North

Pilot recalls Nunavut man's leap from plane

CBC News

April 14, 2010

Julian Tologanak, 20, was supposed to fly from Yellowknife to Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, on April 15, 2009. He is believed to have jumped out of the plane about 200 kilometres from the western Nunavut hamlet.

The pilot flying Julian Tologanak home gave harrowing details Wednesday about the Cambridge Bay man's mid-flight leap from the aircraft.

Tologanak, 20, was on the Adlair Aviation charter flight to Cambridge Bay from Yellowknife on April 15, 2009, when he forced open the small twin-engine aircraft's door and leaped out at an altitude of 7,000 metres.

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Tologanak's body has never been found, although it's believed he had jumped somewhere near Umingmaktok, about 180 kilometres away from the Cambridge Bay airport.

The coroner's inquest, which runs this week  the western Nunavut hamlet, has heard that four people were aboard the King Air 200 aircraft when it left Yellowknife on April 15: Capt. Craig George, his co-pilot, Tologanak, and a female passenger.

Tologanak was brought to Adlair Aviation's hangar in a taxi from Stanton Territorial Hospital, where he had undergone a psychiatric assessment after he was arrested at a local hotel the night before.

The passengers and pilots waited for the weather to clear before the six-seat aircraft departed for Cambridge Bay, located about 850 kilometres northeast of the N.W.T. capital.

Tried to open door twice

Cambridge Bay is located about 850 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife.

George testified that at about 250 kilometres from Cambridge Bay, as he was about to begin the descent, a warning light started flashing on the instrument panel — someone was trying to open the aircraft door.

After the co-pilot screamed at Tologanak three times to sit down, Tologanak returned to his seat and buckled up his seatbelt, George said.

But a moment later, the warning light came on again, George testified.

"This time there was a lot more aggression," he said, describing Tologanak's effort to force open the door.

George said his immediate reaction was to knock Tologanak off his feet. In doing so, the captain pitched and rolled the aircraft.

"We still had 150 miles to go," George tearfully testified, before adding he decided to depressurize the plane in an attempt to subdue Tologanak by reducing the amount of oxygen in the cabin.

Emergency call

It was no more than 10 seconds later that Tologanak successfully opened the plane's door and jumped out, George said.

As the airplane slowly descended, its door flapping at the side of the fuselage and the cabin freezing cold, an emergency call was made to a radio control operator in North Bay, Ont., George said.

When the aircraft eventually landed in Cambridge Bay, they were met by RCMP officers and by Helen Tologanak, Julian's mother.

The inquest has already heard that Tologanak was in Yellowknife for a hockey tournament when he became distressed, eventually wielding a steak knife in a friend's hotel room early on the morning of April 15.

RCMP arrested him and took him to Stanton Territorial Hospital due to concerns he was suicidal. He underwent a psychiatric assessment and was released later that morning, so he could board the flight to Cambridge Bay that his mother had arranged.

Unusual situation

Also on Wednesday, Adlair Aviation general manager Paul Laserich testified that his company is a small, family-run business that, at the time, had no specific policy in place to deal with situations like Tologanak's.

Laserich said in his lifelong career in the aviation industry, he had never dealt with anything like Tologanak's situation before. He testified that the information he had from hospital officials was that Tologanak was safe and ready to board the flight.

He added that Adlair Aviation has always tried to help people in the North. In this case, he said,Tologanak was put on the plane, free of charge, as a favour to the man's family because Nunavut's medical travel office had denied the family's request for coverage.

But in the aftermath of Tologanak's death, Laserich said, Adlair Aviation no longer gives complimentary flights to hospital patients. Instead, every patient must be approved by the appropriate government authority, he said.

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