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Thread: SuperHeroes Only Live in Comic Books

  1. #1
    CloudDancer's Avatar
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    SuperHeroes Only Live in Comic Books

    Alo-o-o-oha From Anchorage !

    Jeez. That has kinda' a nice ring to it, don't it?

    Just wanted to let you good folks know I'm still a'kickin'. Been in God's Country almost the whole month and SOBER no less, as I am up against the deadline to finish Vol. III< The Tragedies if it's gonna' make a Thanksgiving release.

    You peeps are my true loved one's outsidea' Moma CloudDancer o' course. So. You guys get a special preview.

    It's SO special....I'm not even done writing it yet. but I will be tamale. Miss you guys. hope you still think about me ever now an' agin'.

    Yer' Friend

    CloudDancer

    ************************************************** **********

    Prologue


    It was September 20th 1980. Just a day short of the official beginning of autumn but not so's you could tell by walking outside. The gray waters of Kotzebue Sound slapped at regular intervals against the stony beach three or four feet below Front Street. Already they appeared cold and forbidding. The Arctic breeze gusted as usual from the northwest to close to 20 miles an hour, producing a windchill sufficient to make anyone stuff bare hands into a jacket pocket. It was almost 9 p.m. as the top half of the orange sun slid slowly below the western horizon.
    I was already well into my fifteenth or twentieth (who knows?) Bacardi and Coke. I was parked on one of my two usual stools at the end of the bar in Kotzebue's one and only commercial property truly worthy of being called a hotel. The building boasted something over 60 rooms on two floors with a large dining room of a hundred or so seats and full restaurant service. More importantly, the Nu-luk-vik Hotel offered as well a fine, full- service, fairly civilized bar. It was the only alternative to the town's other two full-service watering holes, which might more accurately be described as honky-tonks. Not that I didn't have a regular "parking spaces" staked out at those bars as well..
    It's just that one generally always began the evening's alcohol immersions at the more upscale hotel bar, which actually did qualify as having an "atmosphere". Along the west wall were large picture windows lined with tables for two. This location allowed for an unobstructed view of Kotzebue Sound and the western horizon. Patrons also were treated to a clear view of all the coming and goings on Front Street, be they on foot or four-wheeler facing the elements, or comfortably cocooned in a warm vehicle bouncing vigorously from one summer pothole to the next.
    The length of the north wall, facing the backs of those seated at the bar, was lined with large horseshoe shaped booths that seated a comfortable five or a cozy six. The chairs, barstools and booths were constructed of deep, darkened oak. Seat cushions for all the furnishings were generous and comfortably firm. No question, a great room in which to enjoy a pre or post-dinner cocktail.
    Patrons were generally more dignified and subdued there. Hours later, these same patrons (including me) having already consumed more than sufficient quantities of adult beverages, would then begin to appear at either the Golden Whale or the Ponderosa Bar.
    Most of us certainly at that point needed no further alcohol intake at that point, it's just that....well....I mean, it was only midnight and the Whale and the Pondu were open until five a.m., you know? There was dancing yet to be done, and wimmens yet to be pursued.
    But this night was destined to come to quite a different conclusion. For into the Nu-luk-vik Bar strode a very good friend of mine. It was in fact the owner of Kotzebue's two other bars.
    He was about my age and well known throughout the town and most of Northwest Alaska for that matter. You're a pretty popular guy in Alaska when you own the majority of bars within 250 miles in any direction. For whatever reason, most likely my by now prodigious, seven-day-a-week capacity for rum and coke at four bucks a pop, he had taken an interest in me. We often caught breakfast or lunch together at the hotel. We enjoyed a shared passion for discussing business and flying. He owned half a dozen different businesses in town as well as a couple of airplanes, we never lacked material to discuss.
    The small group of pilots and airport freight-tossing drinking buddies gathered at the end of the bar parted to admit the new arrival. He was one of the very few non-drinking Eskimos among my many friends; a cup of coffee appearing magically and almost instantly at his elbow without him uttering a word or even looking at the bartender.
    And after a tight-lipped greeting and curt nod of the head he was silent as he eyed me, waiting for the conversation to resume. I announced that I was impressed he had deigned to travel all the way across town to visit with us, particularly in light of the fact that I had just tabbed out and was preparing to mount my trusty Yamaha 250 trail bike and head for the Ponderosa Bar, where he spent much of his time.
    He announced in a slow drawl that he thought that I didn't need any more booze that night and I oughta' just go home. I assumed he was joking. It was barely 10 o'clock in the evening and he knew that I was "shopping" for a new girlfriend at the time. So I told him I still had some thirst quenching left to accomplish. Then out of nowhere he said that I drank too much and, if I wasn't careful, I was going to go down the drain eventually. Still not realizing he was serious, I told him that, regardless of his opinion, I was fully in control of my life and could and would quit drinking whenever I damn well pleased.

    This brought a quit large guffaw from him and disparaging remarks from the rest of the group. Then with his eyes locked on mine and he offered a thousand dollar CASH bet that I was full of crap and further I couldn't give up booze for six months.

    Laughing heartily I met his eyes and said that he must be feeling pretty gutsy to make that bet, especially since it his bars of a significant portion of their monthly gross receipts. When he responded that he was not worried about losing and that he never lost, well, hell. That tripped the trigger for me. And a thousand bucks was nothing to sneeze at either.

    Being not only fairly intoxicated, but now also slightly irritated by someone whom I considered to be a close friend, and tempted by the dough, I allowed as how he had met his match at gambling. We reviewed the rules and shook hands. Another friend in the bunch, Jim Elam declared that this was serious enough that, ALL information should be written down and witnessed. He reached for a bar napkin on which to record the particulars.

    With the bet now written down and "witnessed" by Jim and one of the other guys present, my old friend gives me a cat-that-ate-the-canary grin, as he folded and stuffed the napkin is a shirt pocket and turned to leave. I hollered for him to wait and asked if I could catch a warm ride in his truck. He responded that I didn't need a ride and could mount my Yamaha and go home! We had a bet.

    I was flabbergastered. “You mean like tamale morning right?” I said. “You mean we start tomorrow right? You can't possibly mean toni....I mean right now! I am in the middle of a good drunk here!” I raised my glass to drain the remnants. He lunged toward me, grabbed my wrist and warned me this sip would cost me a thousand dollars. I looked at him in amazement as those around me laughed. I glared at them all. I slipped on my snowsuit while reciting a litany of all the cursewords I ever knew. A final glare and I turned and stomped out the back door of the hotel bar.

    Sons-a-bitches!
    A SUPERIOR pilot, uses his or her SUPERIOR judgement, to stay out of situations which may require the use of their SUPERIOR skills.

  2. #2
    Ruffair's Avatar
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    ...Hummmmmmmmm....

    This sounds like one of the bets I got wrangled into.... involving my stop chewing, and a friend to stop smoking.......

    This can't have a good outcome...

    I'm Looking forward to the new book. (with cash in hand..!!)

    Kem
    "...We're fast enough to get there, But slow enough to see..."
    Fron the song "Barometer Soup". By Jimmy Buffett

  3. #3
    CloudDancer's Avatar
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    Chapter One -

    Doesn't Get Much
    Better Than This


    One day short of six months later, morning twilight comes early under crystal clear skies to Shishamref, Alaska, a few short minutes after seven a.m. Yesterday's bone-chilling forty gusting to fifty-two mile per hour winds have been replaced this early morning by a steady nine to eleven mph breeze blowing in from the east.
    I traipse along the central walkway between the rows of houses, a store, and the few public buildings that make up the village of almost 400. The only sound is the crunch of my size thirteen sno-pacs mashing rock hard bootprints into the semi-packed snow crystals of the small crossing drifts.

    A look left at the western sky reveals the last of the stars to be seen for today. A look to the right reveals the horizon slowing turning orange with the coming sunrise.
    Before splitting up for the night to retire to various sleeping quarters, my six passengers had agreed on an early departure. We wanted to be back in Nome in plenty of time for our Anchorage based members of the party to be able to catch the morning jet non-stop to the big village on Cook Inlet. It was the third day on the road for our little group, and nothing was more appealing now than a long, hot shower.

    With our takeoff scheduled for 8 a.., just before sunrise, my hope was to be airborne no later than eight-fifteen, on the assumption that someone is always a few minutes late. And an 8:15 takeoff should put us into Nome no later than 10 a.m., and that's even if I have to do a little unplanned "wandering around" for some reason. Ten o’clock will leave a good forty-five minutes for my Anchorage folks to get aboard the Wien Air Alaska smoker. And, if we get off as scheduled at the top of the hour, well, they'll have an extra 15 minutes to do it all in an even more leisurely manner.

    It's only a three minute walk of sixty yards or so from the last of the houses to the parking area on the west end of the small airport's narrow asphalt runway. Nonetheless, I walk with my head on a swivel, alert for any sudden moves by a snow pile. A ban on commercial polar bear hunting went into effect ten or so years ago.
    Well, polar bears didn’t survive this long on the arctic icepack by being dumb. After a couple'a three years they figured out nobody was shooting at them any more. Pretty soon their hunger overcame any residual memory of humans being dangerous and they had returned from the sea ice to prowl the coastal communities in search of nourishment. Shishmaref has had visiting bears three times over last two weeks and I have no desire whatsoever to meet any of their kin.

    In another five minutes, I have reached the airplane, stripped it of the engine cover and electric heater, and deposited both in a pile resting against two fifty-five gallon drums standing just off the left wingtip. Using fluid motions that are now unconscoius from being repeated thousands of times, I slide easily into the left front seat of the maroon Cessna 207 with it’s black and white trim stripes. The airplane still smells new with less than 300 hours total flying time. It came out of the factory only a short two months ago.

    I prime the engine and turn the ignition key. I only get to watch two of the propeller's three blades pass through my line of vision before the engine roars to life and shatters the early morning stillness.

    I throttle back to 1000 RPM for the warmup and snap on one of the radios to catch the weather broadcasts from Kotzebue over the Hotham beacon. I am happy to hear the forecast for decent to good flying weather for the early part of the day, although deteriorating weather is expected by noon. Actually, by mid-afternoon it’s supposed to get pretty crappy. But by then I will have long since dropped my passengers off in Nome, and will most likely be enjoying my long, hot shower at home base in Unalakleet.
    I watch as the second hand of the half-dollar-coin sized clock mounted in the upper left portion of the instrument panel sweep through the 12 at the top of the dial for a second time sine startup. I increase the engine RPM to 1200 as the cylinder head and oil temperature needles begin to rise off the "COLD" indications on their rectangular gauges.

    After another two minutes, the gauges are all climbing into the green and I throttle up to 1500 RPM for another minute. Then I unlock the prop control, mashing in on the spring loaded locking button with the heel of my right hand as two fingers slip over the back of the knob. Once, twice, and a third time I pull the prop control knob fully aft then push forward replacing the cold sludge in the propeller hub with increasingly warmer oil. And now I bump the engine revs up to1700 RPM.

    Even with the tie-down ropes still attached, the parking brake fully engaged, and my size thirteens mashing at the normal brake actuators on the rudder pedals, the airplane pulls gently forward and falls aft against the brakes and her tie down ropes as I again cycle the prop three more times before checking magnetos.

    The engine gauges are all well into the green as I gently retard the throttle to its lowest idle, leaving the propeller to tick over at just under 800 RPM for only a moment. Then I slide the red mixture control knob to its full aft position, starving the engine of fuel, and it coughs to a stop. Leaping quickly from the airplane I grab the engine cover and drape it loosely over the cowling to help retain the heat for the few minutes remaining until departure. The cord is wrapped tightly around the electric heater and it is the first item to be deposited in the nose baggage compartment.

    With the engine now silent, I hear a sno-go approaching from the village. As I expect, it’s Alex, our village agent. He is tearing along the trail at full speed with a partially loaded sled bouncing along behind..

    It was Alex who was kind enough not only to take me in for the night, but to rise early with me this morning to help prepare for departure. Besides brewing a six a.m. pot of coffee and surprising me with a hearty egg, sausage and biscuits. he is now on his way out to help me refuel. The sled trailing behind his machine carries six five-gallon cans of Chevron low lead 100 octane avgas and an eight foot aluminum folding ladder.

    Having used all the “refill” cans we had stashed at Shish, we now have to use the unopened cans we bought at Alex's store. Sure, it cost us a good buck-fifty more per gallon. But, at least I don’t have to pour the contents slowly through a chamois cloth, a slow tedious process required to filter out impurities you get when you refuel from an old gas can.. With new sealed cans, you just grab a clean funnel, open the can, and pour as fast as the funnel will accept it. When you have to chamois, it can take up to seven minutes per can, depending on the quality of the gas and the age and cleanliness of the chamois. A genuine pain in the ass, or, more precisely the fingers. Particularly if the wind is blowing.

    The timing works out perfectly. As I dump the last of the gas into the opening atop the right wing, I see two more sno-gos with passenger-laden sleds emerge from between the buildings. I roll back the left sleeve of my snowmachine suit and slide the glove down over my wrist. The soft orange-pinkish pre-dawn twilight barely illuminates the hands on my Timex. Seven fifty-one. Hmmpfh. An 8 a.m. takeoff is still possible.
    I toss the last empty can back to Alex who stuffs it under the blue plastic tarp on the sled and secures the load with two crisscrossed bungee cords.
    The empties will stay with Alex until a Ryan Air machine departs Shishmaref for Unalakleet or Nome with room to spare. They will ride back to base to be refilled with cheaper fuel and be returned to Shishmaref when a Nome or Unalakleet departing payload permits. Almost every bush operator uses some variant of this system to keep extra gas "staged" at one or two villages within their region. For it is on trips such as this that the cost savings are obvious. Had there been no gas available at Shishmaref, my only choice after leaving Deering yesterday afternoon would have been a detour to Kotzebue to refuel. Else I would not have been able to fly on to Nome this morning for lack of fuel.

    A side trip to Kotzebue in the Cessna 207 at that point would've added significant cost to the customer's bill. It also would've deprived them of about two hours of their workday yesterday, making this early morning departure impossible. The Anchorage contingent would've had extra hours to kill in Nome after a later arrival to wait for the evening jet to town.

    With the refueling, engine checks, and preflight complete, I now turn to helping Alex free my bird from it's overnight "anchors". He heads for the left wing as I reach for the knots tied in the 3/4" yellow nylon tiedown rope. The ropes on both sides hold the wings securely to a couple of blue fifty-five gallon drums laying on their sides on the ramp. The drums are filled with water (ice) and weigh in at close to four hundred pounds apiece. They are kept at the airport ramp for just such occasions, when a visiting plane is staying overnight and will be exposed to howling arctic coastal winds.

    With just quarter tanks of gas left upon arrival at Shishmaref early the previous afternoon, the big Cessna single had danced and swayed with enthusiasm in the gusting to almost 50 MPH east winds as soon as the weight of the seven occupants and all the bags had been removed. Having notified Alex by VHF as soon as I could get enough altitude after taking off from Deering, he had the drums dug out of the ever present snowbanks and ready for use upon my arrival.

    After unloading, hardly had the last of the three sno-gos carrying my passengers into the village cleared the ramp, before Alex and I each rolled two of the drums to side by side positions under the middle of the Cessna's wings. Producing two 25 foot lengths of nylon rope from within the aircraft's duffel bag survival kit took only moments and we set to work on our respective sides. Three minutes later, securing the aircraft was completed by inserting the electric heater under the cowling, plugging it in, and wrapping the goose down stuffed red engine cover around the prominent nose of the machine.

    Now all the people and bags that had come off the plane needed to be reboarded. But as this was our eighth leg together in three days, all the passengers knew where they were required (by me) to seat for weight distribution. The weight of the bags had remained unchanged as well, so all were stowed each time in the same positions. A solid 120 pounds in the nose compartment left five pounds to spare there. The remaining couple of suitcases and duffel bags and whatnots were no more than another seventy pounds and fit securely in the far aft portion of the cabin. Sitting mostly on the small shelf beside our survival gear, if fit nicely and was easily secured underneath the standard Cessna cheap white nylon cargo netting.

    So it is that we are ready almost on time. And at 8:06 that morning a fully laden, still sparkling new Cessna 207, launches into the face of the rising sun to the east. The air is calm and the visibility unrestricted. From beneath the cowling, the engine roars it’s uninterrupted defiance to the skies. It just doesn't GET much better than this.


