B.C. pilot avoids tragedy as small plane lands on glacier, 'like on a pillow'
SURREY, B.C. -- When an experienced Surrey, B.C., pilot agreed to take a friend and a Polish visitor on a short sightseeing flight over the snow-covered mountains north of Vancouver, he had no idea they would soon be landing on top of a glacier.
But first, 81-year-old Vern Hannah would demonstrate some remarkable flying skills that would keep all three of them alive.
His single-engine Beechcraft Musketeer took off in clear, warm weather Sunday morning from the Pitt Meadows airport, east of Vancouver, on a 140-kilometre trip north via Indian Arm to Pemberton.
Aboard were Peter Jedynakiewicz, 54, a glider pilot with a few hours of flight school under his belt, and his 27-year-old visitor from Poland, who'd never flown in a small plane.
The trio took off at about 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, and everything went well until Hannah misjudged his position and angled into a valley far south of his destination.
"We thought we were turning into Whistler valley, but we turned one too soon and it's a blind valley. You've got to climb out over the top and we didn't have enough power to climb out," he said Tuesday.
They were trapped, with the mountains rising faster than the 1960s-era plane could climb.
"When we got up close to stall speed the only way that I could avoid stalling was to lower the nose and take a run at the next little hill," he said.
"There's a bunch of rises going up that little valley so I would lower the nose and go as hard as I could go, then jump up over the rock pile. But (the plane) would come right back to stall speed and the next thing would be another little valley."
The plane stalled on a glacier, and there was no way to climb over that.
Jedynakiewicz said the aircraft came down on the glacier "like on a pillow," adding the impact knocked out the radio but left the plane almost undamaged and the three men unhurt.
"I think the wing tips only missed the rock pile by about a foot," Hannah said. "There was rocks on one side and a waterfall right in front of us and we jumped over the waterfall (to reach the glacier). So it was touch and go all right. It was a miracle."
The adventure didn't end there.
"We crawled on our knees to get out of the glacier so we can be on the ground, not on the ice, because it was very deep and you could easily go inside and nobody would find you," Jedynakiewicz said, adding the three had to avoid crevasses as they escaped the plane.
Lacking coats, they grabbed brightly coloured life-jackets and the Musketeer's protective canopy, left a note in the plane and started down the mountainside toward a river.
"We follow the river so anybody can find us because we have water to drink," Jedynakiewicz said. "This water saved our lives because of the hot weather. We dried so fast, I drank maybe 10 gallons in just two days."
Hannah urged the pair to go ahead, leaving him near the stream with a life-jacket and the canopy for warmth.
Search planes scoured the valleys to the north on Sunday night and all day Monday.
The Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Victoria credited a snowmobiler for spotting and reporting the downed plane.
Hannah, Jedynakiewicz and the visiting Pole were safely reunited with friends and family by Monday evening, suffering only mild dehydration.
"Peter's son was there, his daughter-in-law and a bunch of friends because they heard we were coming in, so we had quite a tearful reunion," Hannah said.
"Experience does pay off," he said. "It saved us this time, anyway."