OGDEN — Though he was a Vietnam veteran who served in the Army, Bruce Berglund’s biggest brush with death didn’t occur until some five years after the war in Southeast Asia ended.
And as he gets older, the 72-year-old South Ogden resident says the urgency to find the man he credits with saving his life during the incident only grows stronger.
Berglund was born at Ogden’s Dee Hospital on July 15, 1948. He served in the Army from 1967 through 1970 and later relocated to Cheyenne, Wyoming, where he managed an automotive center. After he left the Army, he took to flying and purchased a Piper Cherokee airplane, training at a small airport in southeastern Wyoming. According to the nonprofit Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the Piper Cherokee is a two-seat or four-seat light aircraft built for flight training, air taxi and personal use. The planes were first introduced in the early 1960s.
One day, in either 1979 or 1980, Berglund decided to fly his plane from Cheyenne to Ogden to visit family. As he flew into Utah, Berglund says the cloud cover was thick and somewhere near the mouth of Weber Canyon, a larger, commercial type of jet flew near him and sent him into a tailspin.
“I was just flying into the (Ogden-Hinckley Airport) to come back into town and see my parents,” Berglund said. “But I got into a little bit of trouble. I went into a spin trying to avoid a commercial aircraft.”
Berglund’s small plane was soon flying out of control and he desperately tried to right his path. He radioed the nearest air traffic control tower, which happened to be at Hill Air Force Base. After what feels like an eternity, Berglund said he heard a voice.
“He couldn’t see up or down and he was in trouble,” says Berglund’s wife, Caroline Kueneman. “I’ve heard the story over and over and Bruce always goes back to this voice that told him to let go of the controls.”
Still relatively inexperienced as a pilot at the time, Berglund said he tried to overpower the plane back to a safe flight path. He says if he hadn’t heard the calm voice, radioing in from the Hill tower telling him to “let go” of his controls, he likely wouldn’t be alive today. For those who aren’t familiar with the physics of flight, particularly in a Piper, Berglund says letting go of the control wheel naturally puts the plane back into a straight and level configuration, allowing the pilot to regain control after a few seconds.
“I don’t know the name of that person in the tower that day, but he saved my life,” Berglund says. “If he hadn’t been there and known what to tell me, I wouldn’t be here right now.”
Berglund says he knows tracking down the mystery rescuer is a long shot. He doesn’t remember the exact date of the incident, namely because he tried to push it out of his mind in order to move forward and keep flying.
“I was nervous after that,” he said. “But I had to fly back home a few days later. I tried to push it out of my mind.”
Tom Mullican, director of public affairs with Hill’s 75th Air Base Wing, said chances of tracking down the man in the tower are indeed slim. It would be possible, Mullican says, if Berglund had the exact date and approximate time of when the incident occurred, but short of that, a reunion isn’t likely.
Still, Berglund holds out hope.
“Who knows, maybe somebody reads the newspaper and remembers,” he said. “I’d love to track him down and tell him thanks.”