Friday, September 09, 2005


"Sniffer" Scales The Tower In Pauingassi!

I have dealt with the people of Pauingassi for the last 20 years, and have watched the community grow and evolve, and sometimes come close to self-destruction. During the early stages of my career, I flew many trappers and "wild rice" pickers, and to this day, was some of the most enjoyable flying I have ever done. I loved being out in the rice fields, or at the trapper camps.

Lately, Pauingassi has been in the news, as there is an estimate that 1 in 10 people, or roughly 50 people, are solvent abusers. Quite catastrophic for a population this size, and many of them are children. Also, babies are being born with FSS (Fetal Solvent Syndrome), which is basically unheard of elsewhere. Very tragic.

STORY - Manitoba Native Leaders Call On Governments To Address Gas-Sniffing Crisis

Anyways, this renewed awareness of the solvent abuse problem in Pauingassi stirred the marbles and thumb-tacks in my brain, and a previous experience reappeared from the "annals" in the "dank recesses" of my mental "bush pilot archives". Here is the memory, as I recall it..............

The cool air was noticeable, as my bleary eyes popped open. I turned my head to see the window I had left open before sleep enveloped me the previous night. I turned the other way, to see the clock. 5:50 AM! Well, I am awake now! I clambered from the bed, and wobbled to the "can". Me, Farin, and "the boys" had had some beers the night before, and I had a full bladder! The draining sound was a welcome relief, as my internal "manifold pressure" was reduced. As I finished, I peered out through the bathroom window. "Holy shit!" There was a coating of hoar frost on everything, and man, was it thick!

It was October, early 1990s. I was flying 1966 Otter CF-UKN, S/N 456, for Northway Aviation, from their Float-Base at Riverton, Manitoba. That day in particular, I was to fly CF-UKN to Pauingassi with a load of "cam-locks", used with concrete forms, and other supplies, for Arnason Industries of Winnipeg. They were the construction company awarded the "Sewer and Water" contract for Pauingassi, and they were well on the way to building the infrastructure so as to provide a clean water supply, and proper sewage disposal, to the community. I had a coffee, dressed for the weather, and headed for the Float Base. It had cleared off the night previous, and the temperature had plummeted to below freezing. The humidity had been very high, hence, the "hoar frost".

Arriving at the Float Base, I realized I would have some sweeping to do. The "hoar frost" covered everything! Building, docks, fuel hose, the airplanes, it was thick! The only bonus was, the sun was starting to rise, and would help burn the frost off, and raise the air temperature. Farin and I set to work cleaning CF-UKN off with fine-bristled brooms, as he had also arrived at the Float Base. We had loaded all the cargo the previous afternoon, so I could get away early, but the "frost" had delayed us now.

Finally, we were finished cleaning UKN off, and the sun was already helping, warming the paint and metal of the aircraft. As the sun warmed the air, I warmed up UKN's Pratt and Whitney 1340 engine. I had left a small car-warmer inside the cowling the evening before, to keep any frost out of the cylinders, so it started quite easily, though still coughing and wheezing, typical of a radial engine during the initial "start" phase.

Within about 15 minutes, old UKN was warmed-up, and I decided to head for Pauingassi. The sun had melted the last of the frost, and had warmed the air to just above 0*C. I taxied out, and "howled" down the Icelandic River, and I was airborne. It is absolutely amazing how deHavillands perform in cold air! I headed for Hecla Island, crossing Riverton Harbour. I marveled at the changing colours, and surveyed the vast expanses of Lake Winnipeg. I continued on past Black Island, crossing Lake Winnipeg's east shoreline. Again, I marveled at the different colours of the bush, being showcased by the brilliance of the sun. Then, to the northeast, I saw what looked like it was possibly fog. "Crap", I thought, as I knew it was possible with the humidity and temperatures we had been experiencing.

