In praise of Canada’s bush pilots….

bush pilots photo

“When Doctor Ronald Shemenski awoke the pain was still there. Grimacing as he rose slowly from his bunk he made up his mind. He couldn’t wait any longer.

In April 2001, Antarctica was plunged into perpetual sub-zero darkness of the southern winter. The -60 degree Celsius (-76 Fahrenheit) winds had swirled around the Amundsen Scott South Pole Station for days, imprisoning the 50 scientists and workers at the National Science Foundation research station in a tomb-like world.

Days earlier Doctor Shemenski had passed a gallstone but was now suffering from a pancreatic inflammation. It was a potentially dangerous condition requiring lifesaving surgery. As the only doctor at the research station, he transmitted an ultrasound image by satellite to a medical centre in Denver, Colorado. Shemenski’s diagnosis was confirmed by staff stateside, and they concurred that an evacuation was critical.

Distress calls to McMurdo, the nearest Antarctic base where giant Hercules transports could evacuate the doctor, disclosed the grim news that the freezing temperatures and darkness would prevent a rescue. In the winter the transports’ hydraulic fluid would congeal into a thick gel and electrical cables would snap.

A rescue had never been attempted at the height of an Antarctic winter, yet Sean Loutitt, an Alberta bush pilot working for Ken Borek Air, thought he could make it. Flying a rugged (Canadian built) twin-engined de Havilland Twin Otter, Loutitt, with co-pilot Mark Cary and flight engineer Norm Wong, flew out of Chile where he had picked up Doctor Betty Carlisle, Shermenski’s replacement, staging from Rothera, the British base on Adelaide Island near the western tip of Antarctica

When cautioned about his chances for success, Loutitt remarked that, like bush pilots before him, “We go places no one has ever been before.” – True-Life Adventures of Canada’s Bush Pilots‘ by Bill Zuk

And he did! Rescue accomplished.


See the original publication (click on image).

bush pilots coverBush pilots haul cargo to remote reserves along the West Coast of Canada. They ferry big-game hunters to base camps and fly-in fishermen to remote lodges. They take nature photographers to scenic vistas and archaeological explorers to their latest dig.Bush pilots and the planes they have flown are an exciting part of Canada’s aviation history. In his latest book Bill Zuk brings their exploits and adventures alive. With detailed descriptions of their planes, and stories of their daring and their bravery, he evokes our admiration for these enterprising men who have contributed so colourfully to the fabric of Canadian life.


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