Tatters! Sunk in the Sub-Arctic

A strong gust blew tatters of avgas out of the funnel as Ted Jowett and I fueled the amphib Cessna Turbo 206 that day. The wind was not as strong as it had been a couple of hours before but it still had enough strength that it created whitecaps on the sheltered bay we used for takeoffs and landings at Nejanilini Lake.
Earlier in the day the screaming wind that came blasting over the tundra had made the lodge building shake enough that you could feel it in the soles of your feet. Now the wind had abated somewhat from the estimated 100 kilometer an hour strength and we felt that we could get to Tadoule Lake to pick up some guides for the guests due in tomorrow.
"How much gas do you want?", asked Ted.
"I guess we'll fill the wing," I replied, figuring to put on enough fuel to do two trips to Tadoule Lake and have a good margin left over for dodging weather and fighting the headwind coming back.
The 540 km trip that I had made earlier from Knee Lake had been a long, rough one because of the headwind I had fought. The ground speed registering on the GPS receiver in the plane had indicated a wind strength of over 80 kph pushing against me. The winds had decreased somewhat and the driving rain had stopped. We were going to Tadoule Lake as soon as we finished refueling the plane. Kim, the camp manager, had asked earlier if her daughter could come along for the ride and I had had to refuse her because we needed the seat if we got all the guides that we wanted.
We put away the refueling equipment and climbed into the TU206. Garrett, the camp gofer, held the plane to prevent it drifting backward, I started it up and we started to taxi/sail it down the bay to our takeoff position. A float aircraft can be sailed in high winds by using a combination of flaps, ailerons, rudder, and the engine to control it's direction and speed downwind or even across the wind to some degree. With practice a pilot can come into a dock sideways and park an aircraft more precisely than a driver can park a car. This time though we were just going to sail downwind with full flap to the point where we could start our takeoff run into the wind.
Sailing down the bay to the takeoff point Ted and I chatted about aviation. As we chatted I noticed the wind gusts on the water were backing more westerly, but didn't think anything more about it. Raising the flaps to the takeoff position of 20 degrees I scanned the instruments and asked Ted if he was ready to rock and roll . He nodded to the affirmative and I pointed the plane about 20 degrees out of directly into the wind. This was done to give me the distance to do my initial climb out over water in case the engine failed immediately takeoff.
I advanced the throttle to maximum takeoff power and the nose came up almost immediately. Pushing over to get it on the step and airborne, I felt the left wing rise and applied left aileron to correct it. The wing continued to rise at an accelerating rate despite my efforts to control it until the right float tip dug into a wave and the water rushed up to bury us.
"What have I done? "I yelled as the plane tipped over on it's nose and right wing. I retarded the throttle in a last futile effort to regain control just before the windshield caved in and we were swallowed into a swirling tide of cold water.
On shore, Kim watched horrified as the floatplane with her two friends in it flipped inverted and came to rest upside down. Running inside the lodge she screamed to Tony and Ian to get a boat out there and help us. For just a second they thought she was kidding, but seeing the look in her eyes they knew that the worst had happened.
It was so very quiet underwater, the only sounds I could hear were the thoughts in my head as I hung, suspended by my seatbelt upside down in the water filled cabin. I calmly decided that this was not my day to die as I released my seatbelt and jackknifed around to find any air that might be still in the cabin. Ted struggled to release his seatbelt, pulling on it without success until he realized that he was in the right hand seat and so the release was triggered with the right hand.
The first boat with Tony and Ian in it was just pulling away from the dock as Garrett and Ken ran onto the dock and started their boat up.
Ted and I pushed our noses into the bubble of air that was left for the few seconds that it remained then looked for the way out. Ted quickly found a window and squirmed through it, breaking the surface of the water a few seconds later. He climbed out onto the bottom of the 206's fuselage and started kicking it near where he had gotten out in an effort to lead me to the way out.
Tony and Ian came around the corner at full speed and saw one person standing on the plane. Tony started to remove his outer clothing in preparation to dive down. On the shore, people watched the drama unfold in front of them. They could now see that it was Ted who had made it out as the boats crashed through the waves toward the two inverted floats that held the sunken airplane on the wave torn surface of the bay.
Inside the airplane my time was running out as I tried to kick out a rear window without success. I looked around and with a certain amount of relief, recognized a door handle. I pulled the handle, pushed the door and it opened. About 3 inches. In disbelief I pushed again harder with the same result. Thoughts of what could be blocking the door and ways of getting past them ran through my head before I realized it was the rear door and it was blocked by the flaps which of course were still down in the takeoff position. I opened the door as far as possible and pulled the red lever that opened the back half of the door knowing that this would enable me to open it fully and make my escape from here. I pushed and the door wouldn't open. This is really not my day I thought as I pondered this new problem.
I started thinking that it was nice and peaceful down here and maybe I just wanted to give up and become part of it. Then I realized that the fully opened lever was preventing the rear half of the door from opening so I closed the lever most of the way and pushed. The door opened and I swam out of the cabin toward the surface and the air that my lungs were urgently demanding.
The bottom of the float bonged when my head hit it. Not to be thwarted in my course to the surface, air, and life, I detoured around it and continued up.
The rescue boat was halfway to the plane by this time and the rescuers could still only see Ted out of the water. The clock was ticking and they didn't know if I was alive or dead. With a sense of relief, Ted saw the top of my head (looking like a muskrat he said later) coming to the surface between the floats. He pushed me down and over so that I wouldn't get tangled in the water rudder retraction and cross brace wires that were blocking my access to the surface.
I saw the surface inches from my face and then got pushed down into the water. WHAT!? I thought then forgot all about it as my face broke into the air and I took the biggest, best breath of my whole life. That one breath was like being reborn. I had made it out alive! What a relief. I climbed out on the fuselage with Ted, who was looking decidedly sodden, and stood there breathing deeply for a little while.
"I was getting ready to go back for you, it feels like you've been under there for at least 5 minutes", said Ted with relief in his voice.
"I had a few problems getting out", I said, "If I can really hold my breath that long maybe I can get a job as a South Seas pearl diver."
"We're a long way from shore and I can't swim too well," Ted said with some concern in his voice.
Ted had concentrated so hard on looking in the water for me, he had not even noticed the boats crashing through the waves toward us. "You won't have to, these floats will hold this thing up forever, besides, there's the boat on it's way now .... Why'd you push my head back under water?"
"I had to so that you wouldn't get tangled up in the wires. There wasn't enough room for you to get through them."
"Thanks, but when you did that I wondered what the hell you were up to," I said. Ted was looking cold so I told him to do up his coat which was flapping in the wind, it's bright colour a vivid contrast to the blue of his lips.
The first boat arrived at this time crashing against the side of the float but not in a position to enable us to climb in easily. We finally figured out that the boat had to come in between the floats from the tail end so we could climb in over the bow of the boat. The second boat arrived and we directed them to try to tow the plane back toward the dock in an effort to keep it from grounding on the lee shore. Their efforts were unsuccessful.
Ted and I were rushed back to the lodge where we had hot showers in an effort to try and warm up from our recent dunking.