    CloudDancer
    A SUPERIOR pilot, uses his or her SUPERIOR judgement, to stay out of situations which may require the use of their SUPERIOR skills.

  4. #4

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    Hi cloudy!

    I was wondering if you where still kicking!

    Time for hunting season and I'm sitting at home. Just got back from cleaning out the Duck cabin over at Minto. The weather is crap I'm staying here tonight. If it is better tomorrow I will go over and scare some ducks. Well I scared them today with the plane but that doesn't count.

    You coming up to Alaska? When you get done in Los Anchorage?
    Tim

  5. #5
    CloudDancer's Avatar
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    You're gonna' be mad at me mit greb....

    I was there for a week and just left last Friday. Went all up and down the east ramp..

    Saw Miss Vickie @ Tamarack and Larry And Art W. too. Wuz lookin' for you an' Torch. (I forgot you're out there at the AFB).

    Been up here (I'm in ANC now) most of the month researching and writing Vol. III.
    Heading back for the steenk-ing DESERT in about five hours.

    Bah! I HATE 112 degrees! Even if it IS August!

    I decided a few months ago, I am moving BACK to Alaska, with or without a job March of 2011.

    Save some critters for me!!

    CloudDancer
    A SUPERIOR pilot, uses his or her SUPERIOR judgement, to stay out of situations which may require the use of their SUPERIOR skills.

  6. #6
    skywagon8a's Avatar
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    CloudDancer
    I enjoyed your tale of Shishamref. It brought back memories of when I stopped there back in the summer of 80 or 81 while cruising along the shore on a beautiful CAVU day from Kotzebue to Nome via the Diomedes. Met and had a very pleasant visit with Herbi Naocpuc (sp?). He showed us his collection of scrimshaw on old Walrus ivory. Nice stuff.
    N1PA

  7. #7
    CloudDancer's Avatar
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    Hiya Skywagon8a -

    An' a heartfelt Thankya' for yer kind words. It's again a pleasure and a privilege to put up some more scribin' for my Supecub.org fambly to wander through.

    I have been somewhat....hell ....I've been kinda' jus' unre-LIE-able is probably what some folks could justifiably say I 'spose when it comes to my story-tellin'.

    Been leavin' folks hangin' almost forever now waiting on the end of "The Baron and the Bootlegger". (It WILL come some day ya'll. I promise. But the way things are going....like....it's my absolute FIRST thing on my New Year's Resolution List. Uh, for NEXT year. :P

    But, it ain't like I didn't WARN the WorldWide Grand Poohbah of SuperCubbers Everwhere that something like this could happen.

    Meanwhile, since ah'm alla' wrapped up here in Vol. III, The Tragedies.... I figure the least I owe those that brung me to the dance is a first peek.

    Hope you folks are enjoying it!!

    Cloud(jus'wanderin'roundbehindtheliddleaminals)Dan cer l
    A SUPERIOR pilot, uses his or her SUPERIOR judgement, to stay out of situations which may require the use of their SUPERIOR skills.

  8. #8
    CloudDancer's Avatar
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    Chapter Two


    Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other




    Passing five hundred feet, with the nose still pointed ten degrees above the horizon I place the aircraft into a gentle fifteen degree right bank, and watch as the circular compass card inside the glass face of the DG begins its counterclockwise rotation. I gently massage the throttle and prop control knobs to set a 25 squared climb power setting and complete that process just as the 145 degree mark rotates under the lubber line at the top of the DG. A gentle downward pressure on the outboard side of my control wheel rolls the wings level on a heading of 155. Damn. I am good I think to myself as I reach for the transmitter selector switch on the radio management panel at the top of the Cessna's stack of a good half dozen radios.

    Yeah. The Ryan family spared no expense on this baby. I mean, it's still a friggin' sled, but it is definitely the best looking and equipped Cessna 207 I've ever flown. Fully IFR capable (as far as the instrument panel goes) there's nothing except an autopilot missing on this thing. So I usually try to get this machine whenever I can. The Ryan company policy is that, who ever gets to the plane first in the morning and preflights it, gets it, absent any extenuating circumstances, such as time remaining on 100 hours or something. Pretty much guarantees that I and the other two lowly line pilots will all get to work early in the morning.

    The (now) company patriarch, since the passing of his father, is Wilfred (Boyuk) Ryan. He's usually found in the left seat of his slick Cessna 402 or 167 Lima-Romeo, a Cessna 310 that has been his mistress practically for many years now. Same for his younger brother Dennis who was also checked out in the sleek twins. But don't get me wrong. I mean, neither of them ever, and I mean never put on airs or pretend to be better or hotter than any of the rest of us. Both spend plenty of time in all of the family's single-engine machines as well, including their father's original Cessna 180 with which Ryan Air came into being in Unalakleet.

    Boyuk and I are the same age and Dennis is just a couple of years younger. We first met when I stopped in at Ryan Air for gas once in 1973. My first boss Don Ferguson had sent me wa-a-ay down to St. Michael's from Kotzebue early in the fall. Unalakleet was the only good fuel stop available as my outbound load from Kotzebue for that long leg was already far overgrossing my poor 145 h.p. Cessna 172. So I'd met the Ryan family operation that day long ago and of course crossed trails with both Wilfred and Dennis many, many times over the years between. I was a big fan of theirs and had jumped at the chance to go to work for them only a few months earlier when looking for a new job.

    The family treats me great, and like always; when I work for good people I want to do absolutely fantastic by them. And this trip is a fine example. This three day sojourn entails flying a lot of hours and miles. We are now on our eighth leg in three days and have visited seven villages along the northern rim of Norton Sound and the south side of the Kotzebue Sound. My six passengers are all experienced bush travelers. Both native and white they are all prominent officials from various Federal, State and Native organizations involved with housing development.

    Federal Housing and Urban development, whose dollar flow funded the houses, and Norton Sound Housing Authority who oversees the contractors, are represented by two inspectors among the six passengers whom I remember right off the top of my head. The other four passengers are from entities all involved in assuring that adequate new housing developments are erected in villages across the state where needed, which is most places. For it seems there can be no rural development project conducted in Alaska without at least five or six authorities involved. Quite often with conflicting interests, of course. Truly it is the definition most times, of a boondoggle .

    And being experienced bush travelers with a complex multi-day itinerary, they had most likely, when calling to book their trip, inquired or obliquely alluded to the experience level of the pilot that would be flying them. Even among the native residents of the small villages throughout the state, it was not unusual that a percentage of the population avoided (if possible) riding with brand new pilots just imported from stateside. For a new pilot, the break-in period could be short or long. It was best not to crack up or scare too many villagers too early in your tenure. Once the first few months went by and passengers informed their neighbors that all is well, things were copastetic then.

    In my eight years, having myself booked hundreds of charters over the phone from Washington, D.C., New York, Miami, Boston, and the like I’d often heard the subtle signs of anxiety in their oblique questions or statements. Sometimes they just stuck a verbal toe in the water saying So-o-o folks have told me you've been in business quite a while up there, and you guys are the ones to fly with. Others were quite blunt and forward. We won't fly with anyone who has not been flying with your company for at least two years.

    So. If my passengers have exhibited any such concerns or been so inclined, Ryan's had been able to confidently assure them that I am quite experienced. This is my eighth winter in the arctic and I am on home turf. No sweat. We got the guy for you. And thus far they certainly have no reason to complain. They seem to be enjoying the trip, and with the exception of some gusty winds for the landings, (all very nice, if I say so myself) and a little turbulence down low the flying is quite placid and indeed boring.

    Although I've learned since arriving in the arctic how to yank, and bank, and cowboy most any airsheen I flew as well as the rest, I take extra effort almost always (particularly with loads such as this) to finesse every maneuver, from taxi out through taxi in. Gentle banks, gentle descents and very gradual power changes are the order of the day. I pride myself on honoring the training that my very first flight instructor drummed into me years earlier. Just learning the basics of flight in his old 1959 straight-tail Cessna 150 he taught me that I could finesse a Cessna 150 with practice and be on a par with any airline Captain in any Boeing 747 anywhere if I made the effort.

    Yeah. These folks were damn lucky to have me.

    So it was that, there is a slight bit of cockiness in my voice as I mash the push-to-talk switch under my left thumb after rotating the transmitter selector knob fully to the left to select VHF one. Calling Nome Flight Service over the RCO at Tin City I put on my best airline pilot professional voice. Go-o-o-d Morning Nome radio. THIS is Cessna 73503. One-two-two point six, Tin City calling . Immediately comes back the dulcet professional sounding voice of Wendell Wassman. He is one of longest serving ATC specialists in Nome and also flies part-time for some of the local operators, as do many of the Flight Service guys throughout the state.

    Cessna 73503. he responds crisply. Good morning. Nome is reading you five square. Go ahead.

    Hey Wendell, you are loud and clear also. I say How you doin' this morning? Got a VFR flight plan for you when you're ready to copy. The response comes instantly. Things aren't too bad at all 503. Go ahead with your flight plan.

    And for the what, 20,000th time since coming to Alaska, I rattle off a short form flight plan. Cessna 73503 was off Shismaffee at zero-SIX after the hour. Give us TWO plus forty-five (I always give myself an extra 1/2 hour for....whatever) enroute to Nome this morning. We got seven souls on board and three hours on the motion lotion. And 73503 has a good briefing unless anything has changed in the last hour.

    Ever the methodical professional, Wendall repeats the particulars of the flight plan to prevent any errors or miscommunications. He follows that with Nothing new or amended on the Nome or Seward Peninsula forecasts. You're covered. I reply, Thanks Nome Radio. See ya' before too long in signing off.

    Having stabilized the aircraft in a 700 foot per minute 105 knot indicated cruise climb prior to starting that conversation, we are passing about 2500 feel MSL having traveled no more that six miles distance southeast from the departure end of the runway. I again reach for the radio management panel an punch inward on the upper of two 1/8 of an inch plastic rectangular buttons beneath the printed white letters ADF .

    Immediately the last chorus of the lyrics to the Beach Boy's classic California Girls flows from both sides of the David Clark headset into my ears. The orange LED numerals 7, 2 and 0 are in the selector window of the ADF unit, fourth down the radio stack below the DME receiver and the two navcoms that top the pile.

    For the next fifty or so miles I will stay tuned to KOTZ radio broadcasting from Kotzebue, my old hometown. Gives me a chance to catch up on the local news as in another five minutes or so the 20 after every hour broadcast of Tundra Telegraph will start. Closer to Nome, somewhere down the road I will switch to KNOM to backup my VOR needles.

    BY the time the melodic tribute to west coast girls in bikinis comes to an end we are passing 3,300 feet. Looking off either side of the huge snout blocking my view straight ahead, individual spots on the flat horizon now begin to bulge as the tops of the York Mountains begin to appear. Soon we are passing 4,500 feet and now it takes 100 knots indicated to maintain my seven hundred foot per minute climb. My goal of seventy-five hundred feet should be reached in under five more minutes now but....

    Now I am seeing the first evidence that all may not be right with the world. The northern border of a low layer of stratus clouds appears ahead and off to my right as far as I can see. Hmmmm. It was until later in the afternoon that the western Seward Pen and Norton Sound forecast was expected to begin deteriorating in advance of an approaching low. I decide to level at 5,500 feet, now no more than forty mile from the approaching hills.and assess the situation further.
    Let's see. There is some stratus even pushing through the gaps in the Yorks and extending for three or four miles on the north side of the hills. Eyeballing Tin City, which is even closer, reveals it seems a fairly decent ceiling with the radome plainly in view. And the tops of the Yorks to the immediate east are sticking up through the clouds and showing a couple of hundred feet of their peaks which I know are just slightly below 3,000 feet. But the closer I get the more apparent it becomes that this is truly a solid overcast layer on the south side of these hills, not the broken and broken variable to overcast that this mornings forecast had promised.
    Hmmmmm. Is the weather arriving earlier than forecast? Drat. HOW bad did they say it was supposed to get later?

    Beyond the hills just ahead, between me and Nome lies the western end of the Sawtooth Mountains. Truly fulfilling the definition of mountain vs. low rounded hills, the Sawtooths reach another 1500 feet higher toward the sky and have many jagged sharp peaks and ridges. A glance further east also shows the higher portion of the Yorks sticking well out of the uniform tops of the white cloud layer now brilliantly reflecting the rising sun.

    A call to Nome Radio again reveals no change or deterioration of the Nome weather officially although Wendall informs me it appears the reported 3,000 foot overcast with breaks ceiling may be starting to drop down a little judging by the hills just north of the airport. In return I tell him what I am looking at out my windshield and I will get back to him later.

    And now it is decision time.

    As I said. I am equipped fully IFR except for an autopilot. Of course, this is a Cessna 207 (fuggin' sled ) so there is no anti or de-icing equipment except the peter heater which I DO know is working, because I check it on every preflight. It is a well known fact that a 207 will not carry enough ice to chill two good cocktails, unlike her sister ships the Cessna 206 and 185. So in any Do I or Don't I situation which involves you in a 207, I make every effort to minimize my ice exposure.
    On the other hand, already at this point in my eight year career I and my passengers have survived without a scratch, at least three forced landings involving engine failures. A key component to that success thus far was always being able to SEE the ground as I approached it.
    DAMN VFR on top over to Nome and possibly shoot an approach? I mean I love shooting approaches. And, worst case scenario, I could drive it all the way to the pavement if need be. But if the engine craps out over the Sawtooths I am dead meat most likely. On the other hand, if I chose to go UNDER and around, and if at the same time we get (as we do once or twice a year) sandbagged by early or unreported or forecast weather. Just how bad will underneath get? But at least if I go underneath and things go to hell in a handbasket, I have the option of retreating to Port Clarence, Teller or Brevig for a safe landing, even if it means the passengers don't get into Nome at all today.
    Worst case scenario on top, given my remaining gas, could get much worse.
    Damn. I purely HATE these six of one, half dozen of the other decisions. Still looks like a good ceiling beneath......HMMMM.
    Decision made, I commit. Turning right in a slightly steeper than normal bank (20 degrees), I allow the nose to drop and roll in a couple of inches of forward elevator trim. Then I bark slightly loudly to my passengers over my right shoulder as I aim the nose of the airsheen square at the Tin City runway. As I take almost two whole minutes to explain the situation and my thinking to the passengers, I give up just over a thousand feet of altitude and the airspeed has increased to 145 knots indicated.
    As much as I'd prefer not to, I crank in another inch or two of forward elevator trim and allow the aircraft's descent rate to increase from 500 FPM to 700 FPM, the maximum I will ever do with passengers on board without an outright emergency in progress. It seems almost as though the clouds ahead are dropping slowly as I approach Tin City. There seems to be less clear air between the top of the radome and the bottom of the clouds than it appeared earlier. The ground appears to be passing by faster and faster as the altimeter unwinds through 2500. It is apparent I have to descend at least another seven or eight hundred feet or more to get under the edge of the clouds before I get to them.
    Flipping the transmitter selector to number two I give a quick position and intention report first on 122.9 followed by 122.8 just in case anyone is operating in the vicinity of Wales or Tin City as I am now no more that 10 miles north-northeast of both.

    No aircraft answer, but a squeaky high-pitched female voice comes back on point eight. Ryan's air plane. You read Wales calling Ryans plane? I depress the mic switch and respond, Good Morning to you Wales. This is Ryan Air 503, go ahead. O-o-oh GOOD Ryan's air plane. We got some people for Nome alright. You got room? And I answer "Gee. I sure thank you for calling me, but I got NO room, but I'll let 'em know when I get to town, uh? We say a mutual goodbye just as I sail down the length of the Tin City runway just beneath the base of the clouds at a good 150 knots indicated.

    My altimeter says I am only seven hundred feet above the runway. The elevation of the runway (fortunately for me) is published as 269 feet MSL. It would appear that I have just a hair under a thousand feet to work with. Thankfully the visibility must be twenty miles or more. Okay. Just a little longer to get home to that long, hot shower, that's all.


    Cloud(passthesoap)Dancer
    A SUPERIOR pilot, uses his or her SUPERIOR judgement, to stay out of situations which may require the use of their SUPERIOR skills.

  9. #9

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    CD, an observation and comment. I enjoyed reading this story and noted that you still have the ability to tell a good tale in a homespun manner, but your writing has become more polished. Well done.