I continued northeast, and soon ran into a cloud layer that was overcast at 500' agl (above ground level). It had looked like fog from a distance, but was uniform, and the visibility underneath the cloud layer was decent, and I made a position report, as I was roughly now about 30 miles from Pauingassi. As I finished my call, the radio crackled to life: "UKN, SoWind 001, hey Steve, I am just off Little Grand, eh, headed for Pauingassi. We heard at the airport there is a "sniffer" climbing the CBC repeater tower. We are going for a look before we head south!" It was Peter Negedebeda, Chief Pilot for SoWind Air, who ran a scheduled service to and from Little Grand Rapids every day in the AM, and also PM. Little Grand and Pauingassi are only 9 miles apart, and Peter was in a Piper Chieftain, with a load of people. "Check that", I replied. About 3 minutes later I heard; "Hey UKN, Steve, he is just about to the top, and he is holding a brown paper bag, shaking his fist at us!" I guess so, he is over 300' off the ground, stoned, freezing, and there is a Chieftain whistling past him! Peter wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer. "Hey, Steve, I am heading south, have a look! See You later!" "OK, Peter", I replied. I continued to Pauingassi, arriving about 5 minutes later. I was curious, also, wanting to have a look, but not wanting to get too close so as to make the poor fellow fall. I flew by at a distance, but could see the fellow very clearly, and he had the bag held close to his face. Another thing I noticed? The "hoar frost" was still here, in Pauingassi!!!

I landed UKN, and it was noticeably colder this much farther north. As I taxied to the dock, the whole shoreline, docks, buildings, vehicles, AND the CBC repeater tower were still covered in hoar frost! And it was as thick as in Riverton when I first awakened! I found out later from a construction worker that the sky in Pauingassi had cleared off the previous evening, and it had frozen, but early in the AM the overcast rolled in. This blocked the heat from the sun, and therefore, it was still below 0*C, and the hoar frost remained.

The boys from Arnason Industries helped me unload, and told me the RCMP had been alerted about the "climber". As I stood on the dock, "watched my breath", and watched the fellow up the tower, I couldn't believe it. He had been seen just before he went up the tower, and he had his brown bag, and "no gloves" on. I shook my head, and as I prepared to leave, I looked and saw that the "sniffer had made it to the very top, and was clinging to a small platform. His hands must have been frozen (along with his brain being half-baked)! I departed Pauingassi, feeling a "twinge" of pity for anyone who felt they had to sniff glue, and climb a 400' tower, covered in hoar frost, with no gloves on, with temperatures still below freezing.

Anyhow, I heard later, he finally came down, the RCMP nabbed him, and he was removed from the community immediately. Later on, after a "dry-out" stint, he went back home.
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This was just a memory from my past I thought I would share, after hearing about the "publicity" the substance abuse problem is now getting, reaching the Prime Minister's Office (as if that will help). There are so many factors involved in the problem of aboriginal substance abuse, that I won't get into my feelings here. That is another "post" somewhere down the line.

So, see some photos below of the "Pauingassi Tower". It is marked on aviation VNC maps at 400' agl, and whatever would possess someone to climb it in "freezing conditions", when it is covered in "hoar frost", while high on "glue", with "no gloves", is beyond me!

The "Pauingassi Tower" looms in the distance, as I approach the community, in stalwart Otter C-GHYB............... Posted by Picasa

The community of Pauingassi, with the "tower" protruding into the atmosphere................. Posted by Picasa

Another shot from altitude of the top of the Pauingassi Tower, albeit with temps above freezing................. Posted by Picasa

As I taxied in, I noticed, "Yes, that is one high friggin' tower"! Posted by Picasa

From the dock, the guide wires can be seen holding the 400' Pauingassi Tower in place. Notice the "broken window" on the house on the right of the photo.............. Posted by Picasa

UKN was the Otter I first spotted the "sniffer" on the Pauingassi tower from.............. Posted by Picasa

HYB was the "brute", 10 years plus later, that I took the Pauingassi Tower photos from............. Posted by Picasa

So, there is my memory. Too bad "sniffing" becomes such a terrible addiction. The "sniffers" hurt themselves and their families, but also others. In 1994, "sniffers" in Little Grand Rapids left "sniff rags" in the wing fuel tanks of a Piper Cherokee 140, and ultimately, the rags caused fuel starvation, and the plane crashed in the bush. Luckily, the occupants survived. Following, read the accident report, and I will "see you later".

Fuel Starvation
Collision with Terrain
Piper PA-28-140 Cherokee Cruiser C-GQPI
Little Grand Rapids, Manitoba 27 nm W
24 April 1994
Report Number A94C0065


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