Bruce flying a Beaver over the Pre-Cambrian Shield.
DHC-2 Beaver Image by John S Goulet
ImageŠ by John S Goulet

Note from the Editor.
I would like to thank Bruce Bowles for sharing this story with us. This incident happened quite a few years ago now, but the lessons are still valid.
Number one. Read the gusts. In changing weather, the gusts will change direction before the main body of the wind. Plan to take-off into the gusts. If that is not possible, like in this case, keep full aileron deflection into the anticipated gusts and/or crosswind at the beginning of the take-off run. As the ailerons become more effective slowly neutralize leaving your into-wind wing down in a deflection. The stronger the gusts the greater the deflection. Then if a gust does manage to get under and pick up your into-wind wing, you are already ahead of the game by having the full control of the aileron and the wing part way down. Any "after the fact" attempt to catch up will fail.
Finally, if full aileron is not enough and the wing begins to rise anyway, add full into-wind rudder. Keep the power on and the rudder will be the most effective. Full rudder will give you the correction needed to overcome almost any gust that can be handled by a flying aircraft. I am talking about 85knts plus. And you always wondered why bush pilots wear such BIG BOOTS!
Secondly, know your airplane. By knowing how the cargo door works, or doesn't work when the flaps are down in the case of the C206, Bruce saved his life. Under water and almost out of breath, he had to remember the special combination that it takes to open this badly designed door handle. Since Bruce's incident, Transport Canada has published several articles on this very problem and has been after Cessna to publish an AD to solve it. TC can't solve all our problems, however, so know your airplane. If you are new on the C206 practice opening the cargo door, flaps in take-off position, with your eyes closed. You never know.

Bruce stayed on as the Chief Pilot with the same company for many years.

Dave's Bush Pilot tip! Big Boots can come in handy for other reasons. 1Booting the windshield out (the side windows are very small.) Just remember the "V" braces on the Cessna 180 & 185 act like prison bars. 2Accidentally tripping the MOT inspector at the end of the dock. 3Hiding your mickey or that first beer of the day that you were saving for the last flight. 4Keeping the boot knife that you use to open your can of pork & beans. 5Kicking the bosses' cat that peed on your seat cushion in the Beech 18. 6Looking like a real bush pilot. 7Blaming on when the Beaver veers sharp left just as it's getting on the step, as in: "Damn boots, couldn't get the right rudder!

Editor John S Goulet



Last modified on March 05, 2006 .
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