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Located on the North East coast of Vancouver Island, the radio station
at Port Hardy Airport was one of the biggest in Canada at the time. It
served the many regular commercial flights between Seattle and Alaska,
as well as local flights. In the late 1940s, Northwestern and Pan
American Airlines were flying D.C.3s and D.C.4s which landed at Port
Hardy for fuel. Air crews were given weather and air traffic
information for the region. This information was generally sent by
Morse code, as many aircraft were not equipped with audio radios.
First trained as a ships radio operator and then as a weather observer
at the Vancouver International Airport, David Williamson went with
three other graduates to Port Hardy in 1947. A year later, David and
several other men decided to get their pilots license. They contacted
the Aero Club of B.C. and persuaded them to conduct their first ever
lessons at a satellite field. The club sent two Tiger Moths and an
instructor. Soon after, seven of these new pilots paid $100 each to
purchase the Moth CF-CHT.
On November 15th 1949, David decided to fly down to Vancouver with a
stop over at Comox for fuel. He set out with Doug Fink, an airport
weather man, as passenger. When they took off, there was heavy, low
ceiling cloud on the island side but clear skies over the water
towards the mainland. Unfortunately, this condition persisted right
down the Island to Comox. David dropped down to see if visibility
improved, but it did not.
Here lay the problem. Not enough fuel to reach Vancouver or fly back
to Port Hardy? and no radio. David decided to cross over the water to
Powell River on the Mainland. With excellent visibility, David found a
deserted gravel road on which to land. He noticed the hydro lines on
an adjacent paved road, but not the anchor guy wire which crossed the
gravel road. The Tiger Moth's tires hit that wire dead in the middle.
No longer lined up straight on the road, a wing tip hit the roadside
embankment, causing a ground loop.
David and Doug walked away with only a scratch, but CF-CHT faired
worse. It was barged down to Vancouver where it was salvaged for
David Williamson has a wonderful sense of humor. Now, many years
later, he laughs that a weatherman and a radio operator were caught by
the clouds in an airplane with no radio.
By Philip Ward
18 years ago