Missed by that much Thirty-six years after brush with death, Winnipegger reflects on time massive airplane tire crashed through his apartment roof

You might say Mark Paul dodged a bullet that night — a 181-kilogram bullet that came within a whisker of squashing him flatter than the proverbial pancake.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/06/2018 (1614 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

You might say Mark Paul dodged a bullet that night — a 181-kilogram bullet that came within a whisker of squashing him flatter than the proverbial pancake.

Thirty-six years ago next week, Paul came within metres of being crushed to death in one of the most memorable and bizarre incidents in Winnipeg history.

It all began at 7:30 p.m., July 5, 1982, when the then-33-year-old office worker parked himself on the sofa in front of the TV in his top-floor apartment on Grant Avenue.

Winnipeg Free Press front page, July 6, 1982

“It’s impossible to forget,” Paul said earlier this week over lunch at the Salisbury House restaurant at Pembina Highway and Stafford Street. “I remember every second of that night.

“I had just come home from work and was having dinner. I was eating dessert — watermelon, how could you forget? — and I was sitting on the sofa in the living room watching TV. I thought, ‘OK, I’ll put the plate in the sink.’

“When I bent over and put the dish in the sink, that’s when it hit. All of a sudden — ‘smash! bang!’ — and the whole apartment started to fall apart. I had no idea what happened. It could have been a bomb. There was debris all over the place. It was like a small bomb hit the place.

“It didn’t make a neat hole in roof. There was crap everywhere. It took me about 30 seconds to realize what had happened.”

What had happened was something that still seems hard to believe — a 181-kg landing wheel had fallen from a low-flying aircraft and crashed through the roof of Paul’s third-floor apartment at 1002 Grant Ave.

The wheel fell from an Aero Trades DC-4 transport plane, which was at an estimated 425 metres while preparing to land at the Winnipeg airport. The huge wheel was travelling about 320 km/h when it punched a 1.2-metre hole in Paul’s roof and wedged itself on the floor between the narrow kitchen and what remained of his clothes closet.

Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press Mark Paul stands outside the Grant Avenue apartment, where he lived in July 1982, when a 400 pound wheel from an airplane came crashing through the roof narrowly missing him.

“It fell about five or six feet away from me,” Paul, 69, recalled this week. “I still can’t believe it actually happened. It’s incredible! It was a small cargo plane but it was a big tire. It’s not a car tire. The tire survived.”

Paul’s amazing tale of near-death was mentioned a few weeks ago in the Speiriscope feature in Saturday’s Free Press, which detailed five of the strangest things to have fallen from airplanes.

After reading the column, Paul, who retired from Revenue Canada nine years ago, emailed to make three points, namely: 1) He was still alive; 2) He still lives in Winnipeg; and 3) We should probably get together for lunch.

So on Monday afternoon, Paul — toting a scrapbook of old newspaper articles and photographs — sat down at the Salisbury House eatery a few blocks from the ill-fated apartment and, using salt and pepper shakers, sketched out the floor plan of his old suite.

“There were two entrances to the kitchen,” he recalled. “I just happened to go through the left entrance from the dining room. If I had taken the other entrance by the front door, I would have been squashed like a bug. I would have been part of the concrete… You can laugh (about it) now.”

Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press. Mark Paul stands outside the Grant Avenue apartment, where he lived in July 1982, when a 400 pound wheel from an airplane came crashing through the roof narrowly missing him. June 26, 2018.

Throughout the conversation, Paul laughed frequently, acknowledging all these years later it is still difficult to accept how close he came to death.

“I did,” he declared when asked if it felt as if he dodged a bullet that night. “I was very lucky. Extremely lucky. It was so close and there was so much damage.

“It wasn’t meant to be. I believe a lot of things happen for no reason, they’re just random. Maybe that’s proof of it. It wasn’t my time,” he said. “When I was bent over the sink, a large shard of wood flew right over my head and into the dining room.”

In that moment, which came with no warning, there wasn’t time to be scared. Afterwards, he conceded with a chuckle, was a different story.

“I had a bottle of Scotch to calm my nerves.”

The 400-pound wheel fell off a jet and crashed Paul's roof, missing him by mere feet.

Shortly after the tire blasted through the apartment roof, police, emergency officials, media, other tenants and the landlord descended to check out the debris scattered throughout the one-bedroom suite.

“I moved to a hotel for a couple of days because I had to go somewhere,” Paul recalled. “And shortly after that, I moved to another apartment on Grant Avenue.”

Three years later, he married the love of his life, Faye, and the couple moved into a home in River Heights. He is the proud father of three boys.

One thing quickly becomes clear: Paul’s sense of humour was left intact and he doesn’t carry any long-term emotional scars from the plummeting plane wheel, which sparked headlines throughout much of the world.

Tucking into a club sandwich, he said he almost never thinks about his bizarre brush with death.

“Once in a blue moon, if I’m reminded of the story by somebody,” he said. “Once in a while, there’s a reminder. Somebody will say, ‘Hey, you’re that guy with the plane tire.’

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files Paul: 'I had a bottle of Scotch to calm my nerves.'

“I don’t remember having nightmares,” he said with a smile. “But I didn’t feel too well for a short time after moving to the hotel… It’s just a memory, and a good one because I walked away.”

After lunch, the lucky-to-be-alive retiree agreed to return to the Glengrove Manor at 1002 Grant Ave.

“It’s kind of weird,” he said as a Free Press photographer took shots of him staring up at the block’s roof. “I’m reliving it — almost. I drive by here all the time, but I never stop.”

It turns out Paul and his wife recently sold their River Heights home and will soon be moving into another apartment — on Grant Avenue.

“Don’t you think that’s tempting fate?” this columnist wanted to know.

The hole left in the ceiling of Paul's apartment.

“No, no, no,” Paul chirped happily, clutching old photos from that night. “I hope the odds are in my favour now. As far as having plane tires coming through my roof, I think I’m OK now.”

He said he’s never been told whether investigators figured out why the wheel fell. At the time, Transport Canada said it was unlikely the cause would ever be known.

“We have come up with nothing so far,” an accident investigator said in 1982. “It’s true we may never know what happened.”

Witnesses walking on Grant that night reported seeing the wheel strike the roof. Thirty-six years later, Paul says he couldn’t care less, and agrees, in many ways, he’s the luckiest guy on the planet.

“From that tire incident, yes, I was incredibly lucky,” he said. “And the next luckiest time in my life was meeting my wife. How’s that?”

It seems from the moment that tire fell, things have been looking up.

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

Doug Speirs

Doug Speirs
Columnist

Doug has held almost every job at the newspaper — reporter, city editor, night editor, tour guide, hand model — and his colleagues are confident he’ll eventually find something he is good at.

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