Alfred M. Lee helped to save Clarence P. Bartley, Donald A. Willey, and Ron C. Walter from drowning, Glennallen, Alaska, September 10, 1995. Bartley, 67, was the pilot of a float plane that overturned while attempting to take off from Tazlina Lake. The plane’s floats remained at the surface of the water, and he awaited help atop them for several hours. Among those alerted to his plight were Willey, 35, and Walter, 45, who responded in a helicopter. As they attempted a rescue, the helicopter crashed into the water and sank, but Willey and Walter pulled themselves onto the floats of Bartley’s plane. Lee, 70, pilot, and another man, both of whom also had responded, saw the helicopter crash while circling in Lee’s float plane. Despite a strong, steady wind of 30 m.p.h. and rough seas to four feet, conditions that otherwise would have precluded an attempt to land, Lee took his plane to a hard but safe landing on the lake. He taxied his plane to the three men in the water and held it into the wind while his passenger disembarked to one of its floats to help secure Bartley. With difficulty, the passenger, Willey, and Walter maneuvered Bartley, who was incapacitated, into Lee’s plane. When all of the men were aboard, Lee taxied to shore two miles away, not willing to attempt takeoff from the lake under prevailing conditions. A military helicopter arrived shortly and evacuated Bartley and Willey. Bartley was hospitalized for treatment of hypothermia and other injury, and he recovered. Although one of his plane’s floats had been damaged in the rescue, Lee took off from a cove that offered some protection and returned, with the others, to safety.
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Alfred M. Lee, 85, longtime Alaska bush pilot and recipient of the Carnegie Medal, died at home in Glennallen, Alaska, on Aug. 26, 2010, after a battle with mesothelioma.
Lee was born on June 19, 1925, in Umatilla, Fla., to Edna and Freeman Lee. He attended school in Umatilla until 1942, when he joined the Army Air Corps. He served as a crew chief on a B-17. He went to Alaska in 1947 after becoming fascinated with the North Country while watching Arctic survival films during his military training.
He worked as a carpenter and electrician during the build-up of Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska, during the early 1950s. He also served on the Anchorage police force as an officer before settling on his life’s passion: flying. He and his wife, Helen, homesteaded outside of Talkeetna, Alaska, for a year before settling in the Copper River Basin near Lake Louise, where they lived and ran Lee’s Guide Service and Air Taxi until his retirement in 2005.
Lee was awarded the Carnegie Medal for his actions on Sept. 10, 1995, when he rescued three survivors of a double air crash from the waters of Tazlina Lake. A rescue helicopter, attempting to retrieve the pilot of an aircraft that had overturned on the lake, hit a rotor blade on a wave and crashed into the foundering aircraft. With gusting 30-knot winds and four-foot breakers, Lee landed his de Havilland Beaver plane alongside the men and got them aboard. With conditions too rough for takeoff, Lee taxied two miles across the lake to a protected cove and safety.
(Edited from an obituary in the Anchorage Daily News, Sept. 16, 2010.)