A legacy that lives on
September 2021

By nature, humans are drawn to stories of those who do great things and as followers of Christ, we are especially drawn to those who do great things in God’s service. At SEND, we remember the stories of five committed servants who were lost too soon.


In 1936, Vince Joy founded Central Alaskan Missions, now known as SEND North. A year later, he packed up his family for the several-week trip by train, boat and plane to Copper Center Alaska, launching the ministry that continues today.

Black and white photo of man and a plane

Before he started the mission, Vince had written, “I’ll follow on, until my life’s work on earth is done . . . eternity with Thee!” Those words defined Vince’s life of ministry in the Far North and spread to the lives of many others serving in ministry with SEND.

Forty-four years after the Joy family took that original flight to the Copper River Valley, five people in ministry with SEND boarded a plane in the port city of Petersburg, Alaska. However, this plane never reached its destination—all five of these devoted servants were lost when the plane went down. Neither the plane nor its passengers were ever found.

Five Passengers

As we reflect on the past forty years since this tragedy, we remember and share the stories of these five amazing lives. The family members and friends who were left behind have offered these memories so that their loved ones will not be forgotten.

Philip (Phil) Armstrong - Phil was well-respected throughout SEND and the world of missions. After graduating from Moody Bible Institute in 1943, he was drafted into military service and sent to the Philippines. From there, Phil helped launch the ministry of Far Eastern Gospel Crusade (FEGC). Under Phil’s leadership the ministry grew as he oversaw the merger between FEGC and Central Alaskan Missions, which later became SEND International. He served as the General Director for SEND for many years. He retired from his role in 1980 but continued to serve. At the time of the crash, he was in Alaska to help the field launch a new radio station in Petersburg.

Paul Backlund - The pilot of the airplane was Paul Backlund. Paul had grown up in Alaska. His wife, Cinda, and younger sister, Teresa, shared that Paul came from an aviation family. Paul’s dad died in a plane crash when Paul was five. Paul learned to fly at age 16 and went on to become an instructor, so he could share his passion with others. He attended Alaska Bible College (ABC), a school in the Copper River Valley founded by Vince Joy in 1968. While at ABC, Paul traveled with and helped fly the school’s Gospel Teams to villages and small communities throughout Alaska where they played instruments, sang and preached. After graduating from ABC, he and Cinda worked with youth in the small community of Seldovia, AK. Paul and Cinda, along with their two young children, joined SEND in January of 1981. They sent out many handwritten letters to dear friends and supporters, sharing with them their joy of serving God through flying for SEND. They said over and over that, without a doubt, they were doing exactly what God had called them to do.

William (Bill) Ballou - Bill Ballou served as SEND’s Business Manager for the Alaska field. He was born at Whidbey Island Naval Air Base in Washington state. Bill’s wife, Pam Ballou-Nelson, shared that Bill came to know Christ in high school through the outreach of Marysville Baptist Church. Bill attended Everett Community College and went on to Washington State University to major in forestry where he became active in and was discipled by staff with the Navigators organization. During that time, Bill was drafted and served in the United States Navy. When we was honorably discharged in 1975, his commanding officer wrote, “His befriending attitude has earned him the respect of all who come into contact with him.” Bill then attended Multnomah School of the Bible, graduating in 1976 and serving with SEND as a summer missionary in Dawson City, Yukon Territory. He returned to the mission full-time a year later. Pam shares, “Bill was energetic - always eager to follow God’s will and deeply committed to the ministry.” Bill and Pam were married on September 29, 1979. During the weeks leading up to the crash, they were making plans for an upcoming home service where Bill would attend the University of Cincinnati MBA program.

Wanda Ediger - Wanda was the oldest of three and grew up with significant responsibility on her family’s farm in Kansas. Her parents taught her the importance of missions early in life, which Wanda lived out in leaving Kansas to share Christ in a far-off land. As a young woman, growing up on the farm, she would often gather a blanket and Bible in her arms and march off to find a place "out in nature" where she could be alone with her thoughts and prayers. She loved the nature she discovered in Alaska - one didn't have to look far to encounter beauty in this new place. Just two weeks before the crash, Wanda took a friend and her husband out berry picking in the Copper River Valley for low bush cranberries. She showed them a working fish wheel and took them to the native church where she played the piano. Wanda had been serving a short-term assignment in SEND’s Glennallen, AK radio ministry and had accepted the job as secretary for the new radio station in Petersburg.

Paul Mortenson - Paul was a retired executive from Sperry-Rand (now known as Unisys). He lived in Michigan and served as a SEND board member. In his retirement years, he chose to use his skills in leadership training to help SEND advance its Kingdom efforts around the world.

A Tragic Day

On Saturday, September 12, 1981 this group of five was heading southeast from Glennallen, down the panhandle of Alaska. They had planned to visit a new radio station in Petersburg, then return to Glennallen later that day so Phil Armstrong could preach at Glennallen Chapel, a church started by SEND, the next day.

Early on the morning of September 13, family members learned that the flight was overdue. Leander Rempel, Area Director, and others began gathering resources. Dwayne King led the search efforts for the mission. He and many other pilots and airplanes searched for many days around the last known location of the airplane, but never found it.

In God’s Will

Several weeks prior to the crash, Paul Backlund was flying alone from Anchorage to Glennallen, when he looked down from the plane and saw a rainbow below him. The shadow of his plane was right in the center of this rainbow. He shared later with Cinda, his wife, that in that moment he knew he was in the very center of God's will. Cinda says that Paul would want people to know that God is ever faithful. His Word is true and his promises are solid. And while the pain of loss is hard and hurts deeply, it is only temporary. This is not the end of the story.

Wanda Ediger had a similar experience while flying in one of the mission planes a few weeks prior to the crash. According to her sister, Wynelle, while the plane was circling the sky, Wanda looked down and saw a rainbow in a circle below the plane and in the center of the rainbow, the plane’s shadow. Wanda later shared that when she saw the rainbow, she felt confirmation that she was right in the middle of God’s will, serving him in Alaska.

Weeks after the accident and memorial services, Paul Backlund’s sister, Teresa, struggled with the decision to fly back to college in Montana. Having boarded the flight and taken off, she looked out her window and saw part of a rainbow that grew into a circle, and in the middle of that rainbow was the shadow of the plane. She says that God gave her clarity in that moment that she, too, was in the center of God's will.

The Legacy Continues

Around the world, the legacies left by these five people have not been forgotten. Their impact on their ministries is still being felt, as the ministry of SEND continues to grow around the world.

Phil Armstrong answered God’s call during WW II, leading him to help spread the gospel to the Far East and beyond. Wanda Ediger’s soft-spoken and graceful life blessed the native community of Copper Center. Bill and Pam Ballou had a significant impact on the native community of Gulkana, where they served, leaving a legacy of influencing many lives in all walks of life. Paul and Cinda Backlund’s work with the youth in Seldovia, AK and with the Gospel Teams at Alaska Bible College reminds us that investing in our youth will come to fruition at a future time. Paul Mortenson’s influence on global missions and his expertise in leadership impacted SEND both in Alaska and around the world.

As we remember this tragedy, let us celebrate the lives of five people fully committed to walking in the Lord’s will, no matter the cost. One of Bill Ballou’s favorite poems says:

The Better Way
I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day.
I’d rather one should walk with me, than merely show the way...

May we never forget!

“I’ll follow on, until my life’s work on earth is done...eternity with Thee!”
~ Vince Joy 1930


SEND teams serve in more than 20 countries around the world. Explore our ministry guides to learn about the cultures and people groups we serve.
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