Mt. Rainier National Park

Pierce County, Washington | C.1899

Photo Credit: Oksana Smolianinova

This is certainly of the wildest stories we’ve shared… “In a land where volcanic eruption and tectonic vibration are the norm, Mt. Rainier National Park has seen its fair share of “wild”. But one infamous day on the mountain tops them all, when an Air Force pilot gone AWOL was the star of the show.

Lieutenant John Hodgkin had always been known for his ill-advised antics in the air, but a plan he hatched in 1951 was the one that put his name in the history books. Flying a lightweight propeller plane, Hodgkin strapped a pair of skis below the runners and decided he would become the first ever to touch down on Rainier’s 14,000-foot peak.

Initially, Hodgkin’s stunt went according to plan. He landed the plane, let out a cheer, and got out to celebrate with a few photos. But when he tried to head back, the plane refused to start. It was then that Hodgkin knew he was in trouble.

So he hunkered down and spent a sleepless, sub-freezing night inside the plane. Unbeknownst to the pilot, the Air Force sent a team to climb up the mountain and drag him back to base. As for Hodgkin, he had a different kind of solution in mind…

As the sun rose the next morning, Hodgkin pushed the plane downhill, jumped inside, and hung on tight as he went careening off the side of the mountain. But just as it went over the edge, the plane caught a well-timed breeze and took off gliding through the alpine air. Only an hour later, the rescue team summited the deserted mountaintop, Hodgkin nowhere to be found.

And our pilot? He managed to land safely on a nearby lake, received an emergency airdrop of fresh fuel, got the plane back in the air (this time with the help of a working engine) and made it back to base. While no one has replicated his incredible feat, we can rest easy knowing that Hodgkin’s flight likely won’t be the last epic adventure this ancient mountain ever sees but it certainly is one for the history books.”

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