Idaho native Hillard Derwood Hicks passed away at the age of 96 on Oct. 6 in Sun Valley.
He was born March 30, 1917, in Gooding, Idaho. Hillard made his first trip to Ketchum in 1923. He was the son of Orla Robert Hicks and Lily Heller Hicks. Orla was head of Sun Valley transportation from 1938 to 1960 and an Idaho state senator in the 1950s. His grandparents were pioneers who settled on the Camas Prairie after arriving in Idaho in 1880 via the Oregon Trail.
Hillard was an all-state quarterback for Shoshone High School and played the saxophone for a local band. He was a survivor of the famous Triumph Mine snow slide in 1938, where he was buried alive for five and a half hours in 15 feet of snow.
He attended the University of Idaho and was a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. When Germany invaded Poland, Hillard enlisted in the Army Air Corps and after receiving his flight training was hand-picked by Pan American officials to fly critical war materials throughout South American countries. Through arrangement with the War Department, the Pan American system picked five men for this special task, which was deemed of high value during the war. Flying the Andes in the early days was a challenge and sometimes very treacherous. Pilots like Hillard were extremely proficient and had a streak of “true grit.” Navigation was mostly visual, flying between mountains with up and down drafts tossing the aircraft around in good and bad weather. Pilots were always looking for familiar markers like a tree, church or fork in the road to identify where to make a turn; Hillard’s log books were full of such markers.
He once lost an engine on a DC-2 in bad weather and had to land on a sandy beach in Peru. As a result of another mechanical failure on a flight over Bolivia, he landed the plane on a remote dirt road in the jungle where he and the passengers spent three nights in the airplane until help arrived. Hillard cheated death again over the Andes on a flight from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Santiago, Chile, when a downdraft in an unavoidable violent storm rolled his DC-6 aircraft over. Fortunately, Hillard landed the plane safely with some of the passengers and crew sustaining only minor injuries.
After the war, he stayed in Peru, flying as a captain for Pan American Grace (Panagra Airlines). In 1955, he moved his family to Miami and continued flying for Panagra and later Braniff Airlines until his retirement in 1977. His career as an airline pilot took him around the world, but he always came back to visit the Wood River Valley.
Hillard was a scratch golfer most of his life and played on many beautiful courses with some of the best golfers in the world. In 1953, he sank a 6-foot putt on the final hole to win the Andes Cup for Peru in the South American Golf Championship. The trophy and team photograph are still proudly displayed at the Lima Golf Club. Also an enthusiastic fisherman, he fished extensively in South America, North America and the Bahamas. One of his favorite fishing buddies was his brother-in-law Clayton Stewart. Hillard was an expert with a fly rod, an avid hunter and outdoorsman.
He is survived by his wife, Margaret “Peggy” Hicks; her children Leslie Benz and Douglas Smith; his son Mark Hicks; daughters Linda Hicks Spencer and Sandra Hicks Hunter; 12 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Private graveside services will be held at the Ketchum Cemetery on Tuesday, Oct. 15, at 12:30 p.m.
At 1 p.m., friends are cordially invited to join the family for a reception at the Knob Hill Inn.
Donations are suggested to Hospice of the Wood River Valley, P.O. Box 4320, Ketchum, Idaho 83340.
Services are under the care of Wood River Chapel. Friends are invited to leave a condolence, share memories and light a candle at www.woodriverchapel.com.