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Video Vault | North Las Vegas airport’s opening cut short with Pearl Harbor bombing

Florence with Bonanza (Photo courtesy of Clark County Aviation Museum)

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the Southern Nevada Airport first known as Sky Harbor. The opening celebration turned into a more dramatic event than expected. The story starts with a local pioneer aviator.

"Florence Murphy is the reason we have an airport at North Las Vegas," observes Kathleen Snaper. "She had dedicated her life to aviation. Her love of flying."

Snaper befriended Murphy in the 1970s and is herself in the Nevada Aerospace Hall of Fame with a unique record for distance and endurance.

"I flew 420 miles for four hours and 20 minutes," remembers Snaper.

But with a twist. She set the record in Death Valley -- "Below sea level."

For that reason, a photo of Snaper commemorating the event shows her holding a diver's helmet in her lap.

Her mentor, Florence Murphy, spoke to News 3 in 1999.

"Well, I was the first licensed woman pilot in the state of Nevada," she remembered.

Murphy and her husband John had been flying out of a field in 1940 and 1941 that became the Las Vegas Gunnery School and eventually Nellis Air Force Base.

"As the war started gathering in Europe, there was more activity at that airfield," observes Snaper. "So they were evicted out as civilians."

The Murphys and their friend, Bud Barrett, found a spot off of what was then called Tonopah Highway. Today we call it Rancho.

"It was fairly flat," Murphy told News 3. "And so we got a Cat and blade and scraped off the sagebrush."

The grand opening was set for December 7, 1941.

"And we started out with an air show," said Murphy. "And we opened the airport to the public and on that day we had planes from Utah, California, Arizona."

"And they had the grandstands set up so forth and all kinds of activities," adds Snaper.

In the midst of the celebration, a military plane flew in unannounced. An officer emerged and addressed the audience in the grandstands.

"And told us that Pearl Harbor had been bombed," remembered Murphy. "And we were all grounded."

"So the airport has the distinction, the history of being the shortest-lived airport," says Snaper. "It opened and closed on the same day."

After a few weeks, the visiting planes were allowed to fly home and North Las Vegas Airport began full operations, with Florence Murphy running the show.

Today, Snaper is on a mission to see the North Las Vegas Airport terminal building dedicated to her late friend.

"Absolutely!" declares Snaper emphatically. "I think 75 years is long enough."

A name dedication would need to go through the Clark County Board of Commissioners. So far Snaper has encountered resistance, but vows to keep fighting.

Florence Murphy passed away in 2006.

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