Saturday, January 26, 2013

Bob Heath

 Bob at Anderson River, NWT.  July 2009. Photo by Marcel Siegenthaler, used with permission.

Today is a really sad day.  The New Zealand SAR people have made contact with the site, and confirmed that the crash was not survivable.  My heart goes out to the family and friends of the all crew members on board, Bob Heath, Mike Denton and Perry Andersen.

 That's Bob at the South Pole.  He'd commute from Inuvik, which is an amazing adventure on its own. I think this was maybe his 8th season down there, and he was scheduled to return to his family in Inuvik this week.  Such a loss.

Bob was also a moderator on an internet aviation forum called AvCanada - he went by the online name of Just Curious.  I do that too, and along with a bunch of other dedicated folks, we try to keep the forums running smoothly, which can be tough when wrangling pilots.  About a decade ago I asked some of the moderators to say a little something about themselves in order to become better acquainted with a crop of new moderators who had just come online.

Here's what Bob said about himself on April 17th, 2004:

My name's Just Curious and I'm an..... oooops! Wrong Meeting :oops:

I call myself just curious, because for the most part, I am not particularly interested in jumping ship, since the only game in town with any stability above where I am now would be to fly seasonally for Conair (Mrs Curious worries about bombers) or WestJet (and I haven't ruled that out. :wink: ). In any case, I get to wear a leather jacket to work in the summer, so it's not all bad.

I'm sitting at about 22,000 hours right now. Lots and lots of time on Beeches (90, 10, 99) and the Mighty Twin Otter. About 15,000 between the two. I fly for Kenn Borek in both the Arctic, and Antarctic. This does not necessarily mean that I am bi-polar. Periodically, when I'm not at one end or the other, I will ferry one of our machines from Calgary to Asia, South America, or across Canada.

For the most part my job is flying to one of a dozen Inuit villages in my part of the Arctic, carrying everything you need to keep a small town running. Or tourists to pristine remote locations to raft kayak canoe or climb them. Or... mad scientists to the sea ice, the top of Mt Logan. Everyday is different. Wheels, tundra tires, floats, skis, sometimes all on the same day.

I flew for quite some time in North Western Ontario, doing much the same with more medevacs, only the passengers were predominantly Cree instead of Inuit. Met my wife on a medevac. Turns out customer service skills are useful after all!

I was in New Brunswick running a really small charter/flying school for five years, living on generic kraft dinner. I was introducing an Flying Scholarship course to the wonderful world of 172's when Les Maike roared down the runway in YCH, spewing bits of an R2800 as the TBM rolled along at 300 knots. I manage to apply the skills of an instructor every day at work. Odd for a bush pilot I know.

I did my commercial and instructor rating at Moncton, before the College programs, aside from Seneca, Con, and Sault. I was a year into university, when I realized I couldn't wait four years to start flying for a living. Of course, I was flying 1000 hours a year when I realized that to do the job of a pilot manager, I had to go back to school. Doing a BComm while flying full-tilt wasn't the easiest thing, but it's something I can apply.

I was an Air Cadet from the time I was 12 (lied about my age.) Did the Tech Training Glider and Power Scholarship, taught gliding for two summers, towed gliders for one summer, and taught the Powered Scholarship for 4 summers. Sadly in the Western Arctic, there are no Air Cadets, only Jr. Rangers...

For the most part, I do training and line indoc of new hires, as well as upgrade training for senior co-pilots, as well as the training and tricks of the trade for captains to be able to fly "off-strip" ie... no runway. Sadly, a lot of the people I flew with over the last decade have gone off to WJ, and I'm too old to try to match drinks with the people I fly with these days.

...In the last 18,000 two crew hours, I've only had two F/Os not really work out, and with both, it was a matter of them maturing, which they finally did, since both are WJ captains now...Come to think of it, I've always had great Nurses Paramedics and Bird-dog officers as well. Musta been lucky.

It's been easy for me to be objective about a lot of the posts on the board. I've got a good job, and I'm home every night when I'm home. If I can help someone else get a good job, or a better one, why not? In the end, when I'm eating my bowl of mush at the Old Folks Home (hopefully in Mexico, or someplace warm :wink: ) I won't remember the airplanes as much as the crews I've flown with.

Flying can be a drudgery. I suppose. But flying with a narcoleptic who kept falling asleep on approach to landing atop Mt. Logan, having someone give birth in the back of a Navajo, bailing out an engineer who got arrested in South America (missing passport, woman, alcohol, much screaming, you get the idea) Flying in the Arctic on Monday Golfing in Scotland on Wednesday, and seeing the Pyramids two days later, with a co-pilot who has basically never been out of a small island village in his life... It hasn't been boring. Even today, we did a rescue of a mad scientist and a helicopter pilot who had been out counting polar bears. Oil pressure indication problems had sat them down on the sea ice, with a dozen pissed off bears around when we came in to get'em.

Eventually, I'll retire or drive the big iron, but until then, I remain, just curious,

Godspeed, Bob. You will be missed by everyone who met you, flew with you, and had the benefit of your gentle, humorous wisdom.  And that's a whole lot of people.


Anonymous said...

I've never met Bob, but at least two of my friends have worked with him, and I'm certainly familiar with Just Curious.

What a sad, terrible loss. Him and the two others.

Godspeed Gents.

V1 Rotate

Anonymous said...

i only met Bob with his dog a couple of times with his dog. While I was Visiting my daughter in Inuvik. He was a very friendly person. My heart goes out to his family.

Barb said...

Bob will be missed both as a person who we know and love in Inuvik but as well as a great pilot for the Western Arctic. His kindness, gentleness, sense of humour and his ongoing enthusiasm for the job he does barely describe the type of man he was. This is an epic tragedy for all who knew him. My thought are also with the families of Bob and the two others who I did not know but who I'm sure are wonderful in their own right.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the read. I never met the crew but this one still hurts a lot. God speed.

Anonymous said...

Never met Bob but my neice flys and knew him very well...Her sadness has been felt enough for me to wanna get to know him....thank you for sharing....this article has given me insight on a man who was full of humor, loved what he did and touched many souls......He will never know how many hearts he has felt but one thing I do know is he will be remembered by all who knew or just heard about Him...A Hero! !!!!!!!!

Ed in Montana said...

I flew with Bob Heath back in 1999 on a canoe trip in the Western Arctic. He was a great, very safe pilot and a remarkable person. He will be missed.

Vaughn said...

This is cool!