Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Podunk Below the Masthead, Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A pair of American adventurers spend some unplanned time in the wilderness of Work Channel, details on the bail conditions from a murder trial and diligence is urged for local parents after an incident last month, some of the items of note for Wednesday.

Daily News, front page, headline story
LUCKY TO BE ALIVE-- More details on a weekend incident which saw two American men, travelling from Alaska to Alabama in a Cessna, crash near Work Channel just north of Prince Rupert. The Daily News outlines some of the background of their harrowing ordeal (Daily News Archive Article)

The Nisga'a Lisms government is putting its full backing behind a plan to introduce both the Nisga'a and Haida languages into the school curriculum for School District 52 ( Daily News Archive Article)

Prince Rupert's employment situation, it's rising EI claims this year and the spin off effects from the local situation were the key points of an article that examined a number of different aspects of the local labour scene. (Daily News Archive Article )

14 conditions and a curfew are among the items of note in the trial of the first murder suspect in Prince Rupert in five years. Analee Auckland was granted bail in the murder case of Melvin Christison, Auckland has been charged with his murder, an incident which took place in June of this year. While she is no longer in custody, there are a number of stringent conditions that were outlined by Judge Douglas Halfyard, who also placed a 1,000 dollar bail on bond for her release.

Among the most noteworthy of his instructions, she is not to reside in Prince Rupert, but not to leave the province, to that end she will be living in Kitimat for the duration of her trial and must leave Prince Rupert within 48 hours of her court appearances and is not to have contact with a number of Prince Rupert residents named in court.

Her next appearance is set for October 8 at 11 am.

The Sports section featured a look at the ongoing high school volleyball season.

Northern View, Web Extra
RCMP urge diligence following apparent abduction attempt in Prince Rupert-- The RCMP is reminding parents to remind their children of the dangers of talking with strangers, after a reported incident on the city's east side last month. While the RCMP were issuing that reminder, the boys father was expressing his frustration to the Northern View, outlining some of the details of the incident and how he believes the RCMP could have handled the situation better (see article here)

Northern BC Winter Games "Where Fun Reigns"-- Prince Rupert's Northern BC Winter Games office is officially open and with that the process of making the community ready to welcome its guests in February is now underway. (see article here)

Daily News, front page, headline story
Lucky to be Alive
By Monica Lamb-Yorski
The Prince Rupert Daily News
Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Two Americans are still scratching their heads after they survived a plane crash Friday on B.C.'s North Coast.

Bill Sigler, 66, and Carl Grantham, 62, crashed into a hemlock tree canopy on the side of a mountain.

They crawled out of their 1946 Cessna, hiked down about 200 feet and spent the night on a cliff, 30 feet above Work Channel.

The men could not get their handheld radio or SPOT satellite locator to work until the next morning. They finally achieved success after sticking a 14-gauge wire into the top of their hand held radio and sent out a mayday.

When the signal was picked up by the Victoria Rescue Centre, they tasked the Canadian Coast Guard vessel Point Henry, stationed out of Prince Rupert, and a Buffalo search and rescue airplane, stationed out of Comox.

"There's that story about the 100 cockroaches that cross the highway and all but one get killed and he's asking why me?" Sigler said Tuesday morning in Prince Rupert. "I think my mother's up in heaven and she turned in some chips."

At one point during the night, as the men lay in sleeping bags near a tree, with the temperature hovering at 5 degrees, Grantham asked Sigler, "Are we alive or dead?"

Four days after the crash it still seems surreal that they are alive with only a few bumps, scrapes and bruises.

Grantham suffered some blows to the hips and is walking with crutches, but said it could have been worse.

Sigler described the bruises on his own face similar to the outcome of a bar brawl.

The two have been friends for nine years. They met when Sigler was flying for a gold miner and Grantham was working as a technician.

On Friday the two were en route from Wrangell, Alaska to Gulf Shores, Alabama to attend a Cessna 120/140 International Convention. They had estimated their date of arrival in Alabama being October 14.

