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Day 22: The Crash

I woke up with a very big smile on my face. I removed the improvised iron plate (that served as a curtain) from the window and saw a nice blue sky with some layered clouds. During my strong breakfast, Aziz told the cook to prepare some sandwiches for my flight. It was going to be a rather short flight, only 4 hours of flight time was expected. The fuel handler in Cambridge Bay (CYCB) was informed of my arrival, the plane was repaired, the bill for my rather long stay in Resolute Bay was settled with Aziz the day before.

Now it was time for goodbyes. I thanked Aziz for his hospitality and resourcefulness, wished the house keeping lady all the best with her further plans in the Canadian North and collected my rather big lunch pack from Randy. I did not realize it at the time, but this was a very special goodbye.

Although I am realistic enough to know that chances are slim I will ever see the people I met on my trip again, there was one person I am unfortunately absolutely certain about that I will never see him again. Randy would die in a plane crash one month later, while returning to Resolute. In total, 12 people lost their lives in the accident. When you consider how small a community as the one in Resolute really is, it is almost impossible to imagine what a shock it must have been for all of the people in the North.

On the 24th of July, none of this had happened yet, so my mind was only filled with positive thoughts and the sense for adventure. After arriving back at the airport, I started my normal routine: fuelling the plane and loading it with all my gear. I said goodbye to the local controller, and paid off my debt with 2 bottles of coke.

A few minutes later I was airborne again. I climbed through some clouds and waved goodbye to Resolute. Gradually, I saw the ice making room for the dark blue water and the rocks were changing into gravel and little lakes. A lot of little lakes. About 4 hours later I had Cambridge Bay in sight. Finding the town was easy, finding the airport not so. I saw another airplane approaching the airport, which made it a bit easier to spot the runway. I made a smooth landing and I was very happy that this brought me one step closer to home.

Again, it was time to start the fuelling process. This was my last fuel stop before returning to the heavily populated civilized world, so I decided to once again put two barrels of fuel in the airplane. I was parked close to some big airplanes. And as Murphy likes it, the big plane was parked between me and the fuel drums. In the typical friendly and helpful Canadian style, one of the maintenance/airport Crew helped me to roll the drums I bought to my airplane, underneath the big jet’s running APU, which was quite hot and extremely loud. Business as usual in Canada.

This time, the fuel drums were only expired for 3 months (instead of 3 years as was the case in Eureka). So yeah, fresh fuel ! The fact that this was the last time I had to refuel from barrels gave me the strength to carry on and endure the finger cuts, fuel spills, itchy skin, bruised head (because of bumping into the wings multiple times) and the mosquitoes once more. Only one hour later, the fuelling was completed. It was time to call my hosts now.

The friendly people I contacted via the Couchsurfing website picked me up and drove my house. Your house? Yes, my house. Apparently, there was a very friendly Canadian Ranger living in Cambridge Bay. When he is away travelling (which happens frequently apparently), everybody can use his house and make themselves at home. Taking hospitality to a whole new level! The Ranger left all kinds of notes everywhere. Containing valuable pratical information regarding the operation of the appliances in the house and information about rental services, taxi service, fuel delivery etc.

I was settled in, so now I could turn my attention to finding the beaver pilot who offered me a ride. After a brief search I found the landing place of the beavers. After waiting about an hour, I saw the pilot landing. I introduces myself as the crazy pilot from the AvCanada board and he was surprised I showed up. The Beaver was a beautiful airplane. Quite difficult to climb in though. He gave me a quick introduction to the instruments and how he usually flies it. While I was sitting there, he loaded the plane with barrels. The general message from his tales was that flying in the North was beautiful, but could also be dangerous. You had to pay attention all the time, because something could always go wrong. Prophetic words… He didn’t have time tonight to take me for a ride because he had to work, but he would try to work something out with his boss for the next day.

I thanked him for the tour, took a quick photograph, and he asked his colleague to drive me home. We saw him taxiing over the water, starting his take-off roll, rotating, floating above the water, and then silence, followed by a splash in the water a few seconds later.

My driver turned a bit paler and looked for his binoculars. The plane had come to a stop just before the shoreline. The pilot climbed tried to start the engine again to taxi back to the airport. We heard him try about a dozen times, without success. In the mean time an improvised rescue attempt was made and two motorboats were rushing over to the plane. They towed the plane back. The driver dropped me off and rushed back to the airport. I decided to stay out of their way and walked back to my house.

I took some food from my many bags and improvised a dinner. This was the first time I wasn’t sad that I missed a flight. The next morning I would try to get a hold of the pilot and try to get an explanation about what happened. But first, time to sleep.

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