Today’s Illustration: He Realized — No One Is Coming!

by Brian Murphy, 2016

Who: Lt. Leon Crane

  • Born 1919 in Philadelphia, Pa.
  • MIT Graduate
  • Married: Wife Wilma
  • They had 6 children
  • Died 2002

When: December 21, 1943

Where: Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve — Alaskan interior


  • The United States B-24 Liberator military airplane had crashed.
  • Pilot: Lt. Harold Hoskins, age 28
  • Crew of five
  • One survivor — Lt. Leon Crane
  • Landed hip-deep in snow
  • Forty below zero
  • 84 days alone in the wilderness — in December
  • Crane had two packs of matches, a boy scout knife, and his parachute.
    “Crane managed to start a fire next to the frozen river using a letter from his father warmed in his breast pocket. He set it alight and torched a nearby pine bough. He wrapped himself in his parachute and sat through the long December night, which in winter, meant nearly 20 hours of darkness.”
  • Made a makeshift spear, bow & arrow, and slingshot — to no avail
    “Once Crane decided a rescue party was unlikely, he began following the river north, and after a difficult day of struggling through deep snow” and used his parachute as a blanket.” [1]

    “The cold woke me up almost every two hours. I’d unwrap myself, fetch more wood, build up the fire, rewrap myself like a silkworm in a cocoon, and doze off again.” — Lt. Leon Crane, 1944

  • After 9 days, he found a small snow-covered cabin.
  • The cabin was stocked with sugar, powdered milk, canned food, a frying pan, canvas tents, mittens, and a rifle.
  • February: “Crane decided that waiting for warmer temperatures was not an option. After building a sled to carry food and supplies and then abandoning it as too heavy and clumsy, Crane pushed on through snowstorms and high winds, occasionally pausing to shoot a ptarmigan or to dry his clothes after an unexpected plunge through thin ice. His progress was halting, but he finally found a sled trail.”
  • After two weeks of following that sled trail, he found another cabin.
  • After several more weeks of traveling along the river, after 100 miles with no map, following that sled trail, he found “yet another cabin—but this one was occupied by the trapper Albert Ames and his family.”

    “I had a two-inch beard, black as coal; my hair was long and matted, covering my ears and coming down over my forehead almost to my eyes, so that I looked like some strange species of prehistoric man. I was dirty and sunburned and wind-burned, and my eyes stared back at me from the centers of two deep black circles.

  • “After a meal of pancakes and moose steaks and two days’ rest, Crane mushed with Ames to the Woodchopper mining camp along the Yukon River and flew back to Ladd Field near Fairbanks to report to his commanding officer.”
  • In Fairbanks — “a long distance call to his family in the States was put through… he had a hard job convincing his people that it was really their boy talking.”


Key Illustrative Thoughts:

  • providence
  • common grace
  • lostness
  • salvation
  • family
  • joy / rejoicing
  • found
  • lost
  • life / death
  • tenacity / perseverance
  • survival
  • resolve
  • witnessing
  • trials / testing
  • “big mistakes” [3]


Sermonic Example:

(use whatever information from above you find useful)

. . . . While we are struck by the tenacity and resolve of a single individual facing hopeless circumstances, we must ask ourselves upon reading such an account — where is our resolve to share the Gospel in far less threatening circumstances of life and living. . . . .



— “81 Days Below Zero,” by Brian Murphy

— Brian Murphy Audio Interview link — a great listen!

The pilot smoked a pipe and was known for always asking someone for a match. Before leaving for this test flight, Leon grabbed two packs of matches at the last minute and was going to surprise the pilot with them.

3. “Hunter Steven Rinella wrote about Crane in his recent book, The Meateater Guide to Wilderness Skills and Survival.

“There’s a lot to love from that story and a lot to learn from it. First and foremost is Crane’s mental and physical tenacity. After watching his fellow airmen die, he suffers hunger, cold, and loneliness for weeks on end without giving in to despair or making foolish mistakes. He’s calculating in his movements and mindful of when it’s time to pack up and go. When he travels, he does so with purpose and lets the landscape guide his movements. His ultimate salvation is testament to the fact that he doesn’t make big mistakes.”

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