Link Luckett saved John S. Day and Peter K. Schoening from exposure, Kantishna, Alaska, May 20, 1960. When their four man mountain climbing party descending from the summit of Mount McKinley fell 500 feet down a slope to an ice field at an elevation of 17,200 feet, Day, 51, cattle rancher, sustained a fractured ankle and Schoening, 33, chemical engineer, suffered a brain concussion. They attracted other climbers who sent out a call for help. During the next 48 hours rescue efforts progressed slowly, the rare atmosphere limiting activity. Planes dropped supplies but did not attempt to land on the bowl-shaped ice field, which was 1,000 feet in diameter. One of Schoening’s hands became badly frostbitten. Hearing radio appeals for a helicopter, Luckett, 32, helicopter pilot, flew his craft to where a base for rescue operations had been set up at a flat area about 7,000 feet below the ice field. Although his helicopter had a rated ceiling of only 16,200 feet, Luckett volunteered his services. He made an exploratory flight and, finding that some controls did not respond at such high altitudes, decided to lighten the helicopter before attempting to land. One door and all other items possible were removed, including the battery after the engine was started. Gasoline was limited to 12 gallons, sufficient for about 35 minutes of flight. In order to keep in touch with weather conditions at the landing area, Luckett piloted the stripped craft to the ice field and left a two-way radio so the Day party could supply the information. After telling them how to mark a landing area and to ready Day for loading, he returned to the base level, reduced the fuel supply to 10 gallons, and again took off. The controls became sluggish as he passed through a heavy cloud layer, but he was able to land the helicopter on the rough ice in an area marked by the men. Fearing that the engine might stall, he remained at the controls as the men carried Day to the helicopter arid put him aboard. Luckett then took off, the craft bouncing over the ice for 500 feet and moving over a steep downward slope as it became airborne. On landing at base level, the craft had less than three gallons of fuel in the tank. After careful servicing of the helicopter, Luckett again took off despite gusty winds and heavy clouds. He touched down on the ice field several times, looking for a satisfactory landing spot. Fearing his fuel supply then was too low, Luckett flew back to the base level for more gasoline before returning to the ice field, where the temperature then was thirty degrees below zero and the wind blew in gusts of ten to 30 m.p.h. He landed the craft and kept the engine running while Schoening was aided aboard. As the helicopter took off, it bounced along the ice diagonally to the wind and then slowly became airborne. Although the engine backfired occasionally, Luckett piloted the craft safely back to the base level. A blizzard that afternoon marooned the other men for four days. Day was hospitalized two months. Schoening suffered the amputation of the tips of three fingers. The landings and take?offs by Luckett at the 17,200-foot level were the highest ever made by any type of aircraft. 45130-4372
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Link Luckett, 90, of Springdale Ark., died on April 25, 2018. He was born Jan. 15, 1928, in Fayetteville, Ark., to H.W and Hattye Luckett.
Luckett attended the University of Arkansas before enrolling in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) in 1951, receiving assignment to the Signal Corps. He went on to train in Army aviation and flight schools. He served in Japan and Korea, and was discharged as a First Lieutenant in 1955.
Luckett had a deep love for helicopters. He began practice flying a World War II biplane at 14 and received his student pilot’s license at 16. After his service, he continued his helicopter piloting career in Louisiana, flying for oil companies, before moving his family to Alaska in 1957 to start his helicopter charter business, Hill-I-Copters, Inc. There, he owned and operated the Hiller 12-e, the most advanced helicopter model available to civilian operators at the time.
In May 1960, Luckett was among the volunteers attempting to rescue of a group of stranded and injured mountain climbers on what was then known as Mount McKinley. He was awarded the Carnegie Medal for heroism, as well as the Frederick L. Feinberg Award for demonstrating outstanding skills or achievement in a vertical flight aircraft.
In 1961, Luckett was contracted to USGS and Aramco, mapping aerial geology in Saudi Arabia. From 1962 to 1975, he flew for Air America in Southeast Asia, providing direct and indirect support to U.S. Special Forces, later providing logistic and transportation support during the Vietnam War. He remained in Southeast Asia after leaving Air America, eventually landing in Indonesia and retiring there until 2013, when he returned to Arkansas.
(Edited from an obituary published on the website for the Memorial Funeral Home in Springdale, Ark.)