Tuesday, August 15, 2006

That is Stony Rapids, Saskatchewan, where I had my first flying job. To the left of the 2 main hangars is a tiny building with a black roof, right on the ramp. See it? That was Northern Dene Airways' 'terminal', where I spent every day for a year until I was transferred to Uranium City, a hundred miles west. If you followed the main gravel road near the top right of the picture another hundred yards or so north, you'd arrive at the little red log cabin I lived in.

The next few posts will deal with the stuff that happened while I was in the employ of NDA.

Have you ever been upside down in a Navajo?

It was summer 1998, and I was flying back with Luke, a fellow pilot at Northern Dene Airways. I was in the right seat, and this was maybe my 5th or 6th flight in the mighty Navajo. We had dropped off a medevac patient in Saskatoon, and were headed back up north to Stony Rapids. It was night, but the weather was fine.

We were maybe an hour north of La Ronge when all of a sudden Luke said "Let's see what this baby can do" and rolled the navajo to the right, completely over on it's back. I was upside down, pinned to my seatbelt and not in a happy place at all. He then continued to roll the airplane and we finally found ourselves upside up again. The thing is, he allowed the nose to drop when he did that, and we wound up in a fairly steep dive. The speed went up to but not over Vne (never exceed speed) by the time he pulled the power back and managed to level the nose and stop the dive.

"Luke, I know you are Captain and I'm just a first officer, but please don't do that again."
"That was fun. Don't tell anyone."
"Luke, I don't know much, but one thing I do know is if it says "DON'T DO THAT" in the airplane manual, you aren't supposed to do that."
"We didn't pull very many G's, and I bet I could do it again only better"
"You have seen most of our mechanics. Our planes are held together with duct tape and tree branches. DON'T DO IT!"

And so he rolled the airplane one more time, this time to the left. The same thing happened, he allowed the nose to drop and we wound up having to pull a couple of G's to level off from the resulting dive. Keep in mind that this was at night, about 200 miles north of anything resembling civilization.

"Luke, if you do that I'm going to rat you out. I don't care. The planes are junkers and you are stupid."
"Okay, fine. That was still fun. Don't tell anyone"

We landed uneventfully. Now this put me in a bit of a bind. I wasn't happy with Luke for being a tool, but I was scared to actually rat him out. You see, Luke owned a lot of handguns and rifles, and he dressed in camouflage at all times. He owned a banned, modified Ruger .223, the same kind of rifle that Marc Lepine used in the Montreal Massacre a few years before, and he had smuggled in handguns from the states, complete with cop-killer teflon-coated bullets that are designed to punch through body armor. I had flown with him once on a northern flight when we saw a wolf on a frozen lake, and Luke had immediately descended, opened the storm window on the airplane, produced a large handgun (later I found out it was a .45) and fired at the wolf, fortunately missing it but nearly deafening me. Long story short, he was basically the unibomber and I was genuinely worried that if I ratted him out, I'd wind up getting shot as I walked home from the airport one day. So I kept my mouth shut.

Fast-forward a few months. Luke was also assigned to the company Beaver, and one day he caught his thumb between the Beaver float and the dock, neatly splitting it in half lengthwise, so much so that it looked like he had 6 fingers instead of 5. He was flown to Uranium City to get patched up and also get a few good painkillers from the doctor. The doctor in Uranium was an awesome guy - you could mail him your medical renewal form attached to a bottle of whiskey and he'd mail it back to you, stamped and everything. I sure as hell wouldn't go to him if I was sick, but that's not relevant. Anyway, the doctor gave Luke a whole pile of happy pills, along with a couple of shots. Luke was a little too woozy to return to Stony Rapids that day, so he stayed with a couple of NDA employees in Uranium City. Now I must reiterate that Luke had some social problems; he really didn't play well with others at all, and both of the people he was staying with pretty much openly hated him. I guess he didn't notice that, or care, 'cause he told the story to them. They promptly called me and asked if the story was true, and I said yeah it was true. They then called the owner of NDA and told him, and he fired Luke on the spot. The owner was also pretty pissed at me for not telling him earlier, but we talked through it and I again reminded him that Luke was heavily armed and fairly likely to re-enact Columbine at least once in his life. The owner saw my point and I didn't actually get in trouble for it.

Luke was sent packing down south that day, and we boxed up his stuff and sent his bags down a few days later. Last I heard, he was flying up north on a Twin Otter.

No hard feelings, Luke. Put the gun down!

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