Excerpt: Listen To The Wolves, ch. 18
Barely surviving a plane crash a rookie professor must pit his intelligence and heart against the ravages of the wilderness in the teeth of a record winter. Will book learning be enough? Will hungry wolves be his demise?
Suddenly The Trees Parted
The plane was bouncing on increasingly rough air. It had been for some time, but John was lost in his thoughts, distracted, and hadn’t noticed. The overcast of clouds covered the sky and John had not noticed the air currents had pulled him far off course. A sudden and rough jarring of the plane made him fast aware of the increasing severity of air turbulence. Very clear days also have turbulence – pockets of air rushing up or down, making for a ride like he had experienced going over a trail in the bush on a four-wheeler. Stormy days give the pilot warning… instability is expected. Some sudden dips can put one’s stomach into the throat. Pilots don’t notice it much though; it’s so common when flying.
John noticed the next jolt, however, like a giant plucking at the plane by its tail. He almost slipped off the seat cushion, and was held in place only by the seat belt. The plane and the sky around it now had his full attention. He looked behind; instinctively knowing a push like that was coming from behind him.
The gray wall of tumbling clouds shocked him. It was not in any forecasts he had been advised of or seen. John turned the knob of his radio and calmly repeated his call numbers A l0 50. There was no one within reception. He kept moving the radio knob hoping to raise someone or perhaps get a weather report. He knew there was a high pressure cell sitting in the Northwest Territory but it had been stationery. With another bone rattling jolt he knew what had caught him… causing his greatest fear. That system was no longer stationery. A sudden Arctic Clipper was swooping across the barren flat tundra of Nunavut with nothing to slow it down.
A Beaver bush plane is not equipped to get above most storms. John would either have to out-run it; or put the plane down someplace secure. Then wait out the storm. At the moment there was no place to put a plane down with pontoons which meant out-running it was his only option. Perhaps not a bad choice in a normal frontal storm; however, John, unknowingly was at the vortex of a violent storm with tremendous energy and it was moving like an uncoiling whip. John was at the hilt of the whip and the energy it brought would send an early season blizzard across the Great Plains. It would not die until after Dallas, Texas when the heavy air of the Gulf would finally stop it.
The plane was bouncing, shaking, and shuddering as John turned south of his planned course to race away from what the weather-man would call ‘highly compressed isobars’. Don’t think about it… do it! A quick assessment of the storm’s push south caused John to make a decision. He would try to find Ennadai Lake instead of Paddlie. He began calling his change of destinations into the unresponsive radio. It was always dangerous to change a flight plan in mid-flight, especially if there was no way to make radio confirmation.
A mixture of rain and sleet began to pelt the red and white Beaver – not on its roof, but on the north and west sides of the flying metal bird. This was an unfortunate addition to his already dangerous situation. The radio squelched. John thought of a squealing hare trying to outrun a pack of wolves that was surrounding it… and felt a kinship.
He furtively adjusted the radio dial hoping to find a frequency with a voice at the other end. John could see the wet slush begin to collect on the wing struts. That meant it would be collecting on the fuselage and wings too. He might soon be running out of time to get the plane down. Perhaps it would be warm enough at 500 feet to keep the ice off the wings. John put the plane into a steep dive and the acceleration caused the ice to flake off. One bullet dodged. He leveled off at 500 feet.
The radio screeched in his ear piece again. John heard some chatter. He called out – “This is A 10 50 looking for a place to set down and wait… repeat… this is A 10 50 putting down for weather. Do you read?”
The speak button released in his hand as he waited for a response. There was some noise but he could not make it out. He couldn’t even be sure it was a voice. He repeated his message, over and over…
The dials were bouncing wildly and had been so for quite some time before John noticed. He looked to the copilot seat and grabbed the laminated map. Looking out the window John saw a river and several lakes but could not identify them, they were not in the original flight line. He glanced down again at the laminated map on the passenger seat, grabbed it and searched. John knew he was being blown further off course by the storm, but had no idea by how much.
It was hard to see the details of the map as the plane shook, bobbed, and dipped in the storm’s high winds. He slid the map under the clip on the yoke and looked again. It was then that John realized the map would be no good. He had no bearings and could not see any landmarks in the storm’s occluded view. He did not even know which side of the map to read… he realized he did not know where he was! He had been pushed around by the winds, had zigzagged to keep the ice off the wings, he couldn’t find any landmarks, and his plane’s compass had been swinging wildly in the magnetic fields since the trip began.
There was no time to study the map or the surroundings, and visibility of the ground was becoming a big issue… a big issue! He had to focus on flying the plane and putting it down… on his terms if he could help it.
The sleet and rain were being replaced by hail and wet snow. The wipers were not keeping up with the slush. The windshield began to streak with ice as the frigid wind from behind the plane overtook it. The snow was blowing nearly horizontally. John did not like the feel of the controls… they were sluggish and seemed to grind. He looked at the wings and could see ice working into the ailerons. He tried the rudder and the plane was nearly unresponsive to the controls. Finally, wiggling the yoke back and forth did the trick and freed the ice off the tail rudder.
A new tactic was needed. John would have to zigzag and go up and down continuously to try knocking the ice and snow off and maintain his maneuverability. He knew he would not be able to outrun the storm. He had to instead, survive the storm. He had to set the plane down… before it fell down! Where was a lake? The snow was so thick he could not see the ground.