Holger “Jorgy” Jorgensen died in Fairbanks on April 4 at the age of 93. For more than 50 years, this pioneer bush pilot flew the skies of Alaska and around the world. He was inducted into the Alaska Aviation Museum’s Hall of Fame on March 25, 2017. A celebration of his life will be scheduled for a future date.
Half Inupiat Eskimo and half Norwegian, he grew up in Haycock, Alaska, a mining town located between Nome and Kotzebue. His life is documented in a book by Jean Lester called “Jorgy: The life of Native Alaskan Bush Pilot and Airline Captain Holger ‘Jorgy’ Jorgensen.”
“With a sharp mind and quick wit, he was a walking, talking encyclopedia of information, with a photographic memory,” said his daughter Roberta Scott. “He had the most dedicated steadfast friends who breathed life into him.”
His daughter Roberta Scott compiled a history of his life and collected memories of her father, from many of his friends and colleagues. We want to share just a small sampling of those recollections here. The photographs are also courtesy of Roberta Scott.
“I first met Jorgy in my dad and uncle Sig’s office around 1953 or 1954. I was about 17 or 18 years old and may have had around 200 hours of total time in an airplane. At that time I was working as a mechanic. As I walked in the door, my dad said, ‘I want you to meet a friend of mine from Haycock. He is interested in flying for us, so why don’t you let him fly the Cessna 170 and see if he can fly.’ He knew Jorgy could fly, or he wouldn’t have asked me to check him out. However, I was thrilled to be giving someone a check ride. I asked him if he flown a Cessna 170 on floats and he said he had not. I was a little apprehensive, but we had dual controls and I thought I could handle it in case I needed to. I had the honor, at a very young age, to have given Jorgy a check ride. We went back to the office and my dad said with a big grin, ‘Well can he fly an airplane?’ I said, ‘Oh yes.’ Little did I know I had flown with a guy that would have such a distinguished flying career and become a living legend in Alaska Aviation.” – Richard Wien, Wien Air Alaska (friend and pilot)
“Jorgy was one of the greatest pilots I ever had the privilege to fly with. He was truly a master pilot. It did not matter if it was a D8 cat, a dragline or an airplane, he mastered it. He left me with so many great memories. One of the reasons I looked forward to going to Fairbanks to visit my brother Richard was to see Jorgy at a QB meeting and talk about old times. He was a great story teller. I always looked forward to flying with him. I will never forget him.” – Merrill Noel Wien, Wien Air Alaska (friend and pilot)
“Jorgy has a reputation for many things and one was his extraordinary skill in flying. He was also a jack-of-all-trades, which he got from his early life experiences. All of us who came from Haycock learned to make the best use of what we had. He was, and probably is, the very best jack-of-all-trades. One of a kind.” – Daphne Rylander Gustafson (friend and Stewardess for Wien Air Alaska)
“He was the best and most knowledgeable pilot that could ever be.” – Gary “Tup” Tupper (friend and Loadmaster for Great Northern Air)
“The best gentleman I’ve ever met. I met Jorgy when he got to town (Fairbanks) in 1944 from Nome, Alaska. He came to Fairbanks and was operating a dragline for Mitchell Truck and Tractor (which later was called GHEMM Construction). His dream was airplanes. He was one of the best pilots in Alaska. He was a great friend of Wien Air Alaska.” – Fred Hupprich (friend, fishing buddy and pilot)
“Jorgy grew up trying to be the best at whatever he was working at. That striving to be the best he could be plus his unerring instincts, showed up in his flying skills. As a pilot, he was always one step ahead of bad weather and marginal conditions. Of all the endeavors he excelled at, his chosen profession and career as aviator was unparalleled.” – Bill English, Sr. (Captain for Wien and friend)
“My friend, my Norwegian Eskimo. I learned a lot from watching Jorgy fly. He was fantastic. Captain Jorgensen was well known long before my meeting him. I met Jorgy in March of 1974. Stories of his background as a well-known career with Wien, Gilbertson (Don Gilbertson, Pacific Alaska Airlines), and others, plus being a personal pilot transporting Gov. Bill Egan around Alaska and elsewhere, Holger was a figure we respected. Jorgy didn’t like chatter on the radio on his plane. He rarely would let a co-pilot talk on the radio. Jorgy himself would only use the radio for business. Except for one time. During the DEW line (Defense Early Warning) there were construction sites across the Arctic, Greenland, Canada and Alaska. There was competition between AIA (Alaska International Air) and Pacific Western, a Canadian Hercules Operator. Well, Jorgy and his crew are flying across the high islands of Canada and some pilot came across the radio. **click** ‘Yeah, Charlie, one of those flipping Eskimos stole my snow machine last night.’ **click** Hearing this, Jorgy moves his switch to the left and transmits a response. **click** ‘I’m an Eskimo, and I didn’t steal your snow machine last night.’ **click** The Pacific Western Hercules was not heard from again. The pilot transmitting had mistaken his switch position and the remark had been transmitted out instead of in.” – Jim Branham (pilot and friend)
“Jorgy could find his way around in the worst of conditions and he did with instrumentation and a skill that no other pilot I’ve seen ever had. He had like a sixth sense for direction and finding airports. Maybe he just had a good memory, but it sure is amazing.” – Al Wright, Nenana Air Service (friend and pilot)
“The first time I met him was when he flew into Unalakleet one time to see our family and get some Native food. I was just in awe of him and when I actually saw him and looked up at him, I thought, ‘Man, he’s not 10 feet tall, he doesn’t have lightning bolts coming out of his eyes. He’s just a regular Native guy, and when I grow up, I want to be just like him.’” – Wilfred “Boyuck” Ryan (Ryan Air Service, Friend and pilot)