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The Passing of an Alaskan Legend

Cassandra Whitman

Urban Rahoi of Fairbanks has died at age 102. Best known as a pilot, Rahoi also worked as a hunting guide and real estate developer, remaining physically and mentally fit for more than a century. KUAC’s Dan Bross reports.

Urban Rahoi began flying as a teenager in Michigan in the 1930s, going on to serve as a pilot in World War II. After the war, his longtime friend Jim McCann said Rahoi and his wife Vienna flew to the territory of Alaska in a small plane.

“It was this little RagWing airplane, and (they) decided to head for Alaska and pick their destiny here,” he said. “They spent a couple of weeks, I guess, loading different clothing items and things in the little nooks and crannies in the airplane and then one day, the two of them got into the airplane along with their dog and they flew north.”

The couple homesteaded along the Tanana River south of Fairbanks and raised a family.

“He’s the epitome of the word ‘sourdough,'” McCann said.

Rahoi continued flying in the Air Force Reserve and commercially, surviving three crashes along the way.

In an interview published by his son Gene, Rahoi was proud that he and his passengers weren’t hurt in any of the wrecks.

“I was able to control myself and control the airplane. Even though the airplanes were badly damaged, we all got out without a bruise,” Rahoi said in the interview.

Rahoi logged over 20,000 flying hours during his 80-plus years piloting planes. The Federal Aviation Administration recognized him with its Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award in 2012. U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan read the FAA award statement on the Senate floor during a tribute to Rahoi in 2019.

“Urban has used his skill as an aviator to train airmen to fight a war for America, and maintain the safety standard in commercial aviation,” the statement said. “He has rescued people in trouble and supplied people in Bush Alaska with the necessities of life. He has contributed to the state of Alaska, and provided many people a chance to see the beautiful wildlife and scenery of the great State of Alaska we all love.”

Aside from flying, Rahoi also developed a large mobile home park in Fairbanks, and was Alaska’s first licensed hunting guide. Helost that license in 2019 for illegal predator killing around his lodge in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.

Remarkably fit late in life, Rahoi ran for state House several times, as recently as 2012, and rode in Fairbanks’ annual Tired Iron vintage snowmachine race at the age of 101.

Friend Jim McCann said they talked regularly over the decades, and Rahoi had some favorite topics including airplanes Dall sheep, horses, and the need for the Susitna dam.

“But the important part of this is that interspersed in almost all of our conversations, he would always bring up his wife, Vienna. He was very dedicated to his wife,” said McCann.

McCann said Rahoi was at Vienna’s side when she died in 2010, just three days shy of their 70th wedding anniversary.

Rahoi leaves behind a large extended family and many friends.

Dan has been in public radio news in Alaska since 1993. He’s worked as a reporter, newscaster and talk show host at stations in McGrath, Valdez and Fairbanks. Dan’s experience includes coverage of a wide range of topics, from wolf control to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and dog mushing.