They were flying in a plane they affectionately call Sweet Bea or Beatrice. The plane belongs to Sigler's daughter and has been in the family since 1988.

Heading toward Terrace, they planned a stop to refuel and clear customs. As they flew along Work Channel, about 20 km north of Prince Rupert, Grantham saw a waterfowl strike the aircraft.

Sigler heard a strange clunk and noise and when he looked at the gauges saw the engine RPMS were increasing rapidly.

At 1400 feet, he began looking for a beach and seeing none, realized they were going to have to land on the tops of trees to avoid crashing into the channel.

As the plane descended to the canopy, travelling at about 65 km an hour, Sigler was thinking about the techniques he'd taught other pilots about making tree top landings. He has been a pilot since 1966.

In an email to friends, Sigler wrote, "I suggest stalling in the tops of 200 ft. trees and receiving warm fuzzies from evergreen boughs while they dissipate kinetic energy."

When asked if he had ever done a tree landing before he replied, "God no! You teach it in theory but you never actually do it."

Details of the crash are not all clear.

Grantham remembers the hemlock limbs going past the windshield as they slowed down to start falling through the trees, and then being half way down.

"Next I found myself outside the plane, standing 15 feet from it," Grantham said. "That point is blank. I don't remember getting out. As far as both of us know we never lost consciousness."

There is only one seatbelt in the plane, long enough to strap two people in. One of them must have taken off the seatbelt, but neither of them remembers doing it.

Grantham hopes bits and pieces about the accident will come back over the next few months.

"It was a horrible hit. I have got bruises all over and I must have got up against the yoke because my lower thighs are really bruised," he said.

During their night on the mountain, the two slept, but Grantham kept hearing noises and was worried there might be a grizzly bear nearby.

In the morning light he realized the sounds he had heard were coming from humpback whales swimming below in the channel.

Les Palmer, Chief Officer on the Point Henry, was part of the rescue team.

He and his colleague, Bruce Hansen, arrived an hour and fifteen minutes after receiving the call from Victoria Rescue, attending the scene in a Hurricane Zodiac.

"We scouted the water but never located anything in the water so we started looking up toward the mountain and finally saw a white bag flickering from the cliff," said Palmer.

After spotting the flag, Palmer hiked up, found the men and assessed that Grantham needed to be brought down in a stretcher.

"It was pretty emotional. They were excited to see me," Palmer stated. "There was a VIH helicopter nearby with three persons on board that landed 400 feet from the beach sight and came over and gave us a hand."

The rescue crew wanted Grantham to travel to Prince Rupert by helicopter, but he was determined to stay out of an aircraft. Instead they put him on the Point Henry, along with Sigler, and brought them to Prince Rupert.

"They are pretty lucky to be alive," Palmer noted. "To crash a plane in the bush, spend a night in the bush and be rescued the next day is remarkable. It was clear night with a full moon and they could not get a fire going."

While they waited in the forest, Sigler said he was trying to decide whether he should try and hike to Lax Kw' alaams, but knew that would have been a 10 mile trek and he was not keen to leave Grantham behind.

Sigler worked for the U.S. Coast Guard for 15 years and spent five of them going to crash sites.

"You are not usually going to find survivors when you go to those," Sigler observed, adding that four or five minutes before he made the emergency landing, they had been beyond gliding distance of land and on Monday, when he did some research on the Internet, he discovered Work Channel is over 500 feet deep.

"I guess it is that old 'Lucky Lindy' thing," he added.

Grantham can attest to that feeling of being saved by the bell.

"I have survived three cancer operations and now this. Somehow I am a survivor. It was not our time."

Today the Sigler and Grantham are travelling to the community of Lax Kw' alaams to ask for permission from the First Nations to go see the plane and retrieve what they can from the wreckage.

"Sweet Bea came to rest on Lax Kw' alaams territory and an eight inch diameter hemlock sacrificed its life to save us," Sigler said.

Sigler and Grantham expressed their gratitude to Capt Garry Koop and crew members Les, Bob, Bill Bruce for their services 'above and beyond'.

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