    Pat Gallahue

  10. #10
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    Hiya 6short -

    Ahhhhhh. Words to warm the cockles of any writers heart. (I should look up what the heck a "cockle" is, if I'm gonna' keep using it, I guess.)

    The improvement in my writing is due to the overall tuteledge (and many editing lessons) from my writing mentor, one Mr. Stan Jones of Anchorage, Alaska .

    He is the fellow who wrote the Foreword to Vol. II, and the soon-to-go-to-the-publisher Volume III, The Tragedies.

    A former, award winner reporter for both the Fairbanks Daily News-miner and the Anchorage Daily News, I first met him in OTZ in 1973. At that time he was a (non-professional) pilot and worked for the F.A.A. in Flight Service.

    He has a (currenty) four book series out of Alaskan bush-based murder mysteries that are based in the fictional town of "Chuckchi". (OTZ)

    Great stuff, and can be viewed at www.sjbooks.com

    In addition, he and his kick-butt 4th level black-belt karate instructor wife are very good friends. I am fortunate to have his counsel.

    CloudDancer
    A SUPERIOR pilot, uses his or her SUPERIOR judgement, to stay out of situations which may require the use of their SUPERIOR skills.

  11. #11
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    Chapter 3


    We Are in DEEP Kim-Chee Now



    Reaching the south end of the Tin City runway we are screaming along (for a Cessna 207) at 160 knots indicated as I pull back slightly on the control yoke to both arrest what small descent rate still remains and hold my altitude as I rack the heavily loaded sled into a 30 degree bank turn. A steeper and faster bank is needed this one time to minimize the distance our high speed will carry the turn radius out over the broken ice floes that lie floating on the waters of the Bering Sea now surrounding us beneath.

    The last two days of gale force easterly winds have, as they always do, broken up the usually solid sheet of snow covered pack ice. Now there are sheets and pieces of ice instead of a whole. A very few are the size of a large house lot or smaller while most are the size over one or two city blocks by one or two city blocks. Viewed from a much higher altitude they would no doubt resemble a puzzle completed but with large and small groups of pieces just slightly disconnected from each other. The gaps in the disjoined pieces are sometimes narrow, and sometimes quite wide.

    And between the floes (the disconnected puzzle pieces) the “gaps” are the frigid and, to the human body, almost instantly fatal cold, deep and intensely green waters of the sea. A human dunked and left in those waters more than four or five minutes would most surely by then be on death’s doorstep.

    The hills right at Tin City go straight down into the water, as cliffs. There is no beach there to land on. Then, proceeding east-southeast along the coastline there is a gap of about five miles where the hills are low and some resemblance of a beach exists before disappearing again and being replaced for a few more miles with cliffs down to the water. As I roll out of my steep bank with no more than three hundred feet of air between the nav light on my left wing and the hills passing by, my airspeed needle has drifted slowly counterclockwise and is now settling on it’s new cruise speed of 136 knots indicated.

    The clock shows just 21 minutes has elapsed since lift-off as my passenger in the right front seat leans over and sorta’ hollers in my ear with just the very, very slightest trace of apprehension sounding in, “So what’cha figure this is going to do to our ETA Cloudy?”. Glancing at the dashboard clock again and thinking for a moment, I reply that barring any further other unforeseen complications, we will arrive right on schedule. He is a very nice fella. in his late forties or early fifties, much older than my…. hmmmm… twenty-six no, twenty-seven years. As of yesterday in fact.

    Yes, my twenty-seventh birthday had been spent in Deering in the early morning and then in Shismaref for the rest of the day and night. At a late dinner gathering an illicit bottle of Johnny Walker Red label whiskey had magically appeared to help wash down the birthday cake hastily procured at the last minute from one of the shelves in Alex’s store. Well not so much birthday cake as five packages of Hostess Sno-Balls that had been opened and arranged in a circle on a large serving platter. Nine of the pink and white half globular gooey coconut frosted treats were arranged in a circle around the first. Each sported a candle representing I was told three years with the candle in the middle cake being of course, the one to grow on”.

    I declined the JW at first making the excuse that it was too late and too close to tomorrow morning’s takeoff. I washed the chocolate treat with the creamy sugared center down with the last of my coffee. Then for some reason, I chose to expand my previous answer. So I told them that even were the hour not so late, I was about to win an important bet in less than thirty more hours having stayed sober for the last six months.
    Amid much hearty laughter as I described the belated birthday party I had planned for two nights hence, I do recall one of my passengers, an admitted teetotaler, suggesting that perhaps I should just choose to pursue a continued course of clean living and now try to add a smoking ban to my personal life. I good-naturedly and politely stated that while I appreciated his concern for my health and well being, clean living was at best for me, more of a long term series of restrictions to be followed only when my doctor someday orders me too many decades from now. Approaching the zenith of my physical capabilities, I am of course, invulnerable in my tiny mind. And Frank, seated beside me at dinner last night as he was now this morning, laughed heartily along with me.

    But now neither Frank nor I laugh as we peer through the oh-so-slightly tinted plexiglass forward that makes up our windshield. Frank is in the right front seat for at least two reasons. The first is that he is one of the heaviest (body weight) appearing passengers, and when you have to fill a Cessna 206 or 207 you always put the heaviest person in the right front seat . Also Frank is at least a private licensed pilot and wants to sit there. Lastly should by some cosmic quirk of fate something happen to me, it is only most logical that the only other among the seven of us that is capable of landing the machine be in a position to do so.

    Throughout the last dozen or so hours spent together at the controls of the big Cessna, not once has Frank asked a stupid question. What few he has asked have been all intelligent. Most generally they were about operating procedures or the limitations and capabilities of the aircraft. Truly a nice man and very enjoyable flying companion, customer or otherwise.

    I can see almost all the way around the bend where the cliffs alongside again continue ahead to fall into the sea at Cape York. Swinging out slightly over the water we look ahead and can see halfway to Brevig Mission at least. It appears much darker which I attribute to the fact that the still half-hour earlier risen sun is not yet high enough and has yet to begin shedding it’s rays on the south sides of these western most hills. With the extra few dozen feet “breathing room” between me and the hills alongside I turn to exchange commentary with Frank for a couple of moments, no longer.

    Swiveling my head back forward I am instantly astonished BAM It’s raining Freezing rain Jesus Goda’Mighty Where did this come from. I didn’t turn my head away for more than five, maybe ten seconds at the most My altitude remains an unwavering 800 feet but the world around me is rapidly disappearing as my windshield has in just a few seconds iced over completely. To my left side the just seconds ago clearly visible hills whizzing by a few hundred feet away are slipping from view as a mist enshrouds us. I reach down and forward with my right arm and, grabbing a handful of elevator wheel roll it forward sending the plane from level flight to instantly plunging down at 1000 feet per minute, eliciting startled and surprised gasps from all on board.

    I haul back on the yoke and reverse the elevator trim wheel only moments later having dove the airplane straight ahead to five hundred feet on the altimeter, knowing from my last glance good view forward less than a minute ago that there is nothing ahead to hit.

    At 500 feet the situation is unchanged. My directly forward view is now nil and only by pressing the left side of my head against my side window can I see at all forward. And to the sides the view is improved not one whit? Can I make anything out at all? Is that the rocks meeting the water and ice flows two hundred yards to my left or not? I can’t be sure. And I know that the rocks extend slightly further south ahead. I must turn away I bank right, staying level at 500 feet until I’ve changed course 25 degrees away from dry land and now fly east-southeasterly out over the broken ice an0d water.

    My brain has slammed from “idle” into overdrive. Damn hills. Had this happened at a decent long FLAT stretch of coastline I would’ve simply had to continue the turn until I had rolled 210 degrees right from my original heading. I could then re-intercept the beach at any altitude, even a HUNDRED feet with only vertical or side visibility. As it slides beneath you, it’s a quick hard left thirty degree turn and you follow the beach back out of whatever you have gotten yourself into. Done it a dozen times or more. But that plan is NOT going to work here. Not now. And we fly further from dry land and the freezing rain continues to pelt the airframe. In under only a couple of minutes the leading edge is already carrying what has to be almost an 1/8 inch of ice.

    Mary Mother of GOD I am now actually frightened. Sleds do NOT carry ice, nor are they meant to. But I’m gonna’ pack some no matter what it appears. UP I decide. I quickly crank the prop control full forward while easing back on the yoke and the world simultaneously disappears on all sides as I shove the throttle full forward and open the cowl flaps. No Screw the cowl flaps It’s 30 degrees out and I don’t need the extra drag right now. The engine is howling at full power, and the engine temps may get much higher than a normal climb for just the few minutes it takes to get on top, but I can cool it down again once we get up there and OUT of the icing. The vertical speed indicator needle works it’s way around the dial to settle at a mere six hundred and fifty feet per minute for my selected 100 knot climb speed. It lasts until just short of two thousand feet on the altimeter.

    As we climb my head is on a back and forth swivel between my instrument panel a foot and a half away in front of my eyes and the left wing root just a few inches farther away to my upper left. But no matter which way I turn, only the most discouraging possible feedback registers. Ahead of me the biggest needle behind the glass in the face of the altimeter creeps slowly clockwise indicating our continuing ascent. It marks off the passing hundreds of feet at an even slower pace now. A following glance at the vertical speed indicator shows the needle indication our climb rate has sunk slightly to the five hundred foot per minute mark.

    A slight tug downward on the hard black plastic elevator trim wheel half protruding from the center pedestal raises the nose another half a degree. The indicated airspeeds slips to as low as I care to see it under these conditions, about 95 knots. And for a brief few moments I am cheered to see the vertical speed reach six hundred feet per minute on the “UP” side of the zero again. But only for a few seconds.

    DAMN DAMN DAMN Gimme’ a break dammit Twenty seconds later the rate of climb now has fallen to four hundred fifty feet a minute as we continue to stagger upward through twenty five hundred feet. C’mon baby. Hang in there with me. You can do it. Just a couple of more minutes, even at this anemic climb rate and we’ll make it on top. I just know it. The tops have got to be somewhere between 2800 feet and 3100 or so. I mean I just saw the tops from above, in the sunshine, the brilliant, brilliant sunshine.

    Again I look at the left wing root. I am horrified, by what I see
    First the temperature gauge mounted within the left air ventilator now reads 27 degrees. No help there. But in addition to the accumulation of mixed icing on the leading edge (and all other forward facing parts of the aircraft) which has now reached close to a good half inch; my higher angle of attack has now exposed the underside of the leading edge of both wings as well. Ice now is forming on the underside of the wings as far as three inches aft of the leading curve of the airfoil. Holy **** We are in deep kim-chee now And for the first time in a lo-o-ong time I feel any icy ball of fear beginning to form in my stomach. This may be the deepest I’ve ever been in trouble in a number of years.

    A fast look at the altimeter shows 2800 feet. C’MON C’MON You’ve just got to be there I peer out under the left wing root looking upward, desperate to see a lightening in the color of the clouds. I know the sun and blue skies are only a few hundred feet above me. They have to be. The alternative hasn’t even been considered by me yet. I was simply going to finally break free of the ice laden clouds and into the clear skies, as I had the one or two other times in life where I had been forced into the same situation. Then it would be a simple matter to reset my gyros, make a slow and careful turn and head back to Shismaref, living to fly another day.

    I lower the nose slightly as the airspeed is bleeding off in response to the weight of the continually accumulating ice. Our rate of climb now falls further to a dismal three hundred feet per minute. A fast take of the engine instruments shows both oil temps and cylinder head temps heading for the high end, although still acceptable. And ahead of my face the opaque mosaic that is my ice covered windshield remains the same color, as it has been. Too dark. Jesus. Help us please, I pray as I reach for the microphone selector switch.

    “Nome radio, Nome radio Seven three five zero three” I spit tersely into the dime sized black plastic microphone that is pressed against my lips. My voice is clipped and slightly higher pitched than normal. “I’m getting into trouble here Wendall. Do you read me.” It is imperative in my mind all of a sudden that I speak with a familiar comforting voice immediately
    The answer comes back only slightly broken as soon as release my push-to-talk switch. “Seve…..ive zero thra…….is Nome ….adio over Ti…..go ahead.”

    I’m confused. WHY is he so broken. I am practically on TOP of the damn RCO at Tin City still at this point. For the next sixty seconds I speak rapidly while watching in sickening horror as my rate of climb decreases to only one hundred and fifty feet per minute. Finally the altimeter’s large needle breaks through the 3,000 foot mark with all the speed of a snail with a flat tire.

    I have told Wendall in one continuous transmission all that has happened and end my narration with a request for Nome’s current weather and any pilot weather reports northwest of Nome and the latest altimeter setting for Tin City or Port Clarence.

    The ice accumulation on the wing root is well past the 1/2 inch mark by this time It is thickening very slightly the coating beneath the leading edges as well. As the mixed pieces of garbled words and static come back to me through the headphones, “SSSTT…. ive ze….SSSSSTT…..reporting three thouSSSSTTTT….undred bro…… SSSTT….lity more tha….SSSSTTTTSSSSTTT…..Nome alti……and then silence.

    The wings have given finally all they can as more airspeed slips away and again I must lower the nose to maintain my 95 knots. With three hundred horse screaming defiantly under the maroon cowling only three feet in front of me, on the other side of the thick sheet of ice that now wraps itself around my windscreen. But the added weight of the ice, combined with the deforming of the airfoil and loss of some of the propeller’s “bite” due to the ice on the leading edges of it’s blades, has beaten me. I must lower the nose and give up the last of my climb rate merely to hang in the ice producing moisture maintaining momentarily my thirty-one hundred foot altitude. But this too cannot last.

    The icy pit in my stomach has grown to the size of a bowling ball as I feed in forward trim. With almost an audible sigh of relief from the groaning wings, I watch the needles all reverse direction as the airspeed increases past 105 and continues rising. I retard the throttle halfway and crank the propeller control back to 2300 rpm and the noise level inside the cabin falls to tolerable for the first time in over seven or eight minutes I guess. The engine and oil temperatures immediately begin the slide back toward normal.

    If anything qualifies for an emergency, I admit to myself this does and I allow the vertical speed needle to fall rapidly past the five to the big number one. The big hand on the altimeter accelerates rapidly to begin it’s sweep counterclockwise around the face of it’s dial We’re coming out of the sky at a thousand feet per minute headed for…. I’m not sure. But the one thing I do know is I have only slightly more than two minutes to come up with a new plan.


    CloudDancer
    A SUPERIOR pilot, uses his or her SUPERIOR judgement, to stay out of situations which may require the use of their SUPERIOR skills.

  12. #12

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    Dammit Cloudy. As I was inventorying the contents of the refrigerator, bleary-eyed from a 24 hour marathon of riding airplanes and buses from ANC to Yokota Japan , I was thinking how lucky I was that the pilot with whom I swapped out had thoughtfully left me enough bacon and eggs for breakfast. But when the moment of truth arrived, I was reading your latest installment and cooking at the same time....... and burned the bacon. And without having BX privileges (low life contractor, don'cha know?) my chances of procuring more in the local stores are slim to none. (of course if I develop a hankering for squid spleens, or shark uvulas, they can fix me right up).

    Having cost me a rare and valued delicacy, about the only way I can think of for you to make it up to me is by getting cracking on these stories. We still got a Baron to find.

  13. #13
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    Jeeez aalexander -

    Don't you know better than to fry bacon in yer' altogethers?!

    A feller' could get HURT that way!!

    Someday, all the as yet unresolved questions about the Baron will be answered. Right now I have to keep cramming to get "The Tragedies" done on time....

    CloudDancer
    A SUPERIOR pilot, uses his or her SUPERIOR judgement, to stay out of situations which may require the use of their SUPERIOR skills.

  14. #14
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    Chapter 4


    Felix the Cat



    Again I mash down on the transmit button under my left thumb. “Nome Radio Nome Radio You’re breaking up badly. Wendall Dammit I need a Nome or Port Clarence altimeter NOW ”
    Again come the bacon sizzling sounds through my radios. “SSSSSSSTTTT….. SSSSSSSTTT three. Port Clar …….thousan………de footSSSSTTSSSS…..Port Clarence altimeSSSSSSTTT.” And then comes silence. Well damn you Wendall. Thank A LOT fer’ nothing. ,

    I’ve GOT to get a new altimeter setting for either Tin City or Port Clarence. And I need it in the next ninety seconds. Another call to Nome radio now produces nothing but silence. Abject, demoralizing silence. No longer even static. That sends me briefly pushing toward the edge of panic. “Nome Radio Nome Radio TALK to me Dammit….NOW Wendall”. My voice has risen again on this transmission. It is a dead giveaway to Frank sitting alongside, that at least for the moment calm, rational, and lucid thinking could succumb to panic if not reined in.
    He chooses this moment to lean over and say with a calm tone, “CloudDancer there is not much I can do to help you, but I know you will fly us out of this O.K.. And when you get a chance let me know what you are thinking.”

