Nfld. & Labrador

Iced in? Fly out: Labrador man charters plane after Apollo ferry stranded

From sea to sky — MV Apollo stranded passengers decided not to wait for a thaw.

Delbert Pike fuming over provincial government not providing air travel sooner

Delbert Pike said a group of about 16 passengers ended up flying on the chartered Air Labrador plane from Blanc Sablon to St. Anthony on Tuesday. (Delbert Pike/Facebook)

A Labrador man so fed up with ferry delays caused by thick ice in the Strait of Belle Isle took matters into his own hands — and took to the skies. 

"We had no other choice but to charter [a plane from Blanc Sablon to St. Anthony]," says Delbert Pike, who lives in Labrador. 

He and his family were travelling to St. John's this week for a wedding. Pike said they allowed for an extra travel day in anticipation of the thick ice in the path of the MV Apollo but, with no thaw in sight, he had to act. 

Delbert Pike says air travel should have been arranged by the provincial government much sooner than it was for stranded MV Apollo passengers. (Delbert Pike/Facebook)

Pike heard another man was also looking into chartering a plane, so the two got in touch and soon, they had about 16 passengers on Tuesday's flight from Blanc Sablon to St. Anthony, which cost $3,000 in total. 

"There was other people there, actually flying south, there was people there trying to go back to work, from the Labrador side," he told CBC Radio's Corner Brook Morning Show.

'It's not good enough'

But just because Pike is no longer stuck, that doesn't mean all's well that ends well. 

"It's not good at all. I mean, the fact is God made the world in six days, on the seventh, he rests. But it takes this province friggin' five days to set up a flight plan ... it's not good enough," said Pike. 

Labrador Marine says flights are being offered Thursday and Friday for ferry passengers that had reservations — but people "will be accommodated in reservation order, starting with Monday, April 17," according to its website. 

The MV Apollo was stuck in ice for 30 hours on its way to Blanc Sablon earlier this month. (CBC)

Pike argues that's too little, too late.. 

"They should have something in place long before now to accommodate people," he said.

"Fact is, people are on the move now all year round. One time, 25 years ago, people didn't travel much in winter, they made their plans for in the spring."

Even icebreakers thwarted by ice

Pike questions just how consistent icebreakers have been in the area, but Captain Windross Banton of the CCGS Terry Fox said it has been beyond busy. 

"It's been non-stop for us over the last three months," he said.

Banton said even the mightiest of vessels can't quite conquer the pack ice, noting "unfortunately there comes a time when Terry Fox becomes next to useless." 

"Conditions, to say the least, are extreme with respect to the ice cover and the ice type. The amount of ice that's there for this time of year is certainly out of the ordinary."

Captain Windross Banton says the CCGS Terry Fox icebreaker can only do so much to get a ship moving, because ice fills in around the path that gets cleared. (Canadian Coast Guard/Twitter)

Banton said the CCGS Terry Fox will arrive in Corner Brook later Thursday when, after a crew change, it will head back to the Strait of Belle Isle and try and clear a path — something Banton believes isn't a guaranteed success. 

"When it comes to breaking out a ship or getting a ship moving, it's very difficult. In a lot of cases, it's not doable," he said. 

"Because when you look at the pressure on the ice, as soon as the ice breaker moves through it, the ice just fills in around the ice breaker and the track that she makes. So essentially, everything comes to a standstill."

With files from Corner Brook Morning Show