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In the US, Helen Klaben died. In 1963, her plane crashed, and she survived 49 days in the wilderness with almost no food or special equipment. 

Shortly before the incident, the 21-year-old decided to start traveling for the sake of adventure.

Helen Klaben in the cabin of an emergency aircraft Photo Getty

In California, Helen Klaben died, who became famous for her survival story after a plane crash in Canada in the 1960s. Together with pilot Ralph Flores, she spent 49 days with almost no food, mostly feeding on snow. Rescuers reached the couple only a few hours before their shelter was covered in a snow storm.

Klaben died at her home on December 2, but the media only found out about this in a week. In recent years, a woman has suffered from a rare form of cancer.


Helen Klaben was born in Brooklyn on December 18, 1941. Her father left the family when she was little, leaving his wife Helen and her four brothers. Children from their early years helped their mother, who did not always have enough money for food. Frequent communication with older brothers hardened the girl: she was not afraid to walk for a long time without adults, was fond of street baseball and dreamed of traveling.

When Klaben turned 20, she moved from Brooklyn to Fairbanks, Alaska, and entered a local university. The 1960s were outside, Klaben wanted adventures and hoped to go after them to Hong Kong or India. The convenient route went through San Francisco, and at the end of 1962 Klaben found a man ready to take her there by private plane — his name was Ralph Flores.

Ralph Flores (center) after the rescue. More quality photos of the traveler are not preservedPhoto National Post
Ralph Flores (center) after the rescue. More quality photos of the traveler are not preservedPhoto National Post

Flores, 40, worked as a mechanic in California and had a flying experience, although far from what he needed to travel to California through Canada. “If you don’t trust me, then don’t fly with me,” Flores told the young girl. Klaben trusted, not knowing that the pilot had no winter flight experience through the already complex Canadian Yukon region.

On February 4, 1963, the couple flew towards Fort St. John. After several hours of flight through the snow and strong wind, Flores rose above the clouds, hoping to follow the landmarks or the paths of the Alaskan highway after the end of the storm. “I understood that he didn’t know where he was, he didn’t say that we were lost, but I understood that already ,  Klaben recalled . “We flew near the mountains, and under us were trees. I knew that we would break. ”

And so it happened – because of the long flight, the plane began to act up and descend. “Well, Helen, get ready,” said Flores loudly. The last thing she saw before closing her eyes was how the tip of the right wing hit the top of a tree. Then came the darkness. The plane crashed in deserted territory near the border of the Yukon and British Columbia.

Sermons instead of food

The plane crash was so severe that Klaben fainted for an hour and a half. When she awoke, she realized that her left arm was broken and her right leg was damaged. Flores also got a crack in the jaw and several ribs. But the main problem was not in injuries, but in the cold – the aircraft thermometer showed a temperature of -40 ° C.

Without special training, Flores nevertheless began to act: he wrapped the passenger’s injured leg in sweaters, plugged the holes in the cabin as tightly as possible to keep warm, put traps on rabbits and tried, though unsuccessfully, to repair the radio to send a distress signal.

Travelers hoped that they would reach their destination without any problems, so they didn’t take with them any decent supplies of food or standard equipment for survival such as an ax, sleeping bags or a hunting rifle. The modest reserves of food consisted of a few cans of canned food and a box of crackers – this survivor was enough for 10 meager days.

No one fell into the hunting traps, so then the toothpaste went into action, the remnants of which the survivors shared with each other, and then only snow remained as food. Travelers gathered it in cans and boiled it over a fire that was heated with local wood.

Helen Klaben at the improvised shelter Photo National Post

“We imagined that melted snow was a soup. Sometimes it was tomato, sometimes with the taste of beef and all other varieties,  Klaben recalled . To kill time, companions read Flores books. In the plane, he often carried religious writings, including the Bible, and soon began to persuade the girl to abandon Judaism in favor of Christianity.

In early March, Flores went in search of civilization, making himself snowshoes from twigs and wires, and disappeared for eight days. Alone, Klaben began to write a letter to relatives: in it she talked about a trip to Alaska, meeting Flores and their flight. The only thing that the girl did not want to describe is the events after the crash. “It all sounded like an epitaph. There was no point in writing the end of the story until that end came, ”the girl told reporters.

The rescue

Flores did not get to civilization, but found a clearing in a dense forest, from where rescuers could better see them. Returning, the man convinced Klaben to try his luck. On the 42nd day, the survivors set off for the spot, carrying an improvised sleigh with belongings. A couple of days later, the pilot left the girl again and found a frozen and snow-covered pond, on which he trampled the SOS sign with an arrow pointing to their camp.

SOS signal trampled by Flores on a frozen lake Photo by Whitehorse Star

At that time, the search for Flores and Klaben decided to roll, not having achieved any success in a few weeks. It was only thanks to luck that the pilot of Chuck Hamilton saw the signal for help, who was called back to the base. The next day, March 25, 1963, he landed near the lake with a group of lifeguards and evacuated travelers — this happened during a blizzard that almost completely destroyed the Klaben and Flores’ improvised shelter.

Helen Klaben carried out of the rescue aircraft. AP Photo

Because of a damaged leg and a broken arm, the girl had to be evacuated separately from his partner. Hamilton carried her back more than four kilometers to the point of collection. As the man recalled in 2008, the snow depth was one and a half meters, and he constantly fell and fell. “I had to fall face [in the snow]. I could not fall on her, ”the man explained . And yet he managed to safely evacuate the wounded.

Life after

After saving Flores had to say goodbye to his flight license, although three years later he was again allowed to fly. Later, in an interview with reporters, he said that allegedly the rescuers flew after them immediately after Judaic Helen read the New Testament. The girl did not recall such a scene. In 1979, Flores had a grandson, Benjamin, who later became a heavyweight boxer. The traveler continued his friendship with Klaben until his death in 1997 at 76 years of age.

Despite the fact that due to hypothermia, the girl had to amputate several toes, the rescued Klaben looked happy. After the rescue, she moved to New York and in 1964 published the book Hey, I’m Alive! ”, Which tells about the details of survival in the Canadian wilderness. In 1975, based on the works of the same name shot the film.

The full version of the movie “Hey, I’m alive!”

The girl studied at Hunter College and Columbia University, and then settled in a book publishing house. In 1967, she married Robert Kahn, a securities analyst. In the 1980s, the couple broke up, but maintained friendly relations until the death of Kahn in 2009.

According to the recollections of loved ones, the craving for adventure did not leave Klaben after the crash. The woman continued to take a great interest in sports, traveled with her family to Europe, Asia and the West Indies. “Most people think that they will not cope with the crisis ( ), and for me it was very important to know that I was able to [cope],” said the survivor in an interview in 1975.

On December 2, 2018, 76-year-old Helen Klaben died after struggling with a rare form of sarcoma. She left two sons, one of whom works as a doctor, as well as six grandchildren.

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