The Beverly Hills crash site | Image: Bob McCaffery
On December 23rd of 1946, five months after the plane crash that almost killed him, world-famous aviator and movie producer Howard Hughes wrote the following heartfelt letter of thanks to the man who saved his life: U.S. Marine William Lloyd Durkin. During its maiden flight in July of the that year his XF-11 — a prototype military reconnaissance aircraft designed and piloted by Hughes — had, as a result of an oil leak and subsequent propeller malfunction, lost altitude rapidly; clipped three Beverly Hills houses; crash landed; and then burst into flames. A seriously injured Hughes was soon rescued by Durkin as the fire raged.
According to Durkin's daughter, he subsequently refused all financial reward offered by Hughes.
Transcript follows. Image courtesy of Swann.
HUGHES AIRCRAFT COMPANY
December 23, 1946
William L. Durkin
Master Technical Sergeant
c/o First Marine Air Wing
Peiping, North China
Dear Sergeant Durkin;
I am writing this letter as Christmas approaches. I can think of no more appropriate time to express once more my gratitude for the aid you rendered me at the time of the accident which befell my company's plane, the XF11.
I'm sorry that your Marine Corps Unit left for China while I was still convalescing, so that I did not have the opportunity of thanking you both personally and in behalf of my company.
I have been thinking a great deal, however, about how to concretely convey this very real appreciation to you. I have discussed this with the officers of my company and with my friends. I have sought to find a way that would be most beneficial to you. I'm somewhat blocked because I know nothing of your hopes or plans, except that for the next few years you wish to stay in the Marines and, at present, you are stationed in China.
Some day, however, you may feel you would like to leave the Marines. So, I would like to propose this plan to you: when that day arrives and you return from China, will you let me know and come to see me? At that time, you may be interested in some phase of aviation or some other activity with which I may be connected.
If so, I may be able to assist you in obtaining some sort of a position which may lead to your achieving the result you desire.
In any event, I would like to see you and discuss your own views of how you feel I may most be helpful.
In the meantime, you may be able to use a little cash, even in China. My company, which feels duly grateful to you, is sending a small check. Another will follow each month until you return here for the discussion I have suggested.
I will always be grateful for your courageous action and am glad that you were uninjured.
I hope you are enjoying yourself out there on the other side of the world. I'll be looking forward to seeing you when you return.
My very best regards,
(Signed, 'Howard Hughes')