    That comment refocuses me on my plight. I have six other lives at stake. And, having already made out my plan I now share it with Frank. I ask him to pass the word back to the others when we are done. He leans over and the bill of his baseball cap strikes my forehead. He removes it and I lean my head slightly to the right while never taking my focus off the artificial horizon which has been showing a steady turn as I hold a fifteen degree left bank.

    “Frank” I start. “When we get back down to the altimeter indicating 1,000 in another minute or so, I’m gonna back off the descent rate to five hundred feet per minute, and when we get to five hundred feet I’m gonna’ back it off further to one hundred and fifty feet per minute. And I’m hoping we’ll see the water again about where we lost it at five hundred feet. Ya’ with me so far? Ya’ got that?” And Frank somberly nods his head in understanding. I continue “ I’ll keep going down if I have to until the altimeter registers only 150 feet. And if we hit that point and I still don’t have any slant or vertical visibility, I’m staying there, at that altitude.”

    I glance quickly sideways as he sits back to see his facial expression and reaction to what he’d just heard. He looks at me without a trace of visible emotion and slowly nods his head in agreement. I motion him closer again with another nod of my own head.

    “Now Frank, if it gets down to it and I have to, I’ll level off with a hundred and fifty feet. I’ll hold it and then we’ll need to fly east to hit the shore of the Seward Peninsula. So I’m gonna’ need to set the best compass I can. For the life of me I cannot remember what the goddam magnetic compass deviation is around here, so would you please drag a map out of the glovebox and look it up for me?” Frank gives me a “Roger” and then turns around slightly in his seat to fill in the five passengers riding behind us. They remain completely quiet in response. Grateful for something to distract his attention from the slowly unwinding altimeter, Frank now dives into the glovebox.

    As I am arresting the descent rate having now reached 1,000 feet (or at least the altimeter so sez), I mash down on the push-to-talk-switch and not expecting an answer shoot the words out there.

    In a now mostly again normal voice, I tersely say “Wendall. Nome Radio This is Cessna 73503 over Tin City how do you read?” And I receive the expected silence in return. What the…the ICE Dammit. The damned ice is coating my antennae beyond the point of useful reception. Damn Well. Maybe he can still hear me. Coming up on five hundred feet now with STILL no sign of water, although it appears the clouds below are starting to grow a little darker. I crank in some nose up trim and add some power to maintain my 135 knots indicated airspeed while reducing as planned to just a sink rate of one hundred fifty feet per minute. Every second, two and a half feet of air slips from beneath to above my wings. Two and a half feet I most likely will never be able to regain packing the ice I am currently carrying.

    Although it is still building and the temperature remains below freezing, now back up to twenty-eight degrees, the rate of accumulation seems to have slowed. There is no more freezing rain, but we have now close to an inch of ice everywhere. That is a DAMN lotta’ ice for a Cessna 207 loaded or otherwise. What will happen when I try to level off?

    I press the transmit switch and briefly and quickly broadcast in the blind over the Tin City RCO what has happened to me, and what I am currently doing and what my plan is. Maybe they can still hear me.

    Just as the altimeter is passing an indication of about 320 feet there is a flash in my peripheral vision out the left side window. For just the shortest instant…..a flash of white amidst the solid swirling grey out….YES …Another one-second glimpse I look at the altimeter. Two hundred seventy feet and decreasing. Suddenly my left side window is filled with mostly solid white as we bottom out of the clouds at two hundred and fifty feet indicated and I snap the wings level and feed in more throttle to arrest our descent.

    GLORIOSKI I scream “YEAH ” at the sight of the ices floes. I can see for two, maybe three miles to each side of the airplane and it appears slightly better pressing my head to the side window and trying to peer around the ice formation that still renders my forward windshield useless. Looking out again I see the icy waters lapping at and occasionally washing over the edges of the floes.

    I know this is no two hundred and fifty feet, and toy briefly with the idea of descending lower to reset my altimeter with greater accuracy, but quickly discard the idea. I eyeball it from here and decide to knock another 75 feet off. We’ll call this one hundred seventy five feet.
    It’s been less than four years since we lost Russ and Googy in the Islander. (See “Chains and Padlocks”). I know in my heart of hearts that they rest now at the bottom of the Bering Sea just offshore Cape Thompson. And a prayer leaps from my heart.

    “Dear God. I know I’m a bum alotta’ the time. And today might be my time. The time You have destined for me to return to You and answer for my sins. But there are six other people here with me, and I cannot believe that it is time for us all. I do not pretend to know Your plan, or what you think is best. I have but one prayer and one final prayer only Dear God. Oh Father. If this is the day that I must fall from the sky, if this is the day that we all must come home to you; please, I beg of You please most merciful God; allow me to find the shore first. Let us crash on land. Please Dear God spare Mom and Dad and the families of these people the eternal doubt, wondering and anguish of never finding our remains. That’s all God. Just lead me to shore.”

    Frank is a split second ahead of my question. “CloudDancer ” he hollers, as he nudges me in the ribs with a sharp elbow. I grab the pear-sized green hard plastic right earpiece of the David Clark headset and drag it backward exposing half my right ear so Frank doesn’t have to shout over the engine still roaring at normal climb power. “Thirteen degrees east variance ol’ buddy. That’s what we got here. Thirteen degrees EAST, O.K.?”

    “Got it.” I answer back loudly as I watch our whiskey compass take it’s back and forth turns before settling on an indication of one hundred and fifty-three degrees. Well. At least the math is easy today. Even my overtaxed brain can come up easily with 140 degrees out of that one. “One hundred forty it is.” I announce loudly to no one in particular, as I reach to reset the directional gyro for the first time since doing so whilst flying down the length of the Tin City runway. And that was a few minutes before commencing the futile climb over 15 minutes ago. IT is reading a hundred and sixty three degrees, no surprise given how long it’s been and the spiral down from altitude.

    “There we go Frank.” I say confidently after resetting the gyrocompass. I continue, “Now, let’s go find us some dry land ” as I begin a left turn to….HOLY CRAP Again my airspeed is low I am indicating only one hundred and eighteen knots At cruise power and practically SEA LEVEL for real I crank the engine back up to full maximum cruise and climb power and am slightly heartened to see the airspeed needle begin to creep upward as I lower the left wing into only a fifteen degree bank. In the turn the airspeed has crept up to a hundred and twenty-two knots. But after the turn to the east is complete and I again level the wings the number climbs by another five knots.

    Damn. Max cruise power at sea level with this load and this outside air temperature (without the ice, of course) should be racing me through the air at an indicated speed another 10 or 12 knots higher. I do NOT want to gather anymore ice if I can help it. “Everybody watch for the shoreline ahead ” I holler loudly and clearly annunciating each syllable. “I need to pay attention to my instruments mostly.” I added.

    Five minutes creep by, each as though an hour, as all seven of us deal privately with our inner thoughts. The one thing I know we all share at this moment is an overwhelming desire to see the coastline come into few. The only good news is that we are now, no longer picking up any new ice it seems, and the visibility has risen to four, maybe even five miles. Of course, we remain blind straight ahead. Even with max cabin heat and full defrost I cannot melt the tiniest of holes in the coating forward.

    And then it happens.

    I don’t know who hollered first. But in the space of two or three seconds all my passengers were whooping and hollering “LAND ” and “There’s the SHORE ” Someone was clapping me with vigor on top of my right shoulder in the sheer joy of pent up strain released. And I looked away from the instrument from the instrument panel to the most wonderful view The visibility had now risen to a good seven miles or so I banked gently ten degrees left to increase my view forward out of the right side window as much as possible before doing the same in the other direction.
    As we approach closer I recognize the bulge in the coastline ahead as Cape Douglas. Whoopee I know where I am conclusively for the first time in almost forty-five minutes. “Thank you dear God” I recite softly under my breath, for only He and I to hear. “Now just guide me a little bit more.”

    Again it turns out that I am confronted with what could, and most likely will be, a life or death decision. Even given the slight improvement in our chances for survival, I can still quickly tally up eight or ten different ways to die out here today and only two to live. Not really odds I’d normally buy into a game with. But I “bought in” long ago. I turned up “shit creek” the moment I made the decision to go underneath it appears. And both “paddles” went “overboard” about the time I made the decision to climb my way out of the mess. Now we’re trying to keep from taking on anymore water.

    Port Clarence lies only 16 nautical (18 regular) miles to the left. It’s long asphalt paved runway is my salvation if only I can reach it. But the view I have is devastating to my hopes. At the end of my seven or so miles of northward visibility, blocking my short flightpath to Port Clarence, lays a solid, quite comparatively dark, wall of weather. It is I know a mix of sleet, heavy freezing rain and fog. It is the hell that fell upon me earlier from above, as though released by the sudden springing open of a trapdoor directly above me. It looks scary from here. Had I seen it coming from ahead I would’ve never flown into it. I could not have been in a worse place at a wrong-er time.

    Also invisibly shrouded within is a huge radio antennae reaching almost another 1200 feet higher than my current 200 foot or so of altitude remaining. And from midway up, and the top of this tower extend outward anchor cables. They extend a great distance outward from the tower and each bears great tension in order to fortify the stance of the huge metal structure during the meanest of arctic gales. A collision with the tower or it’s thick bracing steel support cables, of which a few are anchored within a half mile of the runway, would be instantly fatal.
    Brevig Mission and Teller lie not much farther beyond, also appealing were it not for the damn weather. But, I have no way of knowing if the wall is moving or if it is, which way. I will not go near it. I bend the airplane gently into a gradual right turn as the coast appears to me to now be only a mile away. It is just over three times farther to Nome from here flying along the beach. But at the end of my southward range of view, it appears from here at least to be more of the same ahead. It commits us to flying for at least thirty more minutes, but I know the engine still has it in her.

    Another benefit is, now that I am back along a flat coast, there will be the solid, sometimes frozen-to-the-bottom lagoons suitable for a very nice landing should the need arise. There is only one thing I need to watch out for going this way if the visibility turns REAL crappy again. Just to the west of the Nome Airport, abutting up along the edge of the beach sits one lousy little hill. Only a few hundred feet tall. But it’s very steeply sloped southern face sits right along the beach. After the coastline turns westbound and heads to Nome from Cape Rodney I will move a couple hundred yards offshore unless (unlikely it seems) that I should hit air warm enough to melt off the ice so I can see ahead again.

    There is no chance I’ll forget either. Tom Hallet and three others died upon slamming their Twin Otter broadside into the bastard only sixteen months ago. Hit the damn thing at cruise speed so hard the airplane “accordianed” almost flat. The force of impact shook the rock so hard it dislodged the autumns snowpack which slid downhill burying the wreckage. They only found the plane after most of the snow melted. Until then, it was just another of Alaska’s many “disappeared without a trace” aviation mysteries. Thank God that fate could no longer befall us today, at least, as far as I could see.

    I roll out of my right turn a few dozen yards off shore. I slide slowly sideways to the left. It seems now that the visibility is dropping again slightly, back down to around five miles in a light fog with clouds still barely above our popsicle of an airmachine. There is a ragged six to ten foot “shelf” of ice still clinging to the beach, which itself is only barely discernable buried under the snow. But occasionally here and there a clump of dead willows goes flashing by out the left window indication dry land undeneath. So there I sit, keeping the cold green Bering Sea and a few feet of white ice in view through the right side window and the willows occasionally flashing by out the left.

    With respiration and heart rates now the lowest they’ve been I’ll bet since taking off from Shishmaref, I take a minute to broadcast in the blind again. One two F.A.A. and two “party line” frequencies I transmit a short and concise summation of my position and intentions. i wait a good five seconds after each….just in case there is any response. But, not surprisingly none comes. Then looking at my instruments again I see the airspeed has slipped three knots to back under 125 knots. And a look at the lefty wing root confirms we are slowly adding more ice. FOR the luvva’….

    DAMN It’s has started snowing now And again the world is disappearing, only this time it is huge wet flakes of snow obscuring everything. Damn. The icy ball that had been gradually diminishing in size again fills the pit of my stomach. “Damn ” I spit out loudly, as Frank leans over to say “Whaddaya’ think now, Cloudy? How we lookin.?”
    “Frank” I reply. “I gotta’ tell ya’ man. We get much more ice on this damn thing and we are gong to FALL outta’ the sky. We may just have to park it on a lagoon here if this crap keeps up.” “Well. I reckon we’d survive that a lot better than falling. Do what you need to do son, and tell me if I can help you somehow.” he replied. The man was a rock of fortitude.

    **** In the time it took to have that conversation my next look out again horrifies me. We’re down to no more than half a mile again. Airspeed down to 120 I crank the engine again to full balls out power. All she has to give. Damn I can only see to the sides and I may need to land this thing. The airspeed only creeps back up to 123 knots and I must now raise the nose again to hold the 150 feet or so I’ve got left. I am again scared. Very scared. I am fighting panic, as again my mind becomes as a runaway tilt-a-whirl amusement park ride. Inside my head all the cars spin faster and faster and faster as the music gets louder and higher up the scale by the moment.

    My eyeballs race from the wing root to the instruments to the now only dimly visible waters out the right side then back to the left window where looking beneath the wing reveals what I am sure is the final nail in our coffin Yes. Raising (again) the nose of the airplane to hold onto what little altitude is left between us and impact has again exposed the underside of the wing further to the elements. Now ugly individual globular ice formations are building by the hundred on the exposed undersides of the wings extending back as far as six inches.

    Another glance at our airspeed indicator reveals our sped slipping away knot by knot for what I know has to be the last time. Oh God. We’re gonna’ crash. Dammit. I’ve GOT to land this thing And I know there is one huge almost two mile long lagoon coming up any minute before we get to Cape Wooley. I must fly myself down onto it. But how will I see it? Man I hope I spot the leading edge soon

    Then it is a simple matter to slide sideways and simple lower the nose and fly the airplane onto the solid ice. Even if the nose slams down and I tear off the nose gear, we’ll wind up no worse off than bruised. I am down to 100 feet indicated on the altimeter and the airspeed has slipped to one hundred and fifteen knots. Outside visibility has fallen to no more than forty yards in heavy snow and fog. I speak loudly to Frank and give him my intentions, telling him to relay that, along with instructions to cinch their seatbelts tight. I await what hope and expect to be a curved line of dead willows along the lagoon’s northern shoreline to trigger my maneuvers.

    The willows appear in my peripheral vision. Oh God I snap my head left to focus on them as they whip past only to have it register as they almost instantly disappear behind that the curve was the wrong way I have just witnessed, flashing by a split second ago the very last of my salvation So desperately do I want it that unconsciously, for a half a heartbeat, the muscles in my left forearm flex as I begin to move the left side of the control wheel down with the intention of turning around. It turns out to be more of a “flinch” as, just as quickly, before the yoke is moved a sixteenth of an inch, I freeze. I know that to even attempt a turn at this point would result in an instant stalling of the inside of the turn wing. The airplane would tumble out of the air to it’s (and our) immediate destruction. Damn That was our last hope

    Panic now truly begins to well up inside my chest. I am petrified practically. I have NO idea what to do now

    Suddenly cutting through the neural calamity of sirens and warning horns that is at this moment my brain, comes quite audibly and clearly the slightly slurred, gravely voice of Leon Shellabarger Sr., a former employer.

    I had flown for him twice in the previous eight years. And one wintry evening long ago as we sat side-by-side, half in the bag, at the Nu-luk-vik bar; he had, as was often his nature, imparted yet another pearl of flying wisdom upon a fledgling arctic aviator. It had been my third winter and he noted that I was beginning to show signs of being a little too cocky.

