It was a pretty stressful Wednesday night wondering what circumstances my dad was in having “crashed” in a Cessna 208 Caravan II flying between Scammon Bay and Bethel, Alaska. I’ll try to give you a play by play on what happened to the best of my knowledge. I haven’t had a chance to directly talk to my dad yet, but this is what I’ve gleaned from conversations with my mom and a message left by my dad on my cell phone.
On their way back to Bethel from Scammon Bay my dad and fellow pilot Brian were flying at about 7,400 feet elevation when the engine failed. My dad said he was very impressed with how the caravan handled, and that it had a high enough glide ratio to give them time to pick out a suitable place to land. They ended up putting the plane down on a lake roughly 94 miles from Bethel. Within 15 minutes of setting the plane down one of the companies other planes flew over checking on them.
The landing couldn’t have been better. Brian did just a phenomenal job of setting the ski less plane down on the snow covered lake. During the landing the front landing gears shock was depressed and would not release. This is the only damage the plane encountered in the emergency landing. They are very lucky the landing gear didn’t buckle. If it had, the plane would have sustained a substantial amount of damage.
So now they are stranded in the middle of a frozen lake surrounded by miles and miles of bare tundra. They were able to radio headquarters that they had landed and that neither of them had been injured. The national guard dispatched a helicopter out to pick them up. The helicopter got really close to them but there was a pretty bad blizzard that made an air rescue impossible. Upon hearing the National Guard had scratched their attempted rescue Hageland sent a plane back out to the scene where they dropped some survival gear out the side of the plane for the guys. They retrieved this gear and headed back to the plane where they were able to get out of the wind and cook up some dinner. I heard rumors of some humorous talk of the movie “Alive” as they sat in the plane with the wind howling outside.
Meanwhile 45 miles to the west in Chevak a search and rescue team was being mobilized. A couple of people headed out on snowmachines only to have one of their machines break down so they had to return to Chevak. Around 1:00 AM a group of 4 riders took off to pick up the two pilots. While they were on their two hour ride to the crash site, Dad and Brian were catching some zzzz’s in the caravan. I guess at one point the wind was blowing hard enough to jostle the plane around. There was some concern that the plane might tip over from the wind gusts. Usually when a plane is parked the wings are tied down to keep them from being pushed around or over by the wind. Since they were on a lake the guys were unable to tie the plane down and were at the mercy of the wind.
The search and rescue team from Chevak arrived at the plane around 3:00 in the morning. My dad was fast asleep and I’m sure snoring like a log (poor Brian). They had to knock on the side of the plane to wake them up. The guys hopped on with the search and rescue team and headed back to Chevak arriving just after 6:00 in the morning.
Dad was very impressed with the search and rescue team. Their command center had a map up with their crash site marked out and a full plan on how they were going to get them rescued. He said it was a very well run operation.
At some point that morning (Thursday) the guys flew back to Bethel and were back to work. For a plane “crash” it really couldn’t have gone any better.
Im not 100% positive about their plans to retrieve the airplane, but here is what I think will happen. Hageland will fly out a mechanic to get the engine working and fix the front landing gear. They may jack up the plane and put skies on it, or bring in a small bulldozer to clear out a runway for the plane on the ice. They will then have a pilot with a ferry permit (a permit that allows the plane to be flown dirctly to a shop where it can be completely checked over) fly the plane off the lake back to Bethel or Palmer to have it fixed up and put back into circulation.
UPDATE: Hageland ended up flying out a replacement engine and changing it out on the frozen lake. They fixed the minor issues with the front landing gear and were ready to bring it home. Here’s where it gets fun and a little taste of Alaska. To get the plane to take off on the snow covered lake the crew cut three sleds (the kind your kids use to slide down hills) in half, put the back end in the front end bolted 2×4’s around as a frame and placed them under each wheel on the plane. When the plane took off it used them as ski’s. When they were off the ground the sleds stayed on the ground since they weren’t attached to the plane at all. The Cessna 207 they used to bring the engine out picked up the sleds as to not leave any trash behind and they both flew back to Bethel.
Dad still has to do his check ride with the company before he can start flying for them. I hope he is successful in that endevor. If he is then he’ll finish out the two week shift and then head back to Valdez for a couple weeks off before doing it all over again. Hopefully the next shift will not include any landings that aren’t on an approved runway. 🙂