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Alaska Aviation Legends: Albert Ball, pilot, trapper, fisherman

  • Author: Joy Journeay
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published October 29, 2014

Albert Ball Sr. was selected as an Alaska Aviation Legend for 2014, but passed away earlier this year before he could be publicly recognized. This year's Alaska Aviation Legend program is dedicated to Ball and his adventurous spirit.

Born Nov. 6, 1914, in Aberdeen, Wash., he was a resident of Dillingham, Alaska for many years. After retiring, he returned to Washington state where he and his wife, Eileen, lived during the winter months. Ball returned to Alaska each summer to commercial fish for salmon, only missing one season in the past 82 years.

Ball first moved to Alaska in 1931 at the age of 16, joining his uncle in Aleknagik. Along with his brother-in-law, Myron Moran, Ball formed Western Alaska Airlines in 1953, operating out of Dillingham and serving the western part of the Aleutian Islands and Bristol Bay. It was one of the first distribution carriers for the Alaska Star newspaper. They operated the airline for 20 years and then merged in 1973 with Kodiak Airways to become Kodiak-Western Airlines.

Ball taught his sons to fly, and three of the boys -- Newt, Burt, and Jerry -- established Ball Brothers, Inc. They operated a fleet of large cargo plans to transport fresh fish to processors. The Ball Brothers' planes operated from hard-packed sand beaches, transporting 6 million pounds of salmon to processors every month.

"He taught us how to fly airplanes, and he taught us well," said Jerry Ball.

In addition to being a Bush pilot in Western Alaska for over 30 years, Albert Ball worked as a trapper and commercial fisherman for 82 years. His fishing operation at Ekuk now includes family members from four generations.

Ball passed away peacefully on April 10, 2014, at the age of 99 in College Place, Washington.

"My dad was the last of the pioneer bush pilots," Jerry said in an interview earlier this year. "He flew our Grumman Goose out here last summer. He would have been 100 this November."

Jerry paused. "I miss him," he said softly.

Albert Ball is one of 13 men and women selected to represent the next class of Alaska Aviation Legends, an annual project that recognizes the pioneers who made Alaska's aviation industry and culture what it is today. For more on the legends, consider attending the Nov. 7 banquet in their honor. More information is available at the Alaska Air Carriers Association website.