On Oct. 28, 1947, Republican Gov. Earl Snell, the State Senate President Marshall Cornett, and Secretary of State Robert Farrell Jr. boarded a plane to southeastern Oregon for some goose hunting. It was supposed to be a quick trip to a friend’s sprawling Lake County ranch. Instead, the small, private plane crashed into a ridge. All three politicians and the pilot were killed.
Today the crash site is preserved under the National Register of Historic Places. It’s so remote that wreckage debris remains on the forest floor 75 years after the accident.
The death of the state’s governor alone would have been enough to upset Oregon’s political landscape. But to make matters worse, Farrell and Marshall were the next two people in line for the governor’s seat in just such an emergency.
As the Oregonian reported, “(the crash’s) effects will be felt in the process of government for years to come.”
The three men and pilot, Cliff Hogue, boarded a new Beechcraft Bonanza airplane in Salem. The group stopped for dinner in Klamath Falls. Following reports of rain, the men debated continuing to their destination in Lake County.
At about 10 PM, the men set off into the overcast night. They never arrived. Rescue crews launched a massive search the following morning. The area is isolated and rugged at nearly 6,000 feet above sea level in the Fremont-Winema National Forest.
While the National Guard and private planes searched from the sky, U.S. Forest Service Ranger Jack Smith headed a search and recovery party from the ground.
In 2008, Smith told OPB’s Oregon Experience he was one of the first to arrive on the scene. Smith recalled the plane appeared to have flown directly into a ridge after clipping the tops of trees. The passengers and pilot all died on impact.
On October 30, 1947, Speaker of the State House of Representatives John Hall was sworn in as governor. His first act of office was to proclaim a statewide day of mourning.
Soon after, state laws restricted the number of officials traveling in the same airplane.
All three Republican politicians were popular with voters and expected to have long careers. Governor Snell had won his first term in 1942 with a record 78% of the state vote. At the time of the crash, he was just a few months into his second term as governor and planning to run for U.S. Senate. Instead, Oregon’s political future seemed uncertain, opening the door to newcomers.
After the crash, future Senator Mark Hatfield cut short his graduate education in California and returned to Oregon. He was elected to the Oregon House of Representatives in 1950. In 1958, at the age of 36, he became the youngest governor in Oregon history.
In 1995, the Fremont National Forest erected a concrete monument noting the historic wreckage, including the fuselage, wings, and cockpit, still at the site.
The monument reads, “Before you lies the wreckage of the Beechcraft Bonanza Airplane that crashed here on October 28, 1947.”
Unofficially, the area is known as Governor’s Ridge. A movement is underway to formally change the name to Governor Snell Ridge.