Audio version: Download MP3 or use controls below:
Drew’s Valley District Ranger Jack Smith of the U.S. Forest Service quickly organized a search-and-recovery operation, which set out first thing the following morning. From the evidence at the scene, it appeared that pilot Hogue had simply misjudged his altitude while trying to stay under the cloud ceiling and over the terrain, and flew straight and level into the side of the ridge, shearing off several ponderosa pine trees and crashing into a small gap between other trees, crunching up like a wad of tinfoil. The plane was probably doing at least 150 when it hit.
Everyone was dead, of course.
This posed a unique situation. When the governor dies, his job is supposed to go to the secretary of state. If the secretary of state dies, the succession goes to the president of the Senate. All three of those officials were now dead, their bodies lying in and around that crashed airplane. The Oregon state government had been, essentially, decapitated.
The governorship fell to the speaker of the state House of Representatives, John H. Hall, who was sworn in later that day. His first act was to proclaim the following Monday, Nov. 3, a statewide day of mourning and a legal holiday.
This style of gladhanding was so successful that Snell, by the time of his death, had built a virtual fan club among politicians and business leaders, which was sometimes called — only half in jest — the “Snell machine.” And it wasn’t just the elites that loved him; when elected to his first term as governor, in 1942, he scooped up a whopping 78 percent of the vote — still a record.
He was originally from the small farming community of Olex, and grew up in Arlington, where he later owned an automobile dealership. He got into politics via the Arlington City Council, and in 1926 made the jump to the state House of Representatives, where, after serving four terms and making friends with almost everyone, he was elected in 1932 as secretary of state. Ten years later, he challenged sitting Republican Governor Charles Sprague in the primary, and was elected governor.
It should be noted that Snell’s record was not unblemished. He was a strong supporter of the internment of American citizens of Japanese ancestry during the Second World War, and actually sponsored a 1944 bill that would have forbidden Japanese nationals from owning or renting land and prosecuted American citizens if they let non-citizen Japanese (even family members) live with them. It passed easily, but was ruled unconstitutional.
Bob Farrell was widely expected to succeed Snell when he finished his second term as governor, and surely would have moved on to the U.S. Senate after that. Cornett was also an up-and-coming player in Salem.
“Their loss means the way will be opened for new candidates,” remarked the Portland Oregonian, in an editorial headlined “Politics Remade Over Night” in that Friday’s paper.
Incidentally, another Southern Oregon politician, William Henry Fluhrer, was killed in another Beechcraft Bonanza crash just ten months later. Fluhrer, a veteran war pilot and founder of the bakery empire that first brought sliced bread to Medford, had just been elected to the state Senate and had flown three companions in to his home by Lake of the Woods to talk strategy. After takeoff, something happened; witnesses saw the plane start to waggle and then dive at high speed into the lake.