere near the Oregon-California border. Miraculously, while injured by the crash, the three occupants – Al, Phyllis and Carla – survived.
When the plane didn’t arrive at its intended destination, search aircrafts from the Air Force, Civil Air Patrol, Oregon Pilots’ Association and other air and land organizations were mobilized. For two weeks, trained personnel searched high and low for the missing aircraft – they found nothing.
The Oien family, however, remained hopeful, despite their injuries, the cold weather and scant rations that included two packs of sour mint drops, two packs of M&Ms, three small jars of jelly, some vitamins, toothpaste and milk-of-magnesia tablets. Incredibly, for two months and more, the three survived. Phyllis and her teenaged daughter Carla remained at the fuselage, writing a daily journal of their hopes, fears and questions about why a rescue never happened. Al ventured out on foot through the deep snow to find help, but never returned. Phyllis and Carla circled May 9, 1967, on their calendar, noting “…we probably lived longer than the calendar shows but were too weak to mark the date.”
Seven months after the crash, the airplane was discovered by a local hunter and his wife. Phyllis and Carla had not survived, but their journal and personal effects were found in the craft. Al’s location was never discovered.
For the entire story of the crash, the massive search-and-rescue effort and the resulting landmark aviation safety legislation, read Ross Nixon’s book Finding Carla (2016).