Family World War II tragedy inspires author

On Sept. 18, 1944, Capt. Roy Proebstle of Cass Lake and Staples, Minn., was piloting an Army air transport plane from Anchorage to Fairbanks, Alaska.

Author Jim Proebstle points out the cover photo for his new novel, "Fatal Incident." He found the photo among a box of letters and documents in his father's box of "Curly's Clippings." Jim's uncle, Roy "Curly" Proebstle, was the pilot of a plane that crashed on Mount McKinley in 1944 and is the basis for the new book. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

On Sept. 18, 1944, Capt. Roy Proebstle of Cass Lake and Staples, Minn., was piloting an Army air transport plane from Anchorage to Fairbanks, Alaska.

He never made his destination. Off course by 80 or so miles, he crashed his plane into the Eldridge Glacier on Mount McKinley. Proebstle, two other crew members and 16 passengers were lost.

Now, his nephew, Jim Proebstle, who summers with his wife, Carole, at the family home on Leech Lake, has developed a historical novel from the family tragedy. "Fatal Incident" combines family lore, mystery, Manhattan Project espionage, the bonds that grow between men in the military and a man-woman love story. And, although the story is fictionalized, "Fatal Incident" is based on facts.

Jim Proebstle said he had known of his uncle's demise since he was a youngster, as his father, Leonard Proebstle, three years older than Roy, kept a photo of his brother on his desk. Leonard also maintained in silence his grief over the loss of the brother he loved.

"It wasn't talked about a lot in my family," Jim said of the tragedy. "My father kept it inside, and my mother said, 'just let it alone.'"


Nevertheless, the story fascinated Jim and his cousin, who filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the Army's report on the crash. The result was a response that the material had been lost when the Army was transferring paper copy to microfiche.

Jim started writing the historical novel about the incident. He interviewed Roy's widow, his Aunt Millie, who is the model for the character of Martha in "Fatal Incident." He translated the character of Roy, the pilot, as Nick, Martha's husband.

Millie eventually remarried, but Jim said she spent every Sept. 18 alone. Millie died in June, but she was able before her death to listen to her daughter reading "Fatal Incident."

"I hope it made her very happy," said Jim.

As the writing was in progress, Jim and his wife were packing up and renovating the family home on Leech Lake.

"We found a box in the bottom of a chest of drawers," Jim said. "It was like (Leonard) took his emotions and put them in a box."

The box was labeled "Curly's Clippings," reflecting Roy's nickname. In the box were photos, postcards Roy wrote to Millie, communications from Army brass and from crash victims' survivors. The cover illustrations for "Fatal Incident" feature a photo of the mountain peak crash site and one of the navigation charts they found in the box.

Jim said finding the materials that had been stowed away for decades gave his writing strong impetus.


"Fatal Incident" was a finalist in the historical fiction division for the 2011 National Indie Excellence Book Award. Published by Emerald Book Co., the book is available at Book World, Amazon and

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