Thursday, January 06, 2005


Belly-Slide Into Berens River!!! (Or,The Belly-Pod Saves The Day!!)

Wally called me on the "Alexander Graham Bell". "I want to go to the Fish Station at Berens River, on Monday morning", he said. It was Friday. "OK", I told him, "see you Monday". That meant a trip with the Cessna 185, C-FZZP, on wheel-skis. Right on!

Wally worked for Public Works, Canada and looked after the repair work that was done to the many docks at the fish stations and communities around Lake Winnipeg. The Berens River Fish Station dock needed some work and Wally wanted to have a look at it.

Monday came, and Wally and I fired off for Berens River from Northway Aviation's Base at Arnes, Manitoba. I was a little uneasy that morning because I was highly experienced on skis and knew the risks of landing on Lake Winnipeg with skis or floats on a GOOD day. The winds were light, but it was a 200' ceiling, with good visibility and heavy overcast. The problem in these conditions is you cannot discern your landing surface, as you have no depth perception due to the low-light conditions, and snow-drifts cannot be seen.

The 45 min. flight to Berens River was uneventful, but I was still uneasy about the landing. The fish station is a mile offshore on an island, with no shelter from any direction. The surface of the "Big Lake" in winter can resemble the "Lunar Surface". Anyways, we arrived and I surveyed the area. Just as I thought, the surface looked totally flat and white, but I knew it wasn't. My old "bush" training took over, and I circled to wait and see where the Ski-Doos were traveling. The Native people are smart, they will make their trails along a shoreline in a little bit of shelter, or between the drifts where it is relatively flat. They don't travel over rough ground and drifts if they can avoid it. I saw where the snowmachines were traveling, and a trail went right by the fish station. I flew low to survey it, and from what I could see, it looked quite adequate. I flew an approach with power and full flaps, and touched down gingerly on the ski-doo trail. The speed of the aircraft bled off, and the weight settled on the skis. "Another great landing by the famed aviator", I thought to myself. Crap! There's that misplaced arrogance again. I looked at Wally, and he grinned at me. I looked back out the front window, as we were just sliding to a stop. There was a slight rise in the trail, and as we went over it I heard "CRACK". Shit! I reacted instantly and pulled the mixture control. The prop started slowing down as the aircraft laid to the left, and the left gear leg bent forward toward the prop. The wing bending, and the horizontal stabilizer ripping off went through my mind in a fraction of a second, and then it was over. I looked up at Wally on an angle and said "Out"! We exited the airplane, and I ran to see the damage. The left gear leg had failed forward, but stopped before it hit the prop, and the wing was just grazing the snow, as was the horizontal stabilizer. What the??? The "Gods" are smiling on me. The aircraft was saved more serious damage by .......the "belly pod"! The pod on the Cessna 185 is very deep and can accommodate all sorts of gear or freight. It is very sturdy, made from Fiberglas, and in this case supported the aircraft in the snow without being damaged itself. Neither one of us was hurt, so Wally caught a ski-doo ride to the fish station, and I phoned our Maintenance Department.

A plan was soon made that a pilot/engineer would fly an airplane up to the runway at Berens, come down to the lake and look at ZZP, and then wait for Wally and fly he and I back to our Base at Arnes. This was what we did, but before we left, we got a friend of ours, Farin, to look after the downed airplane overnight due to the gas sniffers.

Morning came early, and we took a truck and headed up the
"Winter Road" to Berens River. A loader had plowed a narrow road out to the airplane for us so we could get the truck close. Les("The Cable Guy"), Wes("Dash Riprock"), Sveinn("The Swede"), and I went to work. We drained the fuel, detached the ski cables, and physically lifted the airplane to support it on a 4X4. The gear box was destroyed, but we replaced the bolt and cabled the gear leg rearward to the rear float attachment fitting, and forward to the engine-mount firewall attachment point. Then we Herc-strapped the two gear legs inward toward each other to tension the whole dog's breakfast. Finally we were done. For some reason, nobody wanted to fly out with me. It was 45 min. as opposed to 3 hrs. by truck. Chickenshits! No, actually, I didn't need the extra weight anyways, plus I think they may have had "Road Rockets" to swill on the drive back. Anyways, I took off on the loader trail and made it back to base. Jim, the owner, was actually quite happy to see his airplane and find that if not for the "pod", the damage would have been significantly worse.

The airplane was hangared and taken out of service. During the repair phase, we learned that the box that held the gear leg (the gear leg itself hadn't failed) had been cracked 2/3rds of the way through on one side previously, as there was discolouration and wear. A clean break is always shiny. The aircraft was fitted with a P Ponk modification to eliminate the gear problem in the future, as ZZP flew floats and skis year-round, and it takes a toll on the gear. The aircraft was soon returned to service to finish the ski season. She received new paint and interior in the years to come, and soldiers on today slicing the blue sky over the Pre-Cambrian Shield country of beautiful Manitoba.

For some reason, the horizon and wings don't match.... Posted by Hello

TOP- No matter where you go on earth, there is always some "Ham" in the photo....
BOTTOM- "The Swede", thoroughly impressed with the whole situation.... Posted by Hello

The "boys" at work. With a little grunting and imagination, old ZZP was flown home... Posted by Hello

Above, my buddies "Handy Randy" and "McLeod", with old C-FZZP, still sporting "The Pod", in her new livery! Below, C-FZZP with her "kinfolk"..... Posted by Hello

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