    “You know kid” he paused. “Someday there may come a time when you reach into your bags of tricks once or twice or more and come up empty handed.” he said. (Leon was a big fan of the old cartoon cat Felix. You know his theme song, right? “Felix the cat The wonderful, wonderful cat Whenever he gets in a fix, he reaches into his bag of tricks ” )
    “When that happens kid,” he continued “when you begin to believe in your heart of hearts that this trip, unlike all the others, is not going to end right side up on an airport; don’t wait for the crash to come to you For most assuredly it will and most likely you will die.” He raised his screwdriver to his lips, and took a good slug before he turned back to me and continued. “When you believe a crash has become inevitable boy….you decide where. You decide when, and then you execute it. And you keep flying until the metal quits grinding and you might , you jes’ might stand a chance of living through it.”

    I’m not much of a Felix fan. I use a mental “Rolodex” on which I store my tricks. You know, that rotary card file thing people used to have on their desk for phone numbers and addresses and business cards before we had computers. But I’ve spun my way clean through my mental “trick” card file multiple times and here I sit empty handed.

    Leon’s advice and a picture of his crooked, bemused grin beneath laughing blue eyes, came to me when I needed it most. Felix’s bag is out of tricks. Nor does it appear my childhood hero Superman will, as he so often did in my comic books collection, swoop down from out of nowhere at this last moment and support a gentle emergency landing of this seemingly doomed aircraft. Indeed, the only choice left now, was a crash.

    I stated loudly to Frank, while focusing on the instruments ahead of me, “Frank I just missed the last possible decent lagoon. I can’t keep this thing in air much longer. I’m gonna’ have to try to drive us into the ground in a couple of minutes while I still have control. You understand?” Upon receiving an affirmative answer I continued, “Turn around carefully, as much as you can, and holler back to everybody to sit as far back in their seats as possible and tighten their seat belts as much as they can.”

    I raised my right hand off the now useless throttle knob and raised my arm over my head and hollered out loud as I could “Everybody look at me and see my right arm Girlie Can you hear me?” And from the far aft seat Girlie Dixon hollered back, “I hear you, I see you ” I continue yelling straight ahead as I focus on the instruments “Most likely we may wind up upside down when we stop If that happens, brace one arm HARD against the ceiling directly over your head like you see me doing to help break your upside down fall Everybody got that ?”

    Turning slightly again to Frank I say “Frank tell everybody to get anything sharp, pens, pencils, whatever, out of shirt or jacket pockets and put them in the seat pocket in front of them, and tell me when they’re ready.” And in just a moment he turns to me after repeating the instructions and says “O.K. That’s it. Let’s do it.”

    I take one last look out my side and down. It seems like it might be a hundred feet. Still the cold green waters of the Bering Sea are barely visible now out the right side. I can’t see more than a hundred feet either way. I drop ten degrees off flaps with hardly a noticeable change in pitch from the airplane. The ice on the leading edge of the wing is now well over an inch thick and under the wing there is ice at least a foot back from the leading edge hanging in tiny but building molehill-like formations. I bank timidly, and oh-so-gently left, only two or three degrees, until the direction gyro shows we have changed course five degrees to the left. I wish to assure that I wind up nowhere near the water. Our airspeed is now down to one hundred sixteen.

    “Okay Frank, here we go.” I announce.

    I simply relax some of the back pressure I have been keeping on the control wheel for the last few minutes. I let the vertical speed slip to indicate one hundred foot per minute down.

    My fear is all but paralyzing now. I think briefly of my Mother and Father and for a moment see their faces. God I’m scared I want to let GO I’M TERRIFIED Tears begin to roll from my tear ducts one every few seconds or so. Down to fifty feet and I trim the wheel for level flight again. Am I about to meet my Maker? Will the next face I see be that of St. Peter or El Diablo himself I’d give every penny I ever HAD, or ever would’ve had if I could just snap my fingers and be a baby again safe in my mother’s arms.

    And now, against every natural pilot instinct I must wreck my still (barely) flying airplane. I gently ease the throttle back a tiny fraction and allow the sink rate to start again, only fifty feet per minute now. The airspeed slides below the 110 mark as the altimeter leaves the fifty foot mark. I will fly this as a glassy water landing in a floatplane. Keep sinking slowly as possible and bleeding down the airspeed one knot at a time. A few more feet slip away as I creep the throttle minutely back again and raise the nose still higher.

    As the altimeter registers thirty feet and the tip of the airspeed needle is just about to slip off the 105 mark, it ends. The ice laden wings can no longer sustain flight.

    The swiftness and extreme violence of the stall are astounding. There is no seconds-long sheep-like bleating of the stall warning horn. Not the usual BAAAAAAAAAA that we are used to hearing followed by the metallic sounding shaking of the Cessna tail feathers just prior to the break. All at once it seemed, it was just a microsecond long B and then the nose in the next one-thousandth of a second SNAPPED downward

    The confusion of elapsed time is puzzling to me. A microsecond of stall horn warning occurs practically simultaneously with the nose slamming downward and the first horrific sounds and deceleration feelings of impact Instantly it seems we slam into a brick wall and I can feel the shoulder harness as if it is cutting into my chest. All in that itty-bitty microsecond. The flash of a high speed camera lens. But now, as I expected, the nose gear rips off. Our momentum, as the propeller and engine digs into the snow covered tundra, is flipping us over on our backs.
    And as the tail rises ever higher toward the vertical, and our energy is being spent, it seems it all slows down. I know we are flipping right over quite fast, yet I feel we are being suspended at the vertical position with the shoulder harness now keeping me from falling into my instrument panel.

    There is much screaming and yelling I’m sure, as the three our four seconds elapse between the slight “peep” that the stall warning gives and the last sound of crunching metal, when the plane smashes to a final and silent stop on it’s back. I just don’t hear it. Only after two or three seconds of intensely eerie silence after motion has stopped, is there another eruption of yells and nervous laughter. We have survived.


    CloudDancer
    A SUPERIOR pilot, uses his or her SUPERIOR judgement, to stay out of situations which may require the use of their SUPERIOR skills.

  15. #15
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    Chapter 4


    Felix the Cat



    Again I mash down on the transmit button under my left thumb. “Nome Radio Nome Radio You’re breaking up badly. Wendall Dammit I need a Nome or Port Clarence altimeter NOW ”
    Again come the bacon sizzling sounds through my radios. “SSSSSSSTTTT….. SSSSSSSTTT three. Port Clar …….thousan………de footSSSSTTSSSS…..Port Clarence altimeSSSSSSTTT.” And then comes silence. Well damn you Wendall. Thank A LOT fer’ nothing. ,

    I’ve GOT to get a new altimeter setting for either Tin City or Port Clarence. And I need it in the next ninety seconds. Another call to Nome radio now produces nothing but silence. Abject, demoralizing silence. No longer even static. That sends me briefly pushing toward the edge of panic. “Nome Radio Nome Radio TALK to me Dammit….NOW Wendall”. My voice has risen again on this transmission. It is a dead giveaway to Frank sitting alongside, that at least for the moment calm, rational, and lucid thinking could succumb to panic if not reined in.
    He chooses this moment to lean over and say with a calm tone, “CloudDancer there is not much I can do to help you, but I know you will fly us out of this O.K.. And when you get a chance let me know what you are thinking.”

    That comment refocuses me on my plight. I have six other lives at stake. And, having already made out my plan I now share it with Frank. I ask him to pass the word back to the others when we are done. He leans over and the bill of his baseball cap strikes my forehead. He removes it and I lean my head slightly to the right while never taking my focus off the artificial horizon which has been showing a steady turn as I hold a fifteen degree left bank.

    “Frank” I start. “When we get back down to the altimeter indicating 1,000 in another minute or so, I’m gonna back off the descent rate to five hundred feet per minute, and when we get to five hundred feet I’m gonna’ back it off further to one hundred and fifty feet per minute. And I’m hoping we’ll see the water again about where we lost it at five hundred feet. Ya’ with me so far? Ya’ got that?” And Frank somberly nods his head in understanding. I continue “ I’ll keep going down if I have to until the altimeter registers only 150 feet. And if we hit that point and I still don’t have any slant or vertical visibility, I’m staying there, at that altitude.”

    I glance quickly sideways as he sits back to see his facial expression and reaction to what he’d just heard. He looks at me without a trace of visible emotion and slowly nods his head in agreement. I motion him closer again with another nod of my own head.

    “Now Frank, if it gets down to it and I have to, I’ll level off with a hundred and fifty feet. I’ll hold it and then we’ll need to fly east to hit the shore of the Seward Peninsula. So I’m gonna’ need to set the best compass I can. For the life of me I cannot remember what the goddam magnetic compass deviation is around here, so would you please drag a map out of the glovebox and look it up for me?” Frank gives me a “Roger” and then turns around slightly in his seat to fill in the five passengers riding behind us. They remain completely quiet in response. Grateful for something to distract his attention from the slowly unwinding altimeter, Frank now dives into the glovebox.

    As I am arresting the descent rate having now reached 1,000 feet (or at least the altimeter so sez), I mash down on the push-to-talk-switch and not expecting an answer shoot the words out there.

    In a now mostly again normal voice, I tersely say “Wendall. Nome Radio This is Cessna 73503 over Tin City how do you read?” And I receive the expected silence in return. What the…the ICE Dammit. The damned ice is coating my antennae beyond the point of useful reception. Damn Well. Maybe he can still hear me. Coming up on five hundred feet now with STILL no sign of water, although it appears the clouds below are starting to grow a little darker. I crank in some nose up trim and add some power to maintain my 135 knots indicated airspeed while reducing as planned to just a sink rate of one hundred fifty feet per minute. Every second, two and a half feet of air slips from beneath to above my wings. Two and a half feet I most likely will never be able to regain packing the ice I am currently carrying.

    Although it is still building and the temperature remains below freezing, now back up to twenty-eight degrees, the rate of accumulation seems to have slowed. There is no more freezing rain, but we have now close to an inch of ice everywhere. That is a DAMN lotta’ ice for a Cessna 207 loaded or otherwise. What will happen when I try to level off?

    I press the transmit switch and briefly and quickly broadcast in the blind over the Tin City RCO what has happened to me, and what I am currently doing and what my plan is. Maybe they can still hear me.

    Just as the altimeter is passing an indication of about 320 feet there is a flash in my peripheral vision out the left side window. For just the shortest instant…..a flash of white amidst the solid swirling grey out….YES …Another one-second glimpse I look at the altimeter. Two hundred seventy feet and decreasing. Suddenly my left side window is filled with mostly solid white as we bottom out of the clouds at two hundred and fifty feet indicated and I snap the wings level and feed in more throttle to arrest our descent.

    GLORIOSKI I scream “YEAH ” at the sight of the ices floes. I can see for two, maybe three miles to each side of the airplane and it appears slightly better pressing my head to the side window and trying to peer around the ice formation that still renders my forward windshield useless. Looking out again I see the icy waters lapping at and occasionally washing over the edges of the floes.

    I know this is no two hundred and fifty feet, and toy briefly with the idea of descending lower to reset my altimeter with greater accuracy, but quickly discard the idea. I eyeball it from here and decide to knock another 75 feet off. We’ll call this one hundred seventy five feet.
    It’s been less than four years since we lost Russ and Googy in the Islander. (See “Chains and Padlocks”). I know in my heart of hearts that they rest now at the bottom of the Bering Sea just offshore Cape Thompson. And a prayer leaps from my heart.

    “Dear God. I know I’m a bum alotta’ the time. And today might be my time. The time You have destined for me to return to You and answer for my sins. But there are six other people here with me, and I cannot believe that it is time for us all. I do not pretend to know Your plan, or what you think is best. I have but one prayer and one final prayer only Dear God. Oh Father. If this is the day that I must fall from the sky, if this is the day that we all must come home to you; please, I beg of You please most merciful God; allow me to find the shore first. Let us crash on land. Please Dear God spare Mom and Dad and the families of these people the eternal doubt, wondering and anguish of never finding our remains. That’s all God. Just lead me to shore.”

    Frank is a split second ahead of my question. “CloudDancer ” he hollers, as he nudges me in the ribs with a sharp elbow. I grab the pear-sized green hard plastic right earpiece of the David Clark headset and drag it backward exposing half my right ear so Frank doesn’t have to shout over the engine still roaring at normal climb power. “Thirteen degrees east variance ol’ buddy. That’s what we got here. Thirteen degrees EAST, O.K.?”

    “Got it.” I answer back loudly as I watch our whiskey compass take it’s back and forth turns before settling on an indication of one hundred and fifty-three degrees. Well. At least the math is easy today. Even my overtaxed brain can come up easily with 140 degrees out of that one. “One hundred forty it is.” I announce loudly to no one in particular, as I reach to reset the directional gyro for the first time since doing so whilst flying down the length of the Tin City runway. And that was a few minutes before commencing the futile climb over 15 minutes ago. IT is reading a hundred and sixty three degrees, no surprise given how long it’s been and the spiral down from altitude.

    “There we go Frank.” I say confidently after resetting the gyrocompass. I continue, “Now, let’s go find us some dry land ” as I begin a left turn to….HOLY CRAP Again my airspeed is low I am indicating only one hundred and eighteen knots At cruise power and practically SEA LEVEL for real I crank the engine back up to full maximum cruise and climb power and am slightly heartened to see the airspeed needle begin to creep upward as I lower the left wing into only a fifteen degree bank. In the turn the airspeed has crept up to a hundred and twenty-two knots. But after the turn to the east is complete and I again level the wings the number climbs by another five knots.

    Damn. Max cruise power at sea level with this load and this outside air temperature (without the ice, of course) should be racing me through the air at an indicated speed another 10 or 12 knots higher. I do NOT want to gather anymore ice if I can help it. “Everybody watch for the shoreline ahead ” I holler loudly and clearly annunciating each syllable. “I need to pay attention to my instruments mostly.” I added.

    Five minutes creep by, each as though an hour, as all seven of us deal privately with our inner thoughts. The one thing I know we all share at this moment is an overwhelming desire to see the coastline come into few. The only good news is that we are now, no longer picking up any new ice it seems, and the visibility has risen to four, maybe even five miles. Of course, we remain blind straight ahead. Even with max cabin heat and full defrost I cannot melt the tiniest of holes in the coating forward.

    And then it happens.

    I don’t know who hollered first. But in the space of two or three seconds all my passengers were whooping and hollering “LAND ” and “There’s the SHORE ” Someone was clapping me with vigor on top of my right shoulder in the sheer joy of pent up strain released. And I looked away from the instrument from the instrument panel to the most wonderful view The visibility had now risen to a good seven miles or so I banked gently ten degrees left to increase my view forward out of the right side window as much as possible before doing the same in the other direction.
    As we approach closer I recognize the bulge in the coastline ahead as Cape Douglas. Whoopee I know where I am conclusively for the first time in almost forty-five minutes. “Thank you dear God” I recite softly under my breath, for only He and I to hear. “Now just guide me a little bit more.”

    Again it turns out that I am confronted with what could, and most likely will be, a life or death decision. Even given the slight improvement in our chances for survival, I can still quickly tally up eight or ten different ways to die out here today and only two to live. Not really odds I’d normally buy into a game with. But I “bought in” long ago. I turned up “shit creek” the moment I made the decision to go underneath it appears. And both “paddles” went “overboard” about the time I made the decision to climb my way out of the mess. Now we’re trying to keep from taking on anymore water.

    Port Clarence lies only 16 nautical (18 regular) miles to the left. It’s long asphalt paved runway is my salvation if only I can reach it. But the view I have is devastating to my hopes. At the end of my seven or so miles of northward visibility, blocking my short flightpath to Port Clarence, lays a solid, quite comparatively dark, wall of weather. It is I know a mix of sleet, heavy freezing rain and fog. It is the hell that fell upon me earlier from above, as though released by the sudden springing open of a trapdoor directly above me. It looks scary from here. Had I seen it coming from ahead I would’ve never flown into it. I could not have been in a worse place at a wrong-er time.

    Also invisibly shrouded within is a huge radio antennae reaching almost another 1200 feet higher than my current 200 foot or so of altitude remaining. And from midway up, and the top of this tower extend outward anchor cables. They extend a great distance outward from the tower and each bears great tension in order to fortify the stance of the huge metal structure during the meanest of arctic gales. A collision with the tower or it’s thick bracing steel support cables, of which a few are anchored within a half mile of the runway, would be instantly fatal.
    Brevig Mission and Teller lie not much farther beyond, also appealing were it not for the damn weather. But, I have no way of knowing if the wall is moving or if it is, which way. I will not go near it. I bend the airplane gently into a gradual right turn as the coast appears to me to now be only a mile away. It is just over three times farther to Nome from here flying along the beach. But at the end of my southward range of view, it appears from here at least to be more of the same ahead. It commits us to flying for at least thirty more minutes, but I know the engine still has it in her.

