Wednesday, January 12, 2005


Unforgiving Lake Winnipeg

I was flying south along the east shoreline of Lake Winnipeg, and I liked to stay low, as there is a spot south of Catfish Creek where I have seen the remains of moose killed by wolves more than once. Sure enough, there was a kill on the shoreline, and blood and hide strewn around in the snow beside the kill. "Amazing", I thought. Nature at work. The wolves had gorged and left, but would be back to eat more. The birds were at work at the kill now, and in a few days, there would be nothing left. Nature is very efficient. Oh well, I better get back to Base, I have one more trip to do today.

I was flying an Otter on wheel-skis for Northway Aviation Ltd. during the late 1990s. We ran a scheduled service and hauled freight during the winter to communities in the Lake Winnipeg area. I loved flying the Otter, old CF-UKN, serial# 456. She wasn't built for speed, but she was made to haul. Anyway, I had just seen the moose killed by wolves and was heading back to Base. I was north of the community of Bloodvein River when the radio crackled:

"UKN, Northway."
"Hello", I replied.
"Check out the crossing, we heard there was a truck stuck."
"Will do, and I'll let you know what I see," I told dispatch.

The "crossing" was where the Winter Road to communities north crossed Lake Winnipeg, just north of Pine Dock, Manitoba. There is a lot of current at this part of the lake, as it is narrow. The ice is always moving, creaking, and groaning. Then, when it gets really cold, the ice expands, cracks, lifts, moves, shifts, shimmies, and does all sorts of crazy things. Yes, I did say expands. Water doesn't always follow the laws of physics. The Manitoba Highways Department do their best to keep the crossing open and in good shape, and this means sometimes closing the road for maintenance, and bridging cracks. Recently, I knew that a crack had been bridged.

I was about 5 miles north of the crossing, and I could see something was wrong. There was a large truck at the crack, and it's tractor and trailer were at funny angles. I circled the area and realized there were people on scene to help, and that the truck driver had made it out of the truck OK. At the time the truck dropped through the ice, I'm sure the driver experienced what we in the aviation industry refer to as the "pucker factor". An instinctive and automatic tightening of the sphincter muscles so as not to soil oneself. Trucking probably was much like flying anyways. Interesting, but with stretches of boredom punctuated by moments of sudden terror. I circled for a few more minutes, and saw the truck belonged to Reimer Express Lines. Reimer is a Manitoba company, and extremely reputable in North America.

I returned to Base, picked up another load of freight, and headed north. On my return a couple of hours later, I went to take a look at the "crossing" again. The truck was still there, of course, as it would take a day or two of jacking, lifting, and pulling to free it from the icy tentacles of Lake Winnipeg. As I circled I had a panoramic view of the lake and surrounding area. My thoughts returned to the moose killed by the wolves and I marveled at the beauty and the harshness of the environment, and as the crew worked to free the truck, I realized just how small "man" is when it comes to dealing with nature. "Miniscule", I figured. My mind returned from inner thoughts, and I realized the sun would be setting soon, so I rolled the old girl to a heading of south, and returned to Base. I put my airplane away for the night, and inhaled some "brews" with the rest of "the boys". Just another day in the life of a Bush Pilot from Manitoba!!!

UKN was a fine piece of "Canadian-built Iron". She was built for the harsh environment of the bush. She also had a nose for trouble, and whether it be a downed moose, airplane, truck, or cabin on fire in the bush, she was there..... Posted by Hello

Nerves of steel and a steady hand are needed when driving Manitoba's winter roads. The "Pucker Factor" also helps..... Posted by Hello

You would have had more pictures had someone not screwed up the film along with the other film of the planes on the ice
I seem to remember a young lass with itchy fingers...
By the way sorry about the films, and thanks for the awesome flights and sights.
You are quite welcome, and it was my pleasure.
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