At age 90, Frank Heyl is still showing solutions to getting lost


Nobody ever intends to get lost. That is why it is so hard to prepare for.

That being the case, it is fortunate that people like Frank Heyl are around to help them.

A 90-year-old veteran of World War II and formerly a Lake Oswego resident for more than 50 years, Heyl wrote the book on survival. Literally. His book “Why Some Survive,” co-written with Richard O. Woodfin Jr., is full of case studies and analysis of survival stories. Heyl shared the high points of his nearly 70 years of knowledge at the meeting of the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center’s Learning and Technology Group on Monday.

Survival was never so fun as in Heyl’s humorous yet insightful presentation, full of wise suggestions and wonderful anecdotes. He got off to a strong start by showing the audience the very same clipboard he was given by an officer one day while he was serving the the U.S. Air Force during World War II. Heyl’s main task was helping to ferry 15,000 planes to Russia, but he was given another job.

“The clipboard read ‘Safety and Emergency Procedures.’ I told him, ‘I don’t know anything about that.’ He said, ‘You can read can’t you?’”

Heyl suddenly was a survival expert, and he continued to be one in the Korean War. Finally, the brass decided he should learn something about survival.

“Everything was in reverse,” Heyl said. “I should have gone to survival school first.”

However, he made up for lost time by attending just about every kind of survival school under the sun. After retiring from the service, he continued being a rescue pilot and survival instructor in civilian life, putting in 10,000 air hours searching for people who were lost. He became a survival expert of the highest level.

Then, 55 years after being handed the clipboard, Heyl was told, “Why don’t you write a book?” Heyl could even draw from personal experience. As a small child in Portland he got lost once while shopping with his mother on the sixth floor of Meier & Frank.

“I yelled and screamed until I was back with my mother,” Heyl fondly recalled.

But today he says yelling and screaming won’t help if you are lost in the wilderness. It is even worse when you try to walk your way out of getting lost. Heyl said he has seen too many cases when that kind of action led to death. He says it is much wiser to build a fire, get in a shelter right at the spot you are lost and try to do something to signal your plight, especially to a search plane flying overhead.

The Heyl list for survival items is: survival medicine; shelter and clothing; heat from an external force; food and water. He also recommends carrying not just one knife but two (one a pocket knife and the other a 4-inch knife that fits in a sheath), Diamond matches (because of their high sulphur content) and fire starters. There are also many intangibles involved with survival.

“All of the people who survived had a great will to live,” Heyl said. “It also helps to pray a lot.”

You don’t even have to believe in God to pray. Heyl told the story of an agnostic who got lost and survived. When the non-believer subsequently filled out a form about his experience, he first mentioned that he was an agnostic. He later mentioned he prayed when he got lost. Heyl was flabbergasted.

The agnostic explained, “They told us to try anything if we got lost. It worked.”

Heyl says amen.

“Don’t forget the power of prayer,” he said. “Whenever I get in trouble, I pray.”

The combination of prayer and smart preparation are usually enough to save you. But Heyl has also seen some tragedies in his long career. One time a man he knew became lost in the wilderness and died. Heyl wondered why.

“I had put together a survival kit for him,” he said. “They found it in the trunk of his car.”

No one will ever catch Frank Heyl unprepared. He’s a survivor.

“I’ll soon be 91,” he said. “I plan on being around a long time.”

The book “Why Some Survive” can be ordered on

Contract Publishing

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