    Another benefit is, now that I am back along a flat coast, there will be the solid, sometimes frozen-to-the-bottom lagoons suitable for a very nice landing should the need arise. There is only one thing I need to watch out for going this way if the visibility turns REAL crappy again. Just to the west of the Nome Airport, abutting up along the edge of the beach sits one lousy little hill. Only a few hundred feet tall. But it’s very steeply sloped southern face sits right along the beach. After the coastline turns westbound and heads to Nome from Cape Rodney I will move a couple hundred yards offshore unless (unlikely it seems) that I should hit air warm enough to melt off the ice so I can see ahead again.

    There is no chance I’ll forget either. Tom Hallet and three others died upon slamming their Twin Otter broadside into the bastard only sixteen months ago. Hit the damn thing at cruise speed so hard the airplane “accordianed” almost flat. The force of impact shook the rock so hard it dislodged the autumns snowpack which slid downhill burying the wreckage. They only found the plane after most of the snow melted. Until then, it was just another of Alaska’s many “disappeared without a trace” aviation mysteries. Thank God that fate could no longer befall us today, at least, as far as I could see.

    I roll out of my right turn a few dozen yards off shore. I slide slowly sideways to the left. It seems now that the visibility is dropping again slightly, back down to around five miles in a light fog with clouds still barely above our popsicle of an airmachine. There is a ragged six to ten foot “shelf” of ice still clinging to the beach, which itself is only barely discernable buried under the snow. But occasionally here and there a clump of dead willows goes flashing by out the left window indication dry land undeneath. So there I sit, keeping the cold green Bering Sea and a few feet of white ice in view through the right side window and the willows occasionally flashing by out the left.

    With respiration and heart rates now the lowest they’ve been I’ll bet since taking off from Shishmaref, I take a minute to broadcast in the blind again. One two F.A.A. and two “party line” frequencies I transmit a short and concise summation of my position and intentions. i wait a good five seconds after each….just in case there is any response. But, not surprisingly none comes. Then looking at my instruments again I see the airspeed has slipped three knots to back under 125 knots. And a look at the lefty wing root confirms we are slowly adding more ice. FOR the luvva’….

    DAMN It’s has started snowing now And again the world is disappearing, only this time it is huge wet flakes of snow obscuring everything. Damn. The icy ball that had been gradually diminishing in size again fills the pit of my stomach. “Damn ” I spit out loudly, as Frank leans over to say “Whaddaya’ think now, Cloudy? How we lookin.?”
    “Frank” I reply. “I gotta’ tell ya’ man. We get much more ice on this damn thing and we are gong to FALL outta’ the sky. We may just have to park it on a lagoon here if this crap keeps up.” “Well. I reckon we’d survive that a lot better than falling. Do what you need to do son, and tell me if I can help you somehow.” he replied. The man was a rock of fortitude.

    **** In the time it took to have that conversation my next look out again horrifies me. We’re down to no more than half a mile again. Airspeed down to 120 I crank the engine again to full balls out power. All she has to give. Damn I can only see to the sides and I may need to land this thing. The airspeed only creeps back up to 123 knots and I must now raise the nose again to hold the 150 feet or so I’ve got left. I am again scared. Very scared. I am fighting panic, as again my mind becomes as a runaway tilt-a-whirl amusement park ride. Inside my head all the cars spin faster and faster and faster as the music gets louder and higher up the scale by the moment.

    My eyeballs race from the wing root to the instruments to the now only dimly visible waters out the right side then back to the left window where looking beneath the wing reveals what I am sure is the final nail in our coffin Yes. Raising (again) the nose of the airplane to hold onto what little altitude is left between us and impact has again exposed the underside of the wing further to the elements. Now ugly individual globular ice formations are building by the hundred on the exposed undersides of the wings extending back as far as six inches.

    Another glance at our airspeed indicator reveals our sped slipping away knot by knot for what I know has to be the last time. Oh God. We’re gonna’ crash. Dammit. I’ve GOT to land this thing And I know there is one huge almost two mile long lagoon coming up any minute before we get to Cape Wooley. I must fly myself down onto it. But how will I see it? Man I hope I spot the leading edge soon

    Then it is a simple matter to slide sideways and simple lower the nose and fly the airplane onto the solid ice. Even if the nose slams down and I tear off the nose gear, we’ll wind up no worse off than bruised. I am down to 100 feet indicated on the altimeter and the airspeed has slipped to one hundred and fifteen knots. Outside visibility has fallen to no more than forty yards in heavy snow and fog. I speak loudly to Frank and give him my intentions, telling him to relay that, along with instructions to cinch their seatbelts tight. I await what hope and expect to be a curved line of dead willows along the lagoon’s northern shoreline to trigger my maneuvers.

    The willows appear in my peripheral vision. Oh God I snap my head left to focus on them as they whip past only to have it register as they almost instantly disappear behind that the curve was the wrong way I have just witnessed, flashing by a split second ago the very last of my salvation So desperately do I want it that unconsciously, for a half a heartbeat, the muscles in my left forearm flex as I begin to move the left side of the control wheel down with the intention of turning around. It turns out to be more of a “flinch” as, just as quickly, before the yoke is moved a sixteenth of an inch, I freeze. I know that to even attempt a turn at this point would result in an instant stalling of the inside of the turn wing. The airplane would tumble out of the air to it’s (and our) immediate destruction. Damn That was our last hope

    Panic now truly begins to well up inside my chest. I am petrified practically. I have NO idea what to do now

    Suddenly cutting through the neural calamity of sirens and warning horns that is at this moment my brain, comes quite audibly and clearly the slightly slurred, gravely voice of Leon Shellabarger Sr., a former employer.

    I had flown for him twice in the previous eight years. And one wintry evening long ago as we sat side-by-side, half in the bag, at the Nu-luk-vik bar; he had, as was often his nature, imparted yet another pearl of flying wisdom upon a fledgling arctic aviator. It had been my third winter and he noted that I was beginning to show signs of being a little too cocky.

    “You know kid” he paused. “Someday there may come a time when you reach into your bags of tricks once or twice or more and come up empty handed.” he said. (Leon was a big fan of the old cartoon cat Felix. You know his theme song, right? “Felix the cat The wonderful, wonderful cat Whenever he gets in a fix, he reaches into his bag of tricks ” )
    “When that happens kid,” he continued “when you begin to believe in your heart of hearts that this trip, unlike all the others, is not going to end right side up on an airport; don’t wait for the crash to come to you For most assuredly it will and most likely you will die.” He raised his screwdriver to his lips, and took a good slug before he turned back to me and continued. “When you believe a crash has become inevitable boy….you decide where. You decide when, and then you execute it. And you keep flying until the metal quits grinding and you might , you jes’ might stand a chance of living through it.”

    I’m not much of a Felix fan. I use a mental “Rolodex” on which I store my tricks. You know, that rotary card file thing people used to have on their desk for phone numbers and addresses and business cards before we had computers. But I’ve spun my way clean through my mental “trick” card file multiple times and here I sit empty handed.

    Leon’s advice and a picture of his crooked, bemused grin beneath laughing blue eyes, came to me when I needed it most. Felix’s bag is out of tricks. Nor does it appear my childhood hero Superman will, as he so often did in my comic books collection, swoop down from out of nowhere at this last moment and support a gentle emergency landing of this seemingly doomed aircraft. Indeed, the only choice left now, was a crash.

    I stated loudly to Frank, while focusing on the instruments ahead of me, “Frank I just missed the last possible decent lagoon. I can’t keep this thing in air much longer. I’m gonna’ have to try to drive us into the ground in a couple of minutes while I still have control. You understand?” Upon receiving an affirmative answer I continued, “Turn around carefully, as much as you can, and holler back to everybody to sit as far back in their seats as possible and tighten their seat belts as much as they can.”

    I raised my right hand off the now useless throttle knob and raised my arm over my head and hollered out loud as I could “Everybody look at me and see my right arm Girlie Can you hear me?” And from the far aft seat Girlie Dixon hollered back, “I hear you, I see you ” I continue yelling straight ahead as I focus on the instruments “Most likely we may wind up upside down when we stop If that happens, brace one arm HARD against the ceiling directly over your head like you see me doing to help break your upside down fall Everybody got that ?”

    Turning slightly again to Frank I say “Frank tell everybody to get anything sharp, pens, pencils, whatever, out of shirt or jacket pockets and put them in the seat pocket in front of them, and tell me when they’re ready.” And in just a moment he turns to me after repeating the instructions and says “O.K. That’s it. Let’s do it.”

    I take one last look out my side and down. It seems like it might be a hundred feet. Still the cold green waters of the Bering Sea are barely visible now out the right side. I can’t see more than a hundred feet either way. I drop ten degrees off flaps with hardly a noticeable change in pitch from the airplane. The ice on the leading edge of the wing is now well over an inch thick and under the wing there is ice at least a foot back from the leading edge hanging in tiny but building molehill-like formations. I bank timidly, and oh-so-gently left, only two or three degrees, until the direction gyro shows we have changed course five degrees to the left. I wish to assure that I wind up nowhere near the water. Our airspeed is now down to one hundred sixteen.

    “Okay Frank, here we go.” I announce.

    I simply relax some of the back pressure I have been keeping on the control wheel for the last few minutes. I let the vertical speed slip to indicate one hundred foot per minute down.

    My fear is all but paralyzing now. I think briefly of my Mother and Father and for a moment see their faces. God I’m scared I want to let GO I’M TERRIFIED Tears begin to roll from my tear ducts one every few seconds or so. Down to fifty feet and I trim the wheel for level flight again. Am I about to meet my Maker? Will the next face I see be that of St. Peter or El Diablo himself I’d give every penny I ever HAD, or ever would’ve had if I could just snap my fingers and be a baby again safe in my mother’s arms.

    And now, against every natural pilot instinct I must wreck my still (barely) flying airplane. I gently ease the throttle back a tiny fraction and allow the sink rate to start again, only fifty feet per minute now. The airspeed slides below the 110 mark as the altimeter leaves the fifty foot mark. I will fly this as a glassy water landing in a floatplane. Keep sinking slowly as possible and bleeding down the airspeed one knot at a time. A few more feet slip away as I creep the throttle minutely back again and raise the nose still higher.

    As the altimeter registers thirty feet and the tip of the airspeed needle is just about to slip off the 105 mark, it ends. The ice laden wings can no longer sustain flight.

    The swiftness and extreme violence of the stall are astounding. There is no seconds-long sheep-like bleating of the stall warning horn. Not the usual BAAAAAAAAAA that we are used to hearing followed by the metallic sounding shaking of the Cessna tail feathers just prior to the break. All at once it seemed, it was just a microsecond long B and then the nose in the next one-thousandth of a second SNAPPED downward

    The confusion of elapsed time is puzzling to me. A microsecond of stall horn warning occurs practically simultaneously with the nose slamming downward and the first horrific sounds and deceleration feelings of impact Instantly it seems we slam into a brick wall and I can feel the shoulder harness as if it is cutting into my chest. All in that itty-bitty microsecond. The flash of a high speed camera lens. But now, as I expected, the nose gear rips off. Our momentum, as the propeller and engine digs into the snow covered tundra, is flipping us over on our backs.
    And as the tail rises ever higher toward the vertical, and our energy is being spent, it seems it all slows down. I know we are flipping right over quite fast, yet I feel we are being suspended at the vertical position with the shoulder harness now keeping me from falling into my instrument panel.

    There is much screaming and yelling I’m sure, as the three our four seconds elapse between the slight “peep” that the stall warning gives and the last sound of crunching metal, when the plane smashes to a final and silent stop on it’s back. I just don’t hear it. Only after two or three seconds of intensely eerie silence after motion has stopped, is there another eruption of yells and nervous laughter. We have survived.


    CloudDancer
    A SUPERIOR pilot, uses his or her SUPERIOR judgement, to stay out of situations which may require the use of their SUPERIOR skills.

  16. #16
    55-PA18A's Avatar
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    !!!!!!!!!!!!...Dayummm, Cloudy!!!!,...I almost passed out from holding my breath while reading this !!!!!!!!!!

    Jim

  17. #17
    SteveE's Avatar
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    Dang Cloudy,,, I cant read as fast as you are posting,,, I am still back on Chapter 2....

    SLOW DOWN>....

  18. #18
    gregory's Avatar
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    WOW!!! now im sitting in my favorite chair in front of the window with my right hand still pinned to the wall in front of me and a death grip on a empty red white and blue can in my left hand!!!! i have been holding my breath since right before the stall and im shaking alittle i better pry this poor can out of my hand and go get one that has some mass to it

  19. #19
    CloudDancer's Avatar
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    Well, it ain't funny, but then, it wasn't s'posed to be. But I'm shickled titless to know you fellers think it's worth reading.

    Question is will people buy a book of Chronicles that don't make 'em laugh........

    CloudDancer
    A SUPERIOR pilot, uses his or her SUPERIOR judgement, to stay out of situations which may require the use of their SUPERIOR skills.

  20. #20
    SteveE's Avatar
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    I kept reading and reading,,, sounded a little familiar and thought you crashed twice....

  21. #21
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    Jeeze Cloudy = You had me squirming on the edge of my chair this time. I have flown through that very same piece of sky on a nice day. I feel compelled to share a true experience that made up a chapter in my 50 plus years of aviating. I apologize in advance for this small hijack of your thread and do not pretend to be the scribe which you clearly are. Many of the members of this group will know exactly where this took place.

    During the early 80s, during the warm weather season, I was camping on the shores of scenic Two Lakes. This is a beautiful spot when the wind is not blowing, which usually happens in the afternoon. The water is crystal clear even though when flying over, it looks like mud. There is a nice sand bar for big tire use at the north end. The mountains on the east side just sparkle with color at sunset and you can hear the wild cats screaming from the hillside. On the day that I was planning to leave the sky was overcast with flat bases and excellent visibility. Now do I break camp or wait for another day? Well what do you know, a DC-3 came flying up the lake headed for Merrill Pass. Now in order to get through Merrill, with it's S turn at the top and it's collection of airplane parts, you need to be at 3,000 feet to walk to the other side. Where is the DC-3? It never came back. This must mean that the cloud base is at least 3,000 feet. This, above 1,000 feet at ground level, makes for a comfortable amount of airspace to fly in. So, I break camp, pack up my trusty 8A, and take off back towards civilization. After turning in Merrill headed toward the S turn, it becomes apparent that the clouds are not quite 3,000 feet. So, before it gets too narrow, 8A does a 180 back towards the flats above Two Lakes. Now, there is another pass which heads out of the mountains so, leaving the west end of Merrill I turned right toward the other pass, which I had not used before. This pass, I don't know if it has a name, is a straight shot to the other side. The pass is wide with steep sides climbing up into the cloud bases. Off we go. Well, the ground level starts to rise and the steep sides start to come together, the cloud base is stable. Now we get to the point where there is not enough room to turn around safely. OH S@#$! Now what? The blood pressure is starting to rise, the nerves are getting scared and twitchy. Dam! I don't want to scratch my nice airplane, what the hell am I to do? I have to keep going. I slow down, drop a notch of flaps, and get closer to the spot where the sides of the pass meet the base of the clouds. Just as these points are about to touch a small body of water with rocks in it appears over the nose. Do I land in it and keep my fingers crossed or what? Just as the decision has to be made, the clouds, without any change in their intensity, disappeared totally leaving absolutely clear blue sky all around with not a trace of the clouds. It sure took the old thumper a while to calm down after that. After I returned home to New England, my mother asked me if I had a particularly traumatic happening on such and such day at about a certain time. She was right on. How did she know? Mothers know! I never did learn what happened to the DC-3. There wasn't any fresh metal in the pass.
    N1PA

  22. #22
    CloudDancer's Avatar
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    Chapter 5

    What He Shoulda' Done Was...




