This excerpt is from the chapter ‘Being Battered by Turbulence’, from the book ‘No Old, Bold Pilots’ by Svend and Sheila Serup.
One Saturday in the late autumn of 1977, I found myself in a flight that should have taken 25 minutes but took over three hours. And when I finally brought my little float plane down onto Tabor Lake, I had never felt so harried as I did that afternoon.
At 1:30 p.m., I stood in the little cove at Weasel Creek where our camp stood. My day had already had its measure of problems with equipment, staff, and weather. That morning I had to cancel further road construction as the fall rains had not ceased. Logging was still in progress, but the logging truck had broken a walking beam and both the trucker and construction crew had gone out on the taxi boat earlier in the day. My trucker had promised to come back the next day with new parts so that the last few loads of spruce trees could be hauled to the lake and operations shut down for the season.
As I prepared my plane for the flight to Prince George, I felt a strange uneasiness. The weather was unsettled, and an active storm was moving in from the west. I had been calling on the radio for a weather report with no luck in reaching anyone. As I was calling, I could see the storm engulfing the lake about 10 miles to the west. I quickly made my decision to get away before the storm arrived. My plan was to fly east along Clearwater Creek, then through one of the mountain passes southward to Mackenzie. From here, the vast central B.C. plateau would give me room to fly under or around storms for the last 100 miles to Prince George.
I felt a sense of impending doom. Even though I relied on my intuition, I was a businessman and I was continually making decisions on the information I had at hand. I knew that when intuition and reason failed, there was still a third power and I confessed my uncertainty. I asked for God’s protection on the flight, and then I cast off from the dock. Shortly I was airborne over the main lake. Banking the plane to the east, I began flying along the Clearwater inlet. Here the turbulence rattled the plane. As I flew towards the end of the inlet where the creek emptied, the peaks in front of me were obscured by clouds, and snow was falling all along the high ground, closing the passes.
As I gained altitude, I tried the radio vainly. If I was going to commit to proceeding into one of these narrow passes in marginal conditions, it would be helpful to know the weather on the Mackenzie side of the mountains. If the fog and rain were extensive, I would become trapped. My chances for survival would be slim as I was not licensed nor equipped for instrument flying. I remembered that over a year ago, a single-engine Piper Comanche plane with four Americans bound for an Alaskan hunting trip had disappeared between Prince George and Prince Rupert. In this rugged terrain, it would not be easy to locate a downed aircraft.
At 4,500 feet, I could not reach Prince George on the radio. I knew I should be flying at 6,000 feet to gain radio contact in this area, but the overcast skies prevented me from soaring any higher. By turning a little, I could see the storm closing in behind me, and I quickly banked the plane into a tight 180 degree turn so I would not be cut off from the lake.
The turbulence was becoming uncomfortable. Just as I was over the creek, my eye caught something disturbing on the instrument panel. A bright red light was flashing on the right-hand side. Above it were the words: ‘High Voltage.’