Saturday, March 05, 2005

 

Billy "The Goose" McNish

Bill McNish was from Brandon, Manitoba. He was an ex-farmer, and had left the farm and received his Commercial Pilot License through a government program that would re-train people who gave up farming, with another skill or trade. I guess the program was the prairie response to the "poor" farmer, similar to the maritime response to the "poor" fishermen.

I came to know Bill in the very early 90's when I was employed with Northway Aviation Ltd.. He came looking for a job one spring, and we hired him. He lived in Northway's hangar in Arnes, as there were accommodations on the upper level for seasonal or single employees. This worked well because at the time Northway had two Cessna 206s, MJP and WAZ, based there for charter and hauling freight, and Billy flew them both.

Bill was a happy-go-lucky guy, and he always had some funny sayings. If we were sitting around having a beer and somebody drank their beer quickly, Billy would remark that they "took to that beer like a dog to a baloney sandwich". After lunch, Billy would regularly disappear to the "can", and upon reappearing proudly proclaim "like my Dad used to say, 'that lunch wasn't enough to make a shit, but was just enough to push one out'". Also, if we were faced with some type of dilemma, Billy would stand with his arms folded, contributing little, if any, to solving the problem, and state; "Now this is just a fine 'kettle of fish' now, hey fellas, hey? Just a fine 'kettle of fish'". I swear he was part Newfie. Gravel roads weren't called gravel roads, they were "turkey trails". We had a lot of fun with Billy.

One of the customers we had at the time was Manitoba Natural Resources, based in Gimli. During a hot, dry summer, we would be contracted to fly fire patrol daily depending on the fire hazard rating. For these flights we would use one of the company 206s. We would fly from Arnes down to the airport at Gimli, the airport where the out of fuel Air Canada Boeing 767 was dubbed "The Gimli Glider". The distance between the two airports is roughly 15 miles.

Both of Northway's 206s had long-range tanks holding 80 US GAL. of fuel (40 US GAL. each side), and therefore could stay aloft close to 5 hrs. with reserve if need be. This was seldom done, as one usually needs to "leak" halfway into the flight, so usually a stop was made somewhere.

The fire patrol area covered by our aircraft was all in Manitoba's Interlake. After departing Gimli we would usually head northwest toward Ashern, then head north towards Gypsumville, then up to Chitek Lake, home to Manitoba's free-range Wood Bison herd. Then we would head southeast toward Anama Bay, then east toward Jackhead, south along the "Saint Lakes", along Fisher Bay, and slowly meandering south back to Arnes. Occasionally we would make a run over Hecla/Grindstone Provincial Park.

This flying was easy, and "good money". It was very easy on the airplane, but boring as hell. I hated doing it personally. Enter Billy "The Goose". Billy liked this flying, and always jumped at the chance to do it.

The morning of the incident that gave Billy his nickname was hot as hell, AGAIN. Natural Resources called early to book the plane, and to ensure it's availability. They wanted the airplane about midday, and Billy was to be the pilot.

Billy took off for Gimli, and called "airborne" on our company frequency. He disappeared in the distance to the south, and we went about the rest of the day's business. Shortly after, I was alerted by an employee in the office that there was something wrong with Billy's radio. My "Spidey Sense" started to tingle and I ran for the hand-held microphone. "MJP, Northway!" I called out. The reply was " N-rr-w..sshhh-ay, sshh--M-sh-Jshay-sshh-Pee...sshhh..." What the hell? It sounds like Billy is standing in the back of a pickup truck doing 75 MPH trying to talk on the radio. Suddenly, the irony of that thought hit me, and my knees just about buckled. "Billy, are you on frequency?" I transmitted again. "St-st-eve, are you...shshsh- there...shsh..?" Billy came back. I could hear him a little better because I think he had adjusted his microphone closer to his mouth. " Billy, what is going on?" I asked. "Steve, I shsh- just shsh--hit a "goose", and it came through shshshsh..-- the window, and it is s-s-s-still in the airplane with me!" Crap almighty!! I had this instant mental picture of Billy inside the airplane, with a "rabid" goose flapping and honking, and jumping around, and trying to peck Billy in the head as he flew along. Surely it didn't come through the side window? It hit me like a ton of bricks!! Now I know where the "rushing air" noise is coming from! The damn FRONT window is gone! "Billy, are you OK, and how is the airplane flying?" I queried. "I-I'm OK, and the shssh- airplane is flying, but has slowed shshssh- down and is sluggish!" "Can you turn and make it back to the hangar? If not, don't count out Highway No. 8 as a landing strip. And don't be afraid to use as much engine power as necessary." I queried, and then instructed. After minutes, I called Billy back. "Billy, did you make the turn?" "Yes-shshs-, I'm going to land at shshsh-- the hangar." Billy said. "Good, we will watch you land from outside, and someone will monitor the radio. Good luck, and don't forget to use the engine power you need."

Jim, Northway's owner, and I, went outside to watch Billy. The landing seemed uneventful, although we could hear increased engine power. Billy taxied in, and we could see the front windshield was 2/3 blown out. The "goose" had gone right through the front windshield. Billy parked beside the hangar.

We ran to help Billy, but he just sat in the airplane, staring blankly. I opened the door and said "Billy, are you OK?" He looked at me wide-eyed and replied "Yes!" Still, he just sat there. "Are you hurt?" I asked. He replied he wasn't sure. The whole inside of the aircraft was covered in blood. We got him out, and some of the blood on him was from the "goose", and some was his, as he was bleeding from his right ear. We took him inside for some First Aid, then we surveyed the airplane.

Along with the windshield being blown out, the top of the "dash" had been buckled, the "radio stack" disabled, and the compass mounted at the top of the windshield had departed outside the plane and left a large dent in the vertical stabilizer. "Huh", I thought. "At least Billy was flying in trim with the ball-in-the-middle." Like I said, blood was everywhere, some feathers, and in the back seats "what's this?", a small "HEART", still warm, with a slice mark in it. Then, there in the very back was the "goose".

Well, the "goose" turned out to be a "Common Loon", and weighed about 8 pounds. I think this was a blessing, as a "Giant Canada Goose" can weigh 25 pounds.

Anyway, Billy was cut, but not badly. He said on landing he needed close to full power due to the drag from the absence of a windshield. The loon came straight through the windshield, hit Billy in the right side of his head, and ripped his headset right off, but he had managed to put it back on. I figure that if the loon had hit him 2 inches closer, he would've been a goner. Billy said he was flying at 2500' when he hit the loon, but this I always wondered about, as you don't see loons at 2500', though I guess it is possible. Loons are very seldom far from their nest by the water, and are low, fast fliers.

Billy healed, MJP was fixed, and life, as always, continued. From then on, Billy was known as "The Goose". He took the nickname good-naturedly, but it really wouldn't have mattered, because we would have called him by it anyways. He worked with us for a period of time longer, but eventually gave up flying, and returned to Brandon. We lost touch, but if we met up today, I'm sure we would have a "whole kettle of fish" to talk about, as we took to our beers "like dogs to baloney sandwiches!!!"

(here is what happens to an airplane windshield when "struck by a goose"!!!

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