    I looked up at the ceiling over my head which was now littered with dried dirt, maps, eyeglasses, and all the assorted junk that had come out of our pockets and the seatback pockets.
    Someone, I think it was the man seated directly behind me hollered “I smell gas ” And then of course everyone started yelling. I smelled it too, but it was faint, so I hollered louder than the rest. “Listen ” I barked out. “There is NO SPARKS. We’ll BE OKAY Remember what I said. BRACE YOURSELF before you release your seat belt. Now let’s get out of here CAREFULLY ”
    And to be honest, I don’t even remember much about us getting out of the airplane. Although I do remember it was uncoordinated and graceless. I remember releasing my belt and tumbling somehow into a still uninjured heap with my seat above me. In less that a minute all seven of us had exited the cabin and stood outside in the snow and fog.
    Everybody was checking on everybody else. I was overjoyed to realize after a couple of minutes that, the only apparent injury among the seven of us, was a self-inflicted black eye administered to the left eye of the man seated behind me. Apparently and understandably in shock, as we all were to some degree, he had, after being panicked by the smell of avgas, clawed at his seatbelt in haste with both hands, not remembering to brace himself. Thus, when it did release he fell to the ceiling headfirst, somehow driving his shoulder or maybe an elbow into his left own eye. It was yet another minor miracle that he had not instead broken his neck.
    I immediately asked for someone to get a camera. I knew that further snow may obscure evidence of what we had been through. One or two passengers produced cameras and another a tape measure.
    With the underside of the wings now facing skyward it was easy to measure and photograph the lumpy ice formations. They hung down in irregular formations from the leading edge of the wing to fourteen inches aft of the leading edge across the span from wingtip to wingtip I’d never seen anything like it before, and damn sure never hoped to again
    Then we measured our tracks in the snow. Now remember. Picture in your mind flying forward, then hitting and flipping tail over nose and stopping.
    We had an eighteen foot tape measure, and I took an end and walked through the almost crotch deep snow to the first mark in the otherwise flawlessly smooth surface. It was made about three feet further north than the first mark made by the right wheel, indicating the left wing had stalled almost immeasurably (time-wise) earlier than the right wing. Also, I must’ve been very, very close to the surface of the snow as opposed to my altimeter still reading about thirty feet or so.
    Frank (or someone) stretched out the other end of the tape. Then they remained there and retracted the tape while I moved down to stand in their position to hold the end, etc. (You get the idea). It took only three lengths of the 18 foot tape to complete our measurements. Think about that. From right-side-up doing an indicated 104 knots (about 119 miles-per-hour) to impact, nosing over, and the far tip of the tail, we stopped in fifty-four feet. Truly incredible.
    After a few minutes standing away from the airplane, we returned to begin an investigation as to how well it would provide shelter for our group until rescue arrived. And let me tell you. The Cessna engineers who designed this beast did Clyde Cessna proud. I was very pleased to see that the airplane, in such a potentially catastrophic impact and deceleration, succeeded in her primary design goal, that being to protect the occupants.
    The forward baggage compartment compressed and twisted with the engine, and the fuselage aft of the passenger cabin had wrinkles in it and the tail was twisted some off vertical. Those portions absorbed massive amounts of energy. Yet the passenger cabin was literally unscathed
    Every chair remained attached to it’s seat rails and every seat rail remained attached to the floor of the airplane. Every single door, including the aft-left double cargo doors not only opened and closed completely; but their locking mechanisms still functioned smoothly. Had it been necessary, our party could’ve sheltered in that airframe for months. But, of course, I new that wouldn’t be the case. As soon as the weather lifted there would be search planes headed our way.
    Search planes The Emergency Locator Transmitter
    It’s antennae was mounted aft of the passenger cabin on the top of the fuselage, which now of course, meant that not only was it not pointed at the sky, it’s tip was buried under snow and maybe tundra. Not exactly an ideal operating position for getting your signal out.
    The one thing we didn’t have on board was tools, so out came my trusty folding buck knife. Unable to loosen the locking washers that held the mount in place on both sides of the aluminum skin, I just punched a whole through and “sawed” it out like opening a tin can. Another hole punched in the belly facing upward became it’s new mounted position.
    Meanwhile, unbeknowst to I and my passengers; the owner of the plane I was so indiscriminately butchering, Boyuk Ryan, was just landing in Nome having come in from Unalakleet in his Cessna 402. He was being given the latest information on my flight by Wendall. Afterward he rushed to top off and get ready to launch as soon as weather improved to the northwest of Nome.
    It’s hard now so many years later to remember how many hours we sat out there in the snow covered tundra awaiting rescue. The NTSB report gives the time of the accident as 0950 lcl time. Sounds about right. So it seems that it was somewhere around say eight-thirty or eight-thirty-five when the rain hit me. We’d spent approximately an hour and twenty minutes or so battling the elements, fighting to survive. It was a battle that could’ve gone either way more than once I knew. But finally Lady Luck, karma for some, or was it the Hand of God that played out.
    All this and more I know I thought about as we lay waiting inside the fuselage. A couple of folks napped (sweet dreams) and others read. I pondered the unponderable. And then a noise came.
    Boyuk and I were talking the other night before I wrote this and he said the Army National Guard Twin Otter was the first over me that day and I’m pretty sure he’s right. I don’t remember them flying over as well as I do my boss and friend Boyuk making pass after high speed pass. But I know when anything came near us overhead I made all the passengers get outside and stand apart from each other waving their hands and walking. I wanted the information that there were seven healthy survivors to be known to all the world immediately. I didn’t want anyone’s family to worry any more than necessary today.
    It worked. Boyuk told me he counted us twice to be sure, and then broke out laughing in joy and sheer relief from worry.
    Eventually in the distance we heard the rapid deep wopwopwopwopwop of the Alaska Army National Guard’s Nome-based Huey helicopter coming to fetch us and carry us in warmth and security over the final miles to our original destination.
    By the time our Bell Helicopter-made Huey reached the Nome airport, slowed, and transitioned into a landing hover, approaching it’s ramp on the northeast quadrant, Boyuk’s 402 was already parked and he stood waiting to greet us.


    CloudDancer
    A SUPERIOR pilot, uses his or her SUPERIOR judgement, to stay out of situations which may require the use of their SUPERIOR skills.

  23. #23
    CloudDancer's Avatar
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    Hiya EverBody -

    I'll be working on this tamale (Saturday morning) and I will try (no promises) to get the rest of chapter five up before I have to leave.

    Yes, back in the saddle for a four day hostage crisis for the first time in over a month.

    Spent a little while in the cockpit the other night coming down from ANC. Been over a month since I've . It looked vaguely framiliar, but still, i think I'll have the F/O do the flying on the 1st leg to Gritville (Hot-LAN-ta) tamale, jus' so's I can break back in kinda' easy.

    If'n ya' don't see it posted by 3P.M. eastern tamale, yer' gonna' have to wait 'til next Wednesday.

    C-Ya mah dear Friends

    And Have a wunnerful Labor Day weekend if ya ' got it off!

    CloudDancer
    A SUPERIOR pilot, uses his or her SUPERIOR judgement, to stay out of situations which may require the use of their SUPERIOR skills.

  24. #24

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    Wow, I got goosebumps reading that.

    Fantastic writing Cloudy - glad you survived.

  25. #25
    CloudDancer's Avatar
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    Hiya downunder -

    I see that your post to me was yer' very originalest postage!! (# 1 !)

    So I reckon it's up to me to say WELCOME ! to supercub.org and CloudDancer's Alaskan Chronicles!! (or...just outta' the "closet" in case you been onea' those lurker types....)

    You have stumbled acrost the finest collection of good aviation folks in one spot on the web.

    We are led by a lifeform known as "The WorldWide Grand Poohbah of Supercubbers EverWhere" (or "Steve" for short). Nice feller' onced ya' get to know him.

    Have fun here, and enjoy the rest of the Chronicles too!

    CloudDancer
    A SUPERIOR pilot, uses his or her SUPERIOR judgement, to stay out of situations which may require the use of their SUPERIOR skills.

  26. #26

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    Thanks very much Cloudy..

    Anyway, back to being the creepy lurker type



  27. #27
    AK49's Avatar
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    Damn CloudDancer!!.... I have been holding my breath for an hour reading this with great trepidation.

    Great read. Your prose makes it easy to be right alongside for the ride.

    You are making great strides as a writer. Kudos.

    Thanks for sharing - Looking forward to the next Chronicles.

    Kevin Hand

  28. #28
    Gary Reeves's Avatar
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    Cloudy,

    Tense stuff. Glad you can tell it. It is a good read and a good lesson.

    The other Gary

  29. #29
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    Chapter Five - Cont'd


    Even before the pilot could complete his shutdown procedures and the turbine’s whine began to decrease along with the main rotor’s speed over our heads, the crew chief had slid open the heavy door and jumped out to help us down. I got out first and then assisted my passengers along with him.
    Yet I have only one memory of those few minutes at the airport. I’m sure many were there to greet us. At least one of my passengers (Girlie Dixon) was from Nome. Maybe another too. So I’m sure many of her/their family members must’ve been there. Guardman’s family members too maybe? I can’t remember.
    I can only remember this. Boyuk and I walking toward each other. Stopping briefly a couple of feet apart and then literally throwing ourselves into each other’s opened arms. Him whooping and hollering, and me silent until he stopped yelling. As our embrace broke I got a tremendous lump in my throat and looked at him sadly and said “Boyuk, I wrecked your newest airplane man....” my voice trailing off.
    He grabbed me again and hugged me again and I choked out “I’m s-s-so SORRY man ” The pent up emotions of the last few hours were finally starting to break down my barriers now that I knew my passengers were safe. And then Boyuk said something I would never forget for the rest of my life. In a not too distant past time before this date, he had lost his brother-in-law and a load of passengers in a crash near Golovin. In response to my choking apology he talked into my ear as we continued to hug “Cloudy, all I care about is you’re alive And all our passengers are alive. I couldn’t take it again. On my wya out there, I swear. I told myself if you were dead...that was it. I was selling and getting out of the business. Don’t worry about nothing. You’re alive ”
    Then finally, I got a grip on myself again and it was time to, along with my friend and boss, assure that all my passengers truly were allright. It was off to Nome’s hospital for us. And by the time everyone’s checkup was over (all positive by the way), even the Anchorage based folks were not interested in getting on another air machine this day. Instead they decided that we should all have dinner in celebration together this evening. We all agreed to meet at the lounge at the Golden Nugget after leaving the hospital.
    Protocol dictated to me that I should be the last to take my exam at the hospital, and so it was that I was last to arrive at the hotel. I walked into the lounge to find my passengers seated at a table with an open seat remaining for me. And sitting in the center of my placemat was not one, not two, but three glasses all filled with a dark liquid.
    Approaching the table I am seen and a chorus of “Here’s our PILOTS!(s)” bellow out rom all six of my passengers. I can feel my face beginning to redden as others seated at tables around us turn to stare. It’s Nome remember. Out of the three dozen or so patrons in the bar, I imagine most of them knew who we were by now.
    I stood and gazed down at the table and said “Please tell me those are NOT Bacardi and Cokes.” Which, of course, they were. “All yours!” someone loudly proclaimed continuing, “You’d better get busy. You’re behind!” Which prompted me to glance at my watch revealing that I “officially” had another five-and-a-half hours or so remaining on my $1000 six month bet. Upon pointing this out to my fellow crash survivors, I was both booed, and offered a thousand dollars by the group collectively. They were intent that I be a part of this celebration of life.
    Apparently Frank had used the intervening time before I arrived to share with the group his assessment of our flight that morning. Another bush pilot with whom he had a close friendship, had once apparently told him that on very rare occasions, a crash becomes unavoidable. And, should that situation arise, one should hope to be with a pilot who knows when, where, and most importantly, how to crash. ( I briefly hear Leon’s gravelly growl again in my mind.) Thus, Frank had convinced the group that somehow, we had lived due to my skill and knowledge, instead of quit possibly dying in the hands of a lesser experienced pilot.
    Now suddenly, in the midst of my biggest personal misery in life, I had become the “guest of honor”. My mind was numb. I mumbled “ ‘Scuse me a minnit, I need to go make a call” and beat feet back out to the lobby to find a pay phone.
    In under a minute my bar owner friend was on the line in Kotzebue. I briefly rehashedthe day’s events and accepted his congratulations for “landing on my head, and not hurting anything” before explaining my current dilemma. Trusting and knowing that I had indeed gone dry all this time, after at first insisting I “go the distance” ‘til midnite and receiving my assurance that I would indeed if that’s what it took to get the grand; he did something unbelievable to me, and practically unheard of for him. He declared the bet ended and that I had won saying, “Awwww. What the hell. You’re gonna’ win anyway. Go ahead and enjoy it. You earned it today.” Another unbelievably good friend I was blessed with.
    I walked back to the table and bent over to talk a glass. Holding it up I announced “Lady and Gentlemen. The bet is ended, I have won. And I now toast the finest group of passengers I know I have ever flown. Here’s to long lives.” Applause and “Here, Here(s)” accompanied the draining of my first drink in six months. Then next two were gone in another 20 minutes.
    Not for another four hours did our group finally break up, as our Anchorage bound contingent called it a night so as to make the morning plane. Names, phone numbers, and perpetually valid invitations to visit each others homes preceded final hugs, handshakes and goodbyes. And then I was left alone.
    The long “dry” spell had apparently done no damage to my ability to absorb alcohol in quantities that could otherwise be used to float a small yacht. It was barely ten-thirty p.m. as I barged out the front door of the hotel bound for the Bering Sea Saloon next door. The owner/proprietor was a life long friend of my former boss Leon, who had introduced me to him on a trip to Nome years ago. I needed a friendly face.
    As is quite often customary in Nome, I began working my way from bar to bar westward along Front Street. You sat in one bar and drank there until you either got tired of being there, fell in lust, or misbehaved so badly (pretty hard to do in Nome) that you were actually thrown out for the night. Then it is off to the next bar.
    Fourth in line, following the Anchor Tavern that night (and any night for that mater) came “The Breakers” bar. I knew the owner of this joint too, but, like my bar owning friend in Kotzebue, this was a man that few others called “friend”. I was definitely not among them. He was known to frequent his bar with a loaded, holstered six-gun strapped to his hip. Quick to laugh and just as quick to anger, most folks kept their distance from him. He tended to hire no nonsense bartenders as well.
    While starting trouble in any bar in Nome is none to bright, doing it in “The Breakers” is just this side of “really stoopid” especially if the owner is in the room.
    So, I was quite fortunate that he was absent from the scene this particular evening as I sauntered in alone. Guided by a now rum-soaked brain that, at best after the day’s events, is hitting on maybe four outta’ six cylinders, I steer myself to an empty barstool about three spots down from where the end of the bar bends itself around to the wall as you enter the door.
    I barely acknowledge the bartender as I shove my cash across the bar in exchange for yet another Bacardi and Coke. No doubt I was well into, and possibly halfway through, a second bottle of rum consumed since the evening started. I was operating on some inner autopilot, or maybe the adrenalin was still pumping. I don’t know. But I was in my own world, in any case
    It was a world of unanswered questions and self-doubt. It was impenetrable. Almost.
    Cutting through the thick alcoholic fog that enshrouded my brain, I heard a male voice loudly speaking the words “Well anybody knows a gahdam Cessna two-oh-seven can’t carry a load of ice.” And I draw my eyes away from the glass in front of me, and my mind away from the picture of the instrument panel that it saw as if it were sitting on the bar only two feet away.
    I turn to see a couple of guys at the end of the bar, obviously discussing today’s crash.
    The second fella’, seated next to the wall, spoke much quieter and I couldn’t hear his reply over the conversation of a party of two seated between us. But the first guys retort, issued in a loud drunken voice was clear enough to me. “Well hell! Every idiot knows that. Except apparently whoever this idiot was today.” I don’t even remember getting up off my stool as he finished that statement and reached for his glass of beer.
    As I rounded the corner he resumed speaking “What this guy shoulda’ done was.....” And I was on him! I don’t remember who was bigger, we might’ve been about the same size. I don’t remember how he came off his stool, but I’m sure it wasn’t his intent. I only remember slamming him against the wall, my hand at his throat. I remember people hollering at me, pulling and tugging at me and my right arm, attached to a hand intent on choking the living **** out of the mouthy bastard!
    And I remember screaming and spitting in his face as I sputtered in a drunken rage. “Yeah? Yeah?” I howled. “Is THAT how he should’ve done it?! Are you SURE!? Are you F***ING POSITIVE?!” I was out of control and out of my mind. As I am pulled away and he is restrained by his buddy from coming back at me. “You weren’t f***ing THERE ***HOLE!” I am still screaming. As two burly old-timers open the bar’s front door with my face and chest I throw out one last “You don’t know S***!” and I am half launched airborne across the sidewalk and to the curb.
    A barely startled group of pedestrians has stopped to laugh, and see if they recognize the disheveled heap now coming erect once again. I snarl a “What’er you looking at?” as they shake their heads and move on.
    I pull back the sleeve on my snowsuit and check my watch. A quarter after two. I turn and stagger toward the “Board of Trade”, only a block and a half away.

