Pilot Barry Howe comes to rescue of crashed floatplane

Bush pilot Barry Howe tells CBC about finding a downed floatplane near Wollaston Lake on Friday and helping rescue the pilot and passenger.

Ontario doctor crashes in northern Saskatchewan on way to Yellowknife

Scene of the crash. (Barry Howe)

It started with a mayday call.

Barry Howe and Ian Gainer were on a supply run in their floatplane to northern mining camps for Osprey Wings early Friday afternoon.

"We kind of heard on one of our radios that there was a downed aircraft or a crash or something," Howe said.

Howe has flown in the north for 17 years. He said there was no hesitation when it came to deciding to help. The only question was whether they had enough fuel. 

A head's up pilot

Pilot Henry Chapeskie gets medical attention at scene. (Barry Howe)
"The pilot of the downed aircraft had the presence of mind to give his actual GPS co-ordinates," Howe said.

"We copied those down, put them in our GPS. It wasn't a search then, it was navigate to this point."

Howe and Gainer were the first to arrive at the crash site. Pilot Henry Chapeskie had put down his float plane on a strip of bush between two small lakes. From the air, it was a speck of white and blue against a green backdrop.

Howe said he got his plane down safely and taxied to the shore. After tying to line, he and Gainer trudged the 100 metres to the crash scene.

"We were pretty full of adrenaline at that point," he said.

He was still seated in the pilot seat, with his feet hanging out the airplane.- Barry Howe

The passenger of the plane met them. He was uninjured "and really excited. "He told Howe that Chapeskie was still in the plane, with a possible broken neck or back.

"He was still seated in the pilot seat, with his feet hanging out the airplane. He was quite uncomfortable at that point," Howe said.

Chapeskie insisted that they get him out of the plane.

Paper towel rolls and air mattresses

Howe and the two other men inflated air mattresses from the downed plane. They helped Chapeskie out of the plane – he was able to walk – and got him settled. Then, Howe said they collected rolls of paper towels from the crashed plane and used them to brace Chapeskie's neck and back.

Crash scene. (Barry Howe)
By this point, they knew that help was on the way so they didn't try to load the two men in their float plane. Rather, they set about about using axes and saws to clear a landing pad for the rescue helicopter.

Henry Chapeskie, the pilot, is a doctor from Thorndale, Ontario. He's recovering in hospital in Saskatoon. The cause of the crash is still under investigation. At the time, Chapeskie told Howe that he believed that he'd blown an alternator belt in his plane.

Howe is just glad he and Gainer could help.

"I'm really proud of Mr. Gainer's and I's efforts in this," he said.

"It's not something that's ever planned out."


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