Willis R. (Bill) Harpel
1/13/68 Snowmachiner, Crash
Outing Fatal To Bill Harpel, Snowmobile Accident Claims KHAR Owner
It was clear and cold and beautiful - about 10 degrees below zero and shortly before three o'clock in the afternoon - when Bill Harpel died Saturday as his snowmobile plunged off a trail near Mt. Alyeska and struck a tree.
Funeral services for the 46-year-old broadcasting executive, owner of KHAR AM-FM and TV, will be held at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Anchorage Funeral Chapel.
Harpel was the first person in the Anchorage area to suffer fatal injuries in a snowmobile accident. Earlier, two other fatalities had been reported in the state from mishaps occurring on snow machines.
An avid snowmobile enthusiast and recognized as one of Alaska's leading broadcasters, Harpel died seven years and one week after he first put KHAR radio on the air in Anchorage on Jan. 7, 1961.
In the intervening years, Harpel built "Heart Radio" into a broadcasting operation that had a great impact on listening habits in the Anchorage area.
Starting from a trailer studio on the Seward Highway, Harpel built his station into a leading broadcast operation that saw FM added on Dec. 22,1966, and television added on Channel 13 last Oct. 31.
Harpel's last day of a life that began June 28, 1921, in Clear Lake, S.D., was the outdoors that he loved.
Accompanied by Larry Weatherman, public relations and advertising manager for the National Bank of Alaska and one of Harpel's closest friends, the broadcaster was on a snowmobile outing up the long trail toward Crow Creek mine.
"We were almost to the top, up where you can look over and see Whittier," said Weatherman, "when we decided to come back. The snow really was too deep.
"Bill was driving his big racing machine with a new motor, and was running well ahead of me. He would stop, look back, and see that I was all right, and then go on again.
"Back down the trail was hard packed and rough. He must have hit a bump and sailed. There weren't any tracks off the trail."
Weatherman passed the point where Harpel's machine left the trail - without at that time noticing anything amiss.
It was later when he doubled back, not finding Harpel ahead, that Weatherman noticed his friend off the trail, the snow mobile smashed.
"It was exactly 3:04 p.m. when I found him," Weatherman said. "It was clear and cold and beautiful at the time. Bill must have plunged off the trail a little before three o'clock. When I got there, there wasn't anything I could do to revive him."
Harpel's two sons, Craig, 11-1/2 and Curt, 8, were at the Alyeska Lodge with friends, awaiting their father's return. Friends drove them back to Anchorage.
Harpel competed in last year's inaugural race and was a leading promoter of the event. He held entry ticket No. 1 in this year's race.
Elmer Brisbois, president of, the Anchorage Motor Mushers Club, sponsor of the race said today the club would retain the. No. 1 spot in the race for Harpel and might retire the number in honor of his memory in future races.
Brisbois said the race committee would meet Tuesday night to consider a proposal that the race be named after Harpel.
"He had been enthusiastic about snowmobiles from the first day he ever heard of them," Weatherman said.
At the time of his death, Weatherman said, Harpel was not wearing a protective helmet. "We had on face masks and down suits, but no gear to take a blow in case of a serious accident."
Harpel began his radio career in the early 1940s in Anchorage with KFQD.
In addition to his sons, Harpel is survived by his widow, Patricia; his mother, Mrs. Mildrede Davis, who lives near Portland, Ore., and a brother, Lyle Waldo, of Grant's Pass, Ore.
Visitation is scheduled between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. tonight and Tuesday at the Anchorage Funeral Chapel.
The Rev. Joseph Shirey of St. Anthony's Catholic Church will conduct the funeral rites. Burial will be later at Angelus Memorial Park.