    CloudDancer
    A SUPERIOR pilot, uses his or her SUPERIOR judgement, to stay out of situations which may require the use of their SUPERIOR skills.

  30. #30
    CloudDancer's Avatar
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    There is an epilogue to this story. Some of you already know where it leads, even though you don't know the epilogue yet.

    CloudDancer
    A SUPERIOR pilot, uses his or her SUPERIOR judgement, to stay out of situations which may require the use of their SUPERIOR skills.

  31. #31
    CloudDancer's Avatar
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    EPILOGUE


    The next four days were a fuzzy blur; a seemingly endless, two-cycle, self-flagellating period of internal examination.

    Conveniently, Nome’s bars were only closed from 5 a.m. through 7 a.m., leaving twenty-two hours a day for me to sit morosely staring into glass after glass of Bacardi and Coke. Yet as hard as I stared and consumed the contents, time after time, the answers I sought within never came to me. Hour after hour I drank, until either fatigue overcame me, or the majority of bars refused me further service.

    Then I would stagger back to my room at the Polar where, if I had the energy and coordination remained, I might remove my snowboots before flopping on the bed. Soon, after anywhere from four, to no more than seven hours of restless, dream-filled sleep, my eyes would suddenly pop open.

    Splashing two handfuls of cold water on my face only made my awareness of my hangover that much more acute. So, I’d stumble back out onto Front Street and head for the closest barstool and a couple of Bloody Mary’s to make the pain go away, before switching back to my usual. And, two years before Tom Wolfe would make the term famous, I would then resume my inner search for “the Right Stuff”. For indeed, that’s what this was all about.

    How could this have happened? Other guys crash. Not me. I’m too good

    Correction. I was too good. Obviously I could no longer say that about myself. But, how? What did I do wrong? I could not, in my relative youth and inexperience at that stage. Recognize that the answers would not come overnight, nor from another glass of rum ‘n coke.

    Friends and fellow pilots occasionally anchored up at an adjoining barstool for brief visits during which they would offer genuine warm congratulations on my survival and ask for a recounting of events. Then, sensing my inner conflict, they would discretely excuse themselves and go on their way. I guess I couldn’t even fake being jolly, and having a good time.

    Somewhere late in the evening of the second day, Boyuk, having heard reports of my behavior went bar to bar until discovering me sitting in the Polar bar. He ordered a cup of coffee and we talked for quite some time, discussing......gee. I can’t even remember. We must’ve talked about the accident and the plane, I’m sure. And knowing him as I do, I know he must’ve been very generous in his comments. But mostly I remember he came to get me and take me back to Unalakleet, as he was about to depart for home in his Cessna 310.

    Stating that I was too far gone (sobriety-wise, that is) I begged off. I do remember promising him, I’d get the first plane back after a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast in the morning. I know I meant it when I said it. I don’t know if he believed me or not, but, characteristically of him, he took me at my word.

    Probably the most important self-revelation of the entire period came on day three of my ashes-and-sackcloth sojourn.

    I was walking along the north side of Front Street westbound on the sidewalk. As I approached a “T’ intersection a car was pulling up from my left hand side to the stop sign facing it just a few yards ahead of me. We arrived at the intersection at the same time and I looked to see if the driver was going to yield to me. There, sitting at the wheel of his El Camino was my old boss Dick Galleher who, along with his wife Joyce, seated in the right seat, owned Munz Northern Airlines.

    I had left his employ only two years earlier and I’m pretty sure it was one of those “I QUIT ”, “You can’t QUIT I FIRE You ” deals. I had been his Kotzebue station manager and we had come to loggerheads over operational issues. Being as how he owned the airline, I felt I had no choice I guess, than to fall on my sword. We had not spoken a word since.

    But, airline issues aside, I thought Dick was one hell of a great and honorable human being. And I’d been the guest at his family dinner table more times than I could remember. And each one of those evenings was special to me, having to family of my own anywhere within 3,000 miles. Essentially, Dick and Joyce were so wonderful to me, I almost considered them as surrogate parents for a time. I didn’t ever want to fly airplanes for the old bastige again, but I was grateful for all he’d taught me, and the time we had shared.

    All these thoughts and more passed through my mind as I stepped off the curb and crossed in front of his car, the front grill and bumper no more than two feet from my left leg. I looked back and forth from Dick’s eye’s to Joyce’s, and back again, as they too looked into mine. My head swivelled, as did theirs, until I was past and turned to look straight ahead.

    No doubt, they were both well aware of my recent aerial mishap. I wondered what they thought when they looked at me. I wondered what Dick thought of me. And then....BANG It hit me.

    “I bet Dick and Joyce think I am pissed at them. I bet they think I don’t like them anymore Holy **** If I had died three days ago, that might be what they think of me for the their rest of their lives. ”, I thought. I couldn’t let that be. I had walked no more than five or six steps beyond the car as those thoughts raced through my mind.

    Spinning on my heels I was surprised to see that, not only had the car not moved, but that Dick and Joyce’s gaze still remained fixed on me. I stumbled the three or four paces directly toward Dick’s closed window, relieved to se it rolling downward as I arrived.

    I pawed at my right gloved hand with my left, as I leaned down toward the car. Finally I extracted a bare and sweaty handy to offer to Dick whose own right hand had left the steering wheel and headed across the front of his chest to meet mine. Still lowering my face to get closer and so that Joyce could see me, my cheeks began stinging as they met the rush of warm air coming out the open left window.

    Dick, being pretty much a non-drinker, recoiled only the slightest as my rum, coke, sweat soaked, and malodorous breath blasted almost into his face “Ha-Hiya Dick ? How’rya
    Joyce.” Dick replied “We’re doing pretty good Cloudy. Joyce and I just both want you to know that we are glad you’re alive and relatively uninjured.” And then I blurted out to them all that I had in my thoughts in the just the last few moments. “I just realized I’ve been given a chance to make sure something important wasn’t left undone and I wanted you both to know that.” I ended.

    I watched some of the wary tenseness ease from Dick face muscles as I spoke, and then when I finished, instead of saying anything to me, he turned and spoke instead to Joyce in a low voice I couldn’t hear. Joyce nodded her head up and down and said “Yes, of course.” befor Dick turned back to me.

    “Cloudy when was the last time you ate anything?” Dick asked, suspecting the truth. And ashamed and embarrassed now being more fully aware of my appearance, I looked at the ground and mumbled “Well....” “Where are you staying?” Dick now asked. When I told him I “had a room”, he responded with “Well. Why don’t you GO to that room and clean yourself up. Then be over at the house at five-thirty for dinner. Let’s knock the boozing off get the train back on the tracks son. You hearing me?” I looked at his face, and then at Joyce’s. The rebuke was ended. No recrimination, no self-righteousness, just a statement of fact and a offer of a steady hand of support. Typical Galleher. “Okay Dick” I met his eyes again. “Summa’ Joyce’s home cooking is just the ticket for me now, I think. I’ll see you in a couple.”

    But, wise old pelican that he was, even Dick’s post-dinner counseling could not put my anxieties and self-doubt to rest. By 9 p.m. I was back looking for revelations in a bottle.

    Somewhere on the fourth day my friend and employer decided that both he and I had had enough. He of waiting for my return to active duty, and I, of alcohol and self-pity. Boyuk showed up on the next barstool, and clapped me on the back announcing his arrival saying “Drink UP You’re outta’ here with me now ”

    Realizing that the time was indeed overdue that I face the world again, I allowed him to march me to my hotel room to gather my things. Then it was non-stop to the airport and I collapsed unceremoniously into the rear seat of the 402 for the ride back to Unalakleet. I was dead to the world for thirty-five minutes, awakening only as the landing gear “thunked” into it’s down and locked position on short final for a straight-in landing to runway eight.

    The spinning of the airplane on the ground at the end of the landing roll to turn around and head toward the ramp and office served to increase the turmoil of motion already present in both my head and my stomach. And, as we deplaned, Boyuk turned to me and spoke as he swatted my shoulder with the pair of gloves he held in his hand. “Go home ” Rest. Eat. And then rest some more. Get healthy tomorrow. You’re flying day after. Now get.”

    And so it was I showed back up at the hangar almost 40 hours later. I was sober and rested, and while still not my normal old self; I was able to “put on” a fairly positive face at least, if not a happy one. Although I was genuinely happy to learn I’d been assigned a trip to return a family I knew to their village up in the Kobuk Valley, my old stomping grounds.

    Less than an hour later I was airborne in the Ryan Air Cessna 206 heading up the coastline toward Shaktoolik and beyond. We were stuffed to the gills, including the belly pod. But the Cessna 206, with the same engine and wing, so out-performs it’s larger sibling (the 207) that you generally can count on an extra ten to twelve knots of cruise speed when the weights of the two airplanes are identical. I loved flying the 206

    The clouds above me were not too low, about 1500 feet above the ground. And recent pilot reports from the twin -engines traveling between Nome and Unalakleet gave the tops-of-the-clouds reports as only forty-five hundred feet or so, but with very light mixed icing conditions and accumulation. Nothing I wanted to get into with passengers anyway, so I planned to fly underneath all the way into the Lower Kobuk Valley.

    Things got interesting not too long after passing Koyuk. Snowshowers abounded, but with enough space between so that I could find my way, missing all the hills to my west until passing the Bear Creek area and picking up the West Fork of the Buckland River. From there it was just a few more twists and turns dodging several large snowshowers until Selawik lake’s south shore came into view.
    I deposited my passengers and all their “stuffs” in the ramp area at the west end of Selawik’s lone dirt runway and restarted my engine preparing for the slightly longer ride home due to the southwesterly winds.
    Upon announcing my departure intentions on the radio, I was pleased to hear a response from an old and trusted friend who, at that moment, was descending into the Selawik area from the west, having come from Kotzebue. I elected to wait until he “popped out” of the bottom of the clouds and was “visual” again before starting my departure. I knew I would have missed him taking off to the east and then turning right to climb upward, as I was considering doing. Of course, I would have needed to get a reasonably recent and local cloud tops report before doing so. Thus I was happy he reported that the tops in the vicinity of Selawik were only about 5,000 feet, an altitude my empty and relatively powerful Cessna 206 could reach in under seven minutes.
    He did also report that there was “light icing” on the descent.
    Okay. No passengers, only my ass at stake here. Good reasonable current tops report. I’ll check Unalakleet weather and forecast as soon as I can raise Kotzebue Flight Service after takeoff. I can save a few minutes and gas by getting on top and driving a straight shot back home to Unalakleet. If anything goes wrong, I can head for either Nome or Kotzebue, both having good weather and forecasts, which I’ll also update.
    I see my buddy from Kotzebue, now a black speck against the gray sky in the distant west and feed in some throttle while pushing down on the right rudder pedal. My Cessna 206 spins to the right out of the parking lot onto the centerline of the runway as I feed in more throttle and now, some left rudder pedal, to straighten the airplane out and track the center of the narrow fifty-foot wide dirt strip. I was airborne about the time the throttle hit the full stop. After the flaps were retracted and I rolled out of the right bank that pointed me at Unalakleet, this baby was climbing like a homesick angel. As I had dozens, if not hundreds of times before, I willingly plunged my aircraft into the murk overhead.
    Tuning Kotzebue’s F.A. A. Fight Service Frequency, I was “welcome(d) aboard ” by another old friend who also proceeded to congratulate me for my performance earlier in the week bore starting his weather briefing.
    As listened to the comfortingly familiar voice I was watching the ice build v-e-r-y slowly on the windshield and forward facing portions of the airframe. With my healthy rate of climb, this was a no-brainer, even if we didn’t top out until hitting 6,000 feet.
    So why....why were my palms sweating? And not just a little bit; I notice, as we are passing four thousand feet and I’ve never. Well. This is freakin’ ridiculous. I mean....what’s happening My palms are sweatin’ like a guilty man about to be strapped to a lie detector.
    Boom All at once the clouds give way to brilliant blue skies and a full orange sun blazing away almost overhead. And the sweat in my palm dries immediately and ceases. We are just passing 4,600 feet and Unalakleet’s weather is reported workable and forecast to remain that way for a nice instrument approach on my arrival. I level at six thousand five hundred feet ant immediately the friction from the increased cruising speed along with my windshield defroster start melting away the less than an eighth of an inch of ice I accumulated on the climbout.
    In little more than an hour I am back over Unalakleet and the town’s two runways lying thousands of feet below me. I call Anchorage Center and in short order have received a clearance for an approach to the airport, indicating I own the surrounding airspace until I report on the ground. I plunge my Cessna 206 into a thousand foot per minute descent entering the clouds almost immediately upon leaving 6,500 feet. With cloud bases reported by both the weather observer as well as my company at approximately fifteen hundred feet I and five or six miles visibility in snow I have no reason to worry and expect an easy, and routine approach and landing.
    I am shocked to se that, as the ice again starts to form all over the airplane, my sweat glands open up and I get a weird feeling in my gut. “Come on man This is too easy ”, I told myself . But my psyche wasn’t listening apparently. I became even more anxious. I increased the descent rate to 1200 feet per minute, about all my ears could stand in the way of pressure change. The ice was accumulating a little quicker than on climbout and I had about a quarter of an inch on me passing through 2500 feet. But still. This was no big deal I’m in an empty 206, within a few short miles from my intended runway.
    The sweat continued to pour from my palms and as I reached for the throttle I detected the slightest shaking of my right hand.
    And then we were out of it. As advertised, at almost exactly 1500 feet the whole world came into view, at least for six miles in any direction. And four minutes later. I wheel my aircraft in line with her designated parking space and shut down the engine. Again I wipe my hands on the legs of my snowsuit. They come up, and stay, dry. I hold my right hand out toward the throttle. Almost steady as a rock. Hell, I’m never completely steady.
    Looking out the window, I see only between a quarter and a half inch of ice on the wing’s leading edge. This is no big deal I tell myself. This is what we do. I did it just the way I was supposed to today. This flight was a well though out, carefully calculated, and safe operation with adequate backdoor “escape” routes throughout, if needed. The approach was textbook. So. Why was my stomach churning?
    Fortunately there was no other trip for me immediately and it was lunchtime. I called Boyuk and asked if I could come over to his house for lunch. I told him I needed to talk. And over lunch I told him what had happened. In detail. I ended by saying that I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what was wrong, but I did know one thing for sure.
    I was not, at least today, 100% myself. And I know that all my passengers deserve and are well entitled to 100% of my talent and skill at all times. I concluded by saying that maybe I better take a couple of more days off and see if I could figure it out.
    My friend and employer listened well, and told me to go ahead and take the rest of the day off. Then, unbeknownst to me for the moment, Boyuk rightfully consulted with the other family member who were corporate officers of the company as well. All being immediate family, they had spent their entire lives as well around pilots and arctic aviation.
    As did I, they knew that they too had an obligation to each and every passenger who placed their lives in the hands of a Ryan Air pilot. Given our many years acquaintance, given our friendship that had built over the months flying for them in a community as small as Unalakleet, their decision was personally painful for them. But the choice was not a difficult one. And so it was with deep regret and sorrow that my friend Boyuk Ryan came to me and said, “Cloudy. I’m sorry. But I think we’ll let you go take all the time you need. It’s the decision of the majority that you won’t be able to fly for us any more. I’m really sorry.”
    “No problem Boyuk”, I responded sadly. And he said “I tried to...” and I interrupted
    “Hey man. Don’t worry about it. I understand. You’ll always be my friends.”
    But would I ever understand me again? Would I ever fly again

    CloudDancer
    A SUPERIOR pilot, uses his or her SUPERIOR judgement, to stay out of situations which may require the use of their SUPERIOR skills.

  32. #32

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    Life is not all fun and games, there are the occasional head-smacks and gut-punches to bring one back to earth, usually in a most unsettling way.

    Thanks for sharing Cloudy.

  33. #33
    12Geezer2's Avatar
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    How many of us have been near the panic mode ???

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