Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Cool pilot does miracle

Pair unhurt after treetop crash in northern bush

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PILOT Larry Poole started to laugh as he walked round the floatplane he'd just landed in some jack pines north of Little Grand Rapids.

The Cessna 206's engine had stopped and wouldn't restart. Poole had about a minute to find somewhere to land, and there wasn't a lake nearby.

So he brought the floatplane down like a Batmobile, holding the plane's nose up and dropping the tail into the treetops, using the treetops for brakes.

The plane landed on a cushion of jack pines. It wasn't even touching the ground when Poole and his lone passenger, Jamie Day, clambered out uninjured.

"I was laughing, but very emotional," said Poole yesterday. "It's a funny thing. You feel lucky. It's pretty emotional. The emotion comes in waves."

But Poole, 59, was very cool during the emergency landing, so cool he didn't even jump out of the plane right away but did his usual control-panel checks, including shutting off the gas because it was leaking.

He is a pilot for Waasagomach Air, a small charter air service run by Waasagomach First Nation. Day is a dispatcher with the air service and is from Waasagomach, one of the three Island Lake bands located about 600 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.

The two men were taking the plane to Winnipeg to store over winter when the engine stopped about halfway. The small aircraft, which seats five people, crashed about mid-afternoon Saturday 40 kilometres north of Little Grand Rapids.

Poole's longtime friend, pilot Al Hadland, was flying 20 minutes ahead and Poole managed to radio him that he was going down. His friend circled back, obtained the co-ordinates of the downed aircraft and radioed the Canadian Armed Forces.

The military dispatched a Hercules search-and-rescue plane from Winnipeg. Within two hours, two men from 17 Wing, Winnipeg's military airbase, parachuted down from the Hercules. They landed in the treetops using special parachutes that can be stalled above the trees for gentle touchdowns.

"These guys literally didn't have a scratch on them. They were cutting wood and already had a fire when we arrived," said Master Cpl. Shawn Harrison, part of the search-and-rescue tandem.

Harrison and team leader Master Cpl. Luc Levesque set up camp and ensured the two survivors were fed and had a tent over their heads.

The men weren't picked up by helicopter until noon yesterday. It would have been too dangerous to rescue them Saturday night in the dark and snow, and the men weren't injured, an Armed Forces spokesman said.

A Griffin search-and-rescue helicopter flew in from Cold Lake, Alta. The men were lifted into the helicopter by a sling apparatus.

Poole is a Winnipegger, although he lives part of the time in Waasagomach and British Columbia. He has been a pilot for 37 years. He doesn't know why the floatplane's engine stopped, but said it had plenty of fuel. The engine cut out about 2,500 feet above ground.

It cut a swath of about 50 metres through a gravel field full of jack pines, Poole said. The plane knocked down about a dozen trees, which fortunately were shallow-rooted. The Cessna's wings and tail were broken but the plane might still be salvageable, he said.

Temperatures dipped to -15 C in northeastern Manitoba Saturday night. To keep the tent warm, the search-and-rescue team used a Coleman lamp they turned on and off at regular intervals. Levesque and Harrison took turns staying up through the night in two-hour shifts.

Poole hardly slept. "I was too revved up," he said.

It was the seventh such rescue operation for Levesque, originally from Edmundston, N.B., and one of the better ones because no one was injured.

"(Poole) was a good pilot. He put (the plane) down really smooth," said Levesque.

Cornelius Wood, chief of Waasagomach, was at St. Andrews Airport yesterday to meet Poole as he arrived. "Everyone was so worried about you. People were packing into the band office to ask about you," he told Poole.

Poole said the first nation is a very close-knit and caring community of about 1,200 and even has its own TV station.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 3, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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