Harold Gillam was born in 1903 in Illinois. He first came to Alaska in 1927 to work in the construction industry in Fairbanks. While working on runways in the region, he fell in love with airplanes and decided he would become a pilot. He left Fairbanks in 1928 to purchase an airplane and learn to fly. When he returned to Fairbanks he borrowed a Stearman biplane and joined the search for Carl Ben Eielson, despite only having 40 hours of flight time.
Gillam’s daring and skill, especially flying in extreme weather, earned him the reputation of legendary competence. Gillam provided scheduled air service in the Cordova and Copper Center region for several years before moving his operation to Fairbanks in 1935, where he established Gillam Airways.
His reputation for indestructibility came to an end on January 5, 1943, when he crash-landed a Lockheed Electra on a mountainside near Ketchikan. All aboard the aircraft survived the initial crash. Five days after the accident, Gillam left the passengers in an attempt to find help. Thirty-three days after the accident, the remaining passengers were rescued, and Gillam’s body was eventually found. He had apparently died of exposure while trying to hike out for help.