Nicholas Joseph Begich Sr.[2][3] (born April 6, 1932 – disappeared October 16, 1972; declared dead December 29, 1972) was an American counselor, educator and politician. He served in the Alaska state senate for eight years before being elected in 1970 as a member of the United States House of Representatives from Alaska. He is presumed to have died in the crash of a light aircraft in Alaska in October 1972; his body was never found. He was a member of the Democratic Party.

Nick Begich
Begich in 1972
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Alaska's at-large district
In office
January 3, 1971 – December 29, 1972 (de jure) / October 16, 1972 (de facto)
Preceded byHoward Pollock
Succeeded byDon Young
Member of the Alaska Senate
In office
1962–1970
Personal details
Born
Nicholas Joseph Begich

(1932-04-06)April 6, 1932
Eveleth, Minnesota, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
SpouseMargaret Jean Jendro[1]
Children6, including Mark, Tom, and Nick Jr.
RelativesJoseph Begich (brother)
EducationSt. Cloud State University (BA)
University of Minnesota (MA)
DisappearedOctober 16, 1972 (aged 40)
Alaska, U.S.
StatusMissing for 51 years, 7 months and 29 days; declared dead in absentia on December 29, 1972(1972-12-29) (aged 40)

Early life and education

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Begich was born and raised in Eveleth, Minnesota. His father, John Begich (né Begić), was born in Podlapača, Udbina, Croatia.[4] Nick Sr.'s mother, Anna (née Martinić), was also of Croatian descent.[5] He earned a Bachelor of Arts from Saint Cloud State University in 1952 and a Master of Arts from the University of Minnesota in 1954. He took graduate courses at the University of Colorado Boulder and University of North Dakota.[6]

Both Begich and his brother Joseph made careers in politics. Joseph Begich stayed in Eveleth. He served 18 years in the Minnesota House of Representatives from that base.[7]

Career

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Begich moved to Alaska after college, where he worked as a guidance counselor in the schools of Anchorage. He was later Director of Student Personnel for the Anchorage school system before becoming Superintendent of Schools at Fort Richardson.[8][9]

In 1962, Begich was elected to the Alaska Senate, where he served for eight years. Begich also taught political science during parts of this period at the University of Alaska at Anchorage.[10]

In 1968, Begich ran at-large for Alaska's only US House seat. He lost to the incumbent, Republican Howard Pollock.[11]

In 1970, Pollock ran for Governor of Alaska, and Begich ran again for Congress. He succeeded in defeating the Republican banker Frank Murkowski. The latter was later elected as a U.S. Senator and then as Governor of Alaska. In 1972 in his re-election race, Begich was opposed by Republican state senator Don Young.

Begich's plane went down weeks before the election but his body was not found. His name was still on the ballot, and Begich posthumously won the 1972 election, with 56% to Don Young's 44%. However, after Begich was declared dead, a special election was held. Young won the seat and retained it until his own death on March 18, 2022.

Disappearance

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Begich's cenotaph at the Congressional Cemetery

On October 16, 1972, Begich and House Majority Leader Hale Boggs (D-Louisiana), were two of the four men on board a twin-engine Cessna 310 when the airplane disappeared during a flight from Anchorage to Juneau. Also on board were Begich's aide, Russell Brown, and the pilot, Don Jonz.[12] The four were heading to a campaign fundraiser for Begich.

In an enormous search effort, search and rescue aircraft of the United States Coast Guard, Navy, Army, Air Force, Civil Air Patrol and civilians were deployed to look for the four men and the missing Cessna 310. After proceeding for 39 days, the air search was suspended on November 24, 1972.[13] Neither the airplane nor any of its four occupants was ever found. The four men were all officially declared dead on December 29, 1972.

The Cessna was required to carry an emergency locator transmitter (ELT) per Alaska state statute section 02.35.115, Downed Aircraft Transmitting Device. This took effect on September 6, 1972,[14] five weeks before the plane disappeared. The Alaska statute made reference to Federal Aviation Regulation 91.52, published on September 21, 1971, which mandated ELTs in aircraft such as this. It had an effective date of December 30, 1973, for existing aircraft.[15][16][17]

No ELT signal determined to be from the plane was heard during the search. In its report on the incident, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) stated that the pilot's portable ELT, permissible in lieu of a fixed ELT on the plane, was found in an aircraft at Fairbanks, Alaska. The report also notes that a witness saw an unidentified object in the pilot's briefcase that, except for color, resembled the portable ELT. The NTSB concluded that neither the pilot nor aircraft had an ELT.[18]

Legacy

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In 1972, the tallest building in Whittier, Alaska, was renamed as Begich Towers in memory of Congressman Nick Begich. Begich Peak, which is three miles north of the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center at Portage Lake, was also named after him.[19]

In November 2015, a Seattle Weekly story detailed the work of journalist Jonathan Walczak. Since 2012 he has investigated the plane crash and subsequent events in an effort to determine the fate of the flight that carried Begich and Boggs.[20]

Walczak created a podcast about Begich's disappearance, which was released by iHeartMedia in the summer of 2020. The podcast, called Missing in Alaska, explored such conspiracy theories as that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover or Detroit mobsters operating in Tucson had arranged for Hale Boggs to be assassinated.[21]

Electoral history

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Alaska's at-large congressional district: Results 1968–1972[22]
Year Republican Votes Pct Democrat Votes Pct
1968 Howard W. Pollock (inc.) 43,577 54.2% N. J. Begich 36,785 45.8%
1970 Frank H. Murkowski 35,947 44.9% N. J. Begich 44,137 55.1%
1972 Don Young 41,750 43.8% N. J. Begich (inc.) 53,651 56.2%

Personal life

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In 1956, Begich married Margaret Jean Jendro, nicknamed Pegge.[23] They had six children together: Nick Jr., Mark, Nichelle, Tom, Stephanie, and Paul.

