Barrow, AK Plane Crash Kills Seven, Nov 1968


Barrow, Alaska (AP) -- A twin-engine plane carrying members of the government's Employment Advisory Commission studying unemployment in Arctic villages crashed Thursday. Seven persons were killed and an eighth injured critically.
The crash occurred on a partly couldy morning a dozen miles from the spot where humorist Will Rogers and aviator Wiley Post were killed when their plane went down in a fog Aug, 15, 1935.
WERNER BOHRER, Nome businessman who is district chairman of the Northwestern Alaska Republican Committee and a member of the employment commission, was flown to Bassett Army hospital in Fairbanks for surgery. He suffered internal injuries.
His condition was listed as serious Friday.
The plane, flown by famed Barrow bush pilot, ROBERT J. FISHER, was about 10 minutes out of Barrow when FISHER radioed that he had engine trouble and was returning.
The other victims were HAROLD GROOTHUIS of Fairbanks, chairman of the commission; LEO M. LOLL, 45, Fairbanks, vice president for finance at the University of Alaska; GEORGE WILSON, 35, Juneau, executive director of the commission; MRS. VIOLA DODGE, Anchorage, all commission members; TOM LaFOLLETTE, 59, Anchorage, a member of the state Department of Economic Development and commission adviser; and Lt. Col. CHARLES W. ELLIOT of the Alaskan Command, a commission adviser.
Gov. WALTER J. HICKEL, calling the accident "a matter of shock and sorrow for all Alaskans," proclaimed Monday a day of mourning in the state.
It was the hope of finding a means to break the pattern of unemployment -- 36 percent and higher in some villages -- that brought the group to Barrow.
The oil strike on the North Slope, less than six months old, brought hundreds of new jobs to that area this winter. The commission was seeking ways to integrate native labor into the working force through cooperative training programs with private companies.
The group was en route to a model community at Inuvik in the Northwest Territories when the plane crashed in 16-below zero weather.
WILSON also was a former teacher. He had taught in Michigan and at Wenatchee, Wash., before coming to Alaska in 1963 as guidance counselor at Juneau-Douglas High School.
He became executive director of the Employment Advisory Commission last Aug. 1. He is survived by his widow, BETTE, and a year-old son.
Two of the commission members were leaders of the labor movement. GROOTHUIS was named Business Representative of the Laborers and Hod Carriers Local 341 shortly after coming to Anchorage in 1950. He has been an official of the union ever since and was named to the new post of business manager last June.
He was first named to the commission in 1964 by former Gov. William Egan and continued to serve in the present administration. He also was a member of the Alaska Business Council, a statewide group formed under sponsorship of Western Airlines in cooperation with the state to promote economic and industrial development in the state.
MRS. DODGE, a clerk for Safeway Stores in Anchorage, was a leader in the retail clerks union.
LaFOLLETTE, previously with the Oregon State Department of Economic
Development at Salem, Ore., had been with the Alaska department a year. He was manager of the Anchorage Office of the Division of Industrial Development.
His survivors include the widow, KATHRYN, and two daughters.
ELLIOT, a 1950 graduate of the U. S. Military Academy at West Point, had served in the Army for 17 years. Since coming to Alaska June 20, 1967, he had been assigned to the personnel division of the Unified Alaskan Command at Elmendorf Air Force Base.
He is survived by his widow, FLORENCE, and three children KAREN, 6, CHARLES, 5, and BRUCE, 1, and his mother Mrs. Franklin Peek, of Kittery, Maine.
FISHER was a widely known pilot, who had received the highest award given by the Air Force to civilian pilots. He had made regular flights from Barrow to the Ice Island in the Arctic.

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner Alaska 1968-11-22


The death of my father, Harold Fred Groothuis

Harold Groothuis was my father. He was killed in the plane crash reported above when I was eleven years old. He left his wife, Lillian Cominetto Groothuis, who was thirty seven at the time. She died in 2010 at age eighty. The story errs by saying that my father was from Fairbanks. We lived in Anchorage, Alaska. Dad was from the Bronx, New York, originally.

Harold Groothuis was a passionate and intelligent man, committed to the working men of Alaska. An adventurer, he came to Alaska when it was not yet a state. He rose in the ranks of the labor movement and, in the end, perished while serving on an unpaid commission to investigate why native Alaskans were not better employed. He put many men to work through Labor's Local 341. These included Alaskan natives, blacks, and Hispanics. "Discrimination" was a bad word in our home.

From Harold Groothuis, I received a strong social concern and the desire to stay true to my convictions. My mother was no small part of that as well.

Nearly a half-century after his unforeseen and tragic death, tears well up as I think of this loving father, faithful husband, and ardent man of labor. I so hope I will see him again.

For the comment from Robert

For the comment from Robert Fischer: This does bring closure, but also questions as to who you are and where you are from? I am a grandson to Robert, aka Bobby, (as my name is) and am curious as to family I have out there. Please, let me know.

You are most Welcome

I am so glad this article helps a bit with your closure and questions ..
Thank you very much for your appreciation
Stu Beitler

Robert Fischer

I appreciate this article because I have been trying to find as much information on my Great Uncle Robert Fischer so that I can show my Mom. He was my Maternal Grandmother's Brother. He was the main reason for us moving to Alaska. I can remember my mom telling me stories about him being up here.