British Columbia

'Hold on dad!' Pilot ditches plane near B.C. north coast

Frank Schlichting and his 75-year-old father were only about 15 minutes from Port Hardy, B.C., when he knew the plane he was flying wasn't going to land on solid ground.

'[The plane] just kind of skipped like throwing a rock ... and then it just settled right down'

Frank Schlichting with his plane in a 2015 photo from Facebook. Schlichting was forced to land his plane in the water when it ran out of fuel on Monday. (Willy Trinker/Facebook)

Frank Schlichting and his 75-year-old father were only about 15 minutes from Port Hardy, B.C., when he knew the plane he was flying wasn't going to land on solid ground.

"As we got closer there was no way we could land on the beach — there were just huge boulders. So I said, 'hold on dad, I'm going to have to ditch her," Schlichting said.

Landing on the beach wasn't part of their original plan either.

The 53-year-old pilot from Grand Forks, B.C., had picked up his dad in Qualicum Beach and on Monday the pair were en route to the Bella Bella region to meet with Schlichting's brother. 

Schlichting says the weather wasn't great when they left Vancouver Island, so he stocked up on extra fuel, just in case.

That proved to be a wise decision — as they approached their intended destination, the weather got increasing rough and Schlichting decided to double back to Port Hardy on northern Vancouver Island. 

Running out of fuel

But Schlichting says they burned increasing amounts of fuel as the strong headwinds slowed them down. 

"We knew we didn't have enough fuel to make it back to Port Hardy, and we were above the clouds so we couldn't even see the terrain," he said. 

"There were no airports that we could fly to, so we had to plan to land the plane somewhere."

In the meantime, he called mayday. 

Frank Schlichting wears the headset he grabbed as he swam out of the plane he was forced to ditch due to bad weather on Monday. (Lindsay Sample/CBC)

Schlichting says his digital navigation system showed there was an island nearby with what looked like logging roads. But as they approached they saw those were all overgrown. 

"I didn't wan to land in the middle of the ocean because obviously we'd drown, so we had to be near the coast somewhere," he said. 

"And then looking way up the inlet I could see a beach in the distance. So I said to my dad, 'hang on! We're going to land on that beach,'" he said. 

They had 10 minutes of fuel left. 

Swimming through kelp

As they got closer, Schlichting saw their plan would be foiled by large boulders on the beach that made it impossible for them to land. His last-ditch effort was to aim for the water close to shore so he and his dad wouldn't have far to swim.

"[The plane] just kind of skipped like throwing a rock, I suppose ... and then it just settled right down," he said. "We just stopped and it was actually a really gentle landing."

Schlichting says they opened their doors as water started flooding the plane. He grabbed his headset and his dad grabbed his knapsack. 

Even though they were only about 100 metres from shore, it took them more effort to swim to safety than they anticipated. 

"We swam about maybe 10 or 15 metres and there was a big kelp bed," he said.

But once they got past that hurdle, it was smooth swimming.

"We kind of made jokes about it because we're swimming along and I said, 'Jeez, this seems kind of refreshing to swim,'" he said. "We said if it was under better circumstances we'd be having a better time of it."

A Canadian Forces team arrived about 90 minutes later to rescue them. 

Images from a Canadian Forces rescue plane show where Frank Schlichting and his father landed in the water. (Courtesy: Canadian Armed Forces)

With files from Lindsay Sample

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