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Slipping the Surly Bonds – Part II

by | Jul 6, 2023

In the Spring 2023 Edition of Back in the Bay magazine, I began the story of a flying misadventure my husband Lloyd and I shared in 1997. See it HERE.

A recap of Part I: We were flying home from a day spent on Lake Temagami when …. 20 minutes from takeoff, Lloyd spotted a pretty little lake about five miles away. It looked like a mirror surrounded by the glorious colours of autumn. He turned the plane 90 degrees left to have a closer look. I was told to keep an eye out for any bush roads that might provide access by car. There was one that led straight to the northwest shore but no cottages or buildings could be seen from the air.

Circling the lake, Lloyd was about to resume our southward course when there was a massive Bang! from the engine, a splat of oil covered the windscreen and the plane shook violently. It felt like we were in the middle of a WW II dog fight. Lloyd immediately cut the power, the shaking stopped and the Champ suddenly became a glider. Ahead of us lay nothing but bush and swamp, below us a  very little lake. Lloyd banked the plane toward the glassy water and said, “Don’t lose sight of that road….”

Fortunately, most of Lloyd’s flying has been from small air strips including the one at our farm at just 1,000 feet in length. As a result, he was the master of the “side slip”, a maneuver that
involves making a quick descent with the plane approaching the ground or in this case, water in a sideways attitude. In pilot talk, “He side-slipped her in,” making a perfect glassy water landing. The momentum of the plane took us to the northeast corner of the sandy bottomed lake. We later marvelled at finding a rare northern lake with no rocky outcroppings that could damage the floats.

When the plane came to a stop on the shrubby shore, Lloyd grabbed a rope to tie it up and told me we were going to walk north through the bush toward the road I had seen from the air. We had to hurry because there wasn’t much daylight left and we didn’t know how far it was to the nearest highway. We were unsure if the faint sounds of traffic came from Highway 64 or Highway 11. Several steps into the dense bush we discovered that with the low September sun we were almost in total darkness. It didn’t help that I kept walking out of my sandals. Ouch! The decision was practically made for us. We were going to spend the night in the bush.

We got the sleeping bag, emergency “rations” and radio from the plane and started making camp. I gathered wood for a fire while Lloyd stomped out a spot for our camp site. We boiled water for tea but discovered that the well-aged rations consisting of two tea bags and a chocolate bar reeked of aviation fuel. No bedtime snack for us.

‘We hadn’t filed an official flight plan …’

About this time the adrenalin wore off and reality set. We hadn’t filed an official flight plan but I had told my sister Edna we were going to Temagami and would be home well before dark. I said I’d call her when we got in. Although the plane had a radio, Lloyd was unable to get a response to his calls.

No cell phones back then so we were unable to let people know we were okay. For the rest of the evening and all night long Lloyd stoked the fire and gazed at the stars while I created a scenario in my head that had everyone in the family worried sick about us. It was a long night.

In the morning, we walked the shoreline toward the northwest where I knew the dirt road reached the lake. After about 15 minutes we found it and three quarters of an hour later we were flagging down a car on Highway 11. When we explained what had happened the driver offered to take us to North Bay but first I had to find a phone to let the family know we were okay. We stopped at a restaurant, made the call only to discover that no one knew we hadn’t made it home. All that worrying for nothing!

‘…unaware we spent the night in the bush.’

My brain was filled with relief that our kids and family and our friend Jill Boschulte, who owned the plane, were unaware that we had spent the night in the bush. Meanwhile, Lloyd was mentally dealing with the practicalities of getting the plane back home. By a stroke of luck his plane had the same 75 horsepower engine as the Champ, so it was just a question of removing the engine from the Pietenpol, getting it to the Champ and making the switch.

This is one of those times when having good friends in the flying community really came in handy. Ron Cooke and Carl Hagland really knew their way around light aircraft. Both were long-time pilots with plenty of experience building and maintaining light planes. Lloyd removed the engine from the Pietenpol and ready to be loaded on to Carl’s truck. They left our place at 8 a.m. while Ron flew his Piper Cub to Holdridge Lake, the site of our forced landing. With him was his wife Carol, also a pilot. She brought along muffins to fuel the workers.

Ron easily found the Champ where we had left it and used his plane to tow it west to the clearing. Another stroke of luck; in a landscape dotted with inaccessible lakes we landed on one with a road
within 100 feet of the shore. Carl, Ron and Lloyd worked well together so the engine change-over happened without a hitch. Lloyd had Ron and Carol’s escort as they flew back to the Champ’s temporary base at Wade’s Landing in South Bay.

Carl brought the ill-fated engine to our place. By 3 o’clock that afternoon everyone was back home and life began to return to normal five days after our adventure began. For years Lloyd and I had dreamed of finding a lake with no cottages where we could build a little cabin. Flying gave a unique opportunity to look for this type of property. In hindsight, we realized that had Lloyd not gone off course to get a closer look at that little lake, the outcome of the engine failure would have been quite different. We would have been flying over bush, beaver meadow and swamp when the engine
threw a rod. Not the safest places to land a light aircraft on floats.

As Lloyd said, “Someone was looking after us.”

Contact the author via email:

Pat Madill-Stamp
Pat Madill-Stamp

In 1958, my Grade 8 classmates voted me most likely to become a writer but I fooled them and myself by becoming professional potter. During my 38 year career, I turned approximately 40 tons of clay into mugs, bowls and sculpture. In hindsight, writing would have been a lot less strenuous. Retirement came in 2016 followed by a move to “town.” Gardening and writing fill my need for both physical and creative activity. I love telling stories and I particularly love bringing to light the forgotten and often unsung artists and arts organizations that have made North Bay such a creative community. Columns will also appear in the Back in the Bay Magazine with the inaugural edition May 1. Six appeared in A Bit of the Bay Magazine February to December 2020, which will be posted here in coming weeks.

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