Mount McLoughlin rises in the distance over The Great Meadow where “Heine” Fluhrer built his landing strip.

Snapshot: Bad day for the Flying Dutchman

"Heine" Fluhrer fought the wind, but a hard right turn on the wheel did little good as his airplane began to waggle back and forth.

He was level for only a second when a blustery blast rumbled onto his left wing, pushing it down toward the lake.

The nose turned over and from 250 feet the plane sped into an angled dive. When the left wing hit the water, the machine cartwheeled over the whitecaps and flipped on its back, smashing into 15 feet of water, 200 feet from shore. Four men were dead, and it began to rain.

They had spent the weekend discussing political strategy at Fluhrer's Lake of the Woods summer cottage. Fluhrer had won the May 1948 Republican primary, and facing no opposition in the upcoming general election, this popular Medford businessman would, had he lived, become Jackson County's next state senator in November.

William Henry Fluhrer, "Heine" to his friends, came to Medford with his German-born parents in 1922. His father had been a baker since he was a teenager in Germany, so, with his 22-year-old son's help, Fluhrer began building a sizeable fortune in the local bakery business.

Their empire spread out from Medford to the coast and 100 miles into California, and though it may seem insignificant today, in 1931 it was the Fluhrer Bakery that introduced the first sliced bread in Southern Oregon and Northern California. No more housewives cutting fingers on a breadboard.

Heine Fluhrer added a nickname in 1929 when he took flying lessons at the old Medford airport and bought the instructor's airplane. Now he was the "Flying Dutchman," Dutchman being the American slang for what Germans called themselves — Deutsch.

He joined the Army Air Corp's Transport Command during World War II, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel. He flew in South America, Europe, Asia and Africa, earning the Air Medal and a Bronze Star.

Returning home, and now claiming more than 5,000 hours in the air, Fluhrer couldn't resist building a landing strip in a meadow near his summer home on the north shore of Lake of the Woods. In fact, he may have only improved what was already there.

The Great Meadow, as it is now called, was drained in the mid-1920s with dreams of building vacation homes or a golf course. That never happened. During the war, the dry meadow was designated an emergency landing site for Navy seaplanes.

On Sunday afternoon, Aug. 22, 1948, there seemed to be a break in the erratic weather. On the meadow's dirt landing strip, Fluhrer and his three companions climbed aboard his new Beechcraft Bonanza. They never knew that after a series of in-flight breakups and fatal accidents, this aircraft, designed with a V-shaped stabilizing rear wing, would soon be scorned as "the fork-tailed doctor killer."

Seconds after takeoff, the weather changed and their lives were lost in the lake.

Fluhrer had survived both world wars, raced motorboats, flown airplanes with abandon and lived what seemed to be a charmed life, but this time, the Flying Dutchman couldn't make it back to safety. The Great Meadow was just too far away.

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at

Share This Story