Begich's widow, Pegge, married again, to Jerry Max Pasley. Their marriage did not last long.[24] She ran against the incumbent for the US House of Representatives seat in 1984 and 1986, but was unable to defeat Don Young.

Two sons followed their parents into politics. Mark was elected as a member of the Anchorage Borough Assembly, then became mayor. He was narrowly elected in 2008 as the junior U.S. senator from Alaska. The incumbent, Republican Ted Stevens, had been convicted of seven felonies, eight days before the 2008 election, after being caught up in the Alaska political corruption probe.

In 2016, Tom Begich won the Democratic primary nomination for Seat J in the Alaska Senate. He faced little opposition in that general election and since, was redistricted to Seat I in 2020. He continues to hold that office in 2022.[25]

See also

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References

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  1. ^ "Mrs. Begich May Run". The New York Times. November 9, 1972. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 3, 2022.
  2. ^ Thomas Merton, Thomas Merton in Alaska: Prelude to the Asian Journal; the Conferences, Journals and Letters, 1988, page 64.
  3. ^ Northwest Digital Archives, Guide to the Nick Begich Papers, 1960-1973: Biographical Note, retrieved June 2, 2014.
  4. ^ Begich, Tom. (2006-04-30). "Tom Begich: Politics first – Part of growing up in a political family with a man who was a workaholic was I didn't know my father". Archived from the original on January 30, 2008. Retrieved November 21, 2008. Interviewed by Judy Ferguson. Anchorage Daily News; retrieved on 2007-04-04.
    Tom Begich says of his father, "Until I was nearly 12, I grew up with a man who was a legend, the son of Croatian immigrants, but who disappeared October 16, 1972, into the clouds."
  5. ^ Begich family profile, freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com; accessed January 3, 2016.
  6. ^ "About Nick Begich – Nick Begich Scholarship Fund". Retrieved June 23, 2020.
  7. ^ Biography, Joseph R. Begich, Minnesota State Legislature. Retrieved June 2, 2014.
  8. ^ U.S. Government Printing Office, [U.S. Government Printing Office Memorial Services Held in the House of Representatives and Senate of the United States: Together with Tributes Presented in Eulogy of Nick Begich, Late a Representative from Alaska], 1973, page 52.
  9. ^ National Water Resources Association, Water Life magazine, Volume 35, 1976, page 38.
  10. ^ Stephen M. Brent, Research Institute of Alaska, Inc., The Alaska Survey and Report, 1970-1971, Volume 2, 1970, page 245.
  11. ^ Dunham, Mike (January 11, 2011). "Howard Pollock, Alaska's 2nd congressman, dies in California". Alaska Dispatch News. Retrieved May 12, 2015.
  12. ^ "Hale Boggs — Missing in Alaska". Famous Missing Aircraft. Check-Six. Retrieved April 15, 2007.
  13. ^ National Transportation Safety Board Report NTSB-AAR-73-1, January 31, 1973; Aircraft Accident Report, Pan Alaska Airways, Ltd., Cessna 310C, N1812H, Missing Between Anchorage and Juneau, Alaska, October 16, 1972; page 3.
  14. ^ Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Fairbanks, Alaska, Wednesday September 6, 1972, page 20, column 9.
  15. ^ Federal Register, Volume 36, Number 50, March 13, 1971, pages 4,878 to 4,881.
  16. ^ FR 36-183, September 21, 1971, pages 18,716 to 18,725.
  17. ^ Washington State Department of Transportation, Emergency Locator Transmitters (ELTs), Source: October 2000 Civil Air Patrol News Archived May 6, 2019, at the Wayback Machine, retrieved October 4, 2017.
  18. ^ National Transportation Safety Board Report NTSB-AAR-73-1, January 31, 1973; pages 6–8.
  19. ^ "Begich Peak". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey, United States Department of the Interior. Retrieved June 14, 2019.
  20. ^ Anderson, Rick (November 3, 2015). "In 1972, Two U.S Representatives Boarded a Plane and Disappeared. What Happened?". Seattle Weekly. Seattle, WA. Archived from the original on August 6, 2018. Retrieved September 2, 2016.
  21. ^ Brean, Henry (June 17, 2020). "New podcast explores Alaskan mystery with Tucson twist". Arizona Daily Star. Retrieved July 23, 2020.
  22. ^ "Election Statistics". Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives. Archived from the original on December 26, 2007. Retrieved October 24, 2008.
  23. ^ "About Nick Begich – Nick Begich Scholarship Fund".
  24. ^ Swancer, Brent (October 2, 2019). "Alaska and the Mysterious Vanishing of a Cessna and Three Politicians".
  25. ^ "Senator Tom Begich". Alaska State Legislature. Retrieved April 25, 2023.
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U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Alaska's at-large congressional district

1971–1972
Succeeded by