'Auyuittuq' - The Land that Never Melts
Sometimes you have to make a decision
I departed ahead of a small commercial aircraft that was going to Iqaluit and he passed me as I climbed and headed across Cumberland Sound. About an hour and a half later, that plane ahead relayed from Iqaluit that the weather was deteriorating. I did not have enough fuel to return to Pangnirtung and besides there is no avgas available other than in Iqaluit. Soon I was talking to flight service and they described the worsening weather of rain and fog. At 25 miles out they asked if I was IFR capable, I was not (well legally anyway). The search and rescue aircraft out looking for Sam were listening as Iqaluit radio now asked: "What are your intentions?" The airport closed, I was 15 miles north flying below the clouds at 300 ft over the rocks. There are nothing but drumlins and eskers of stone and ice, no towers or wires or anything else constructed by humans to worry about, so I slowed down and contemplated my choices. A voice from the Hercules searching farther to the south suggested a strip between Iqaluit and Kimmirut but I would have to climb through and above unknown layers of cloud, so this was not an option. "Remain clear of the zone and what are your intentions " was the last thing I remember hearing. I saw the wall of fog ahead and when he stopped talking, I said, "I'm busy".
There was a small rocky hill beside a ridge, with two frozen ponds on either side. I setup an approach and landed on the uphill slope, shut down the engine, turned off all the switches, and then realized I had better tell someone that I was ok. Master switch on, radio on, I was a little shaky as I told the guy I was safe and sound, powered up the GPS and gave him my location at 7.31nm north of the airport. Later I would learn that Bert, who happens to be the Director of CASARA for this area, was listening to these conversations while he sat at the Search Headquarters, wondering if another search would be mounted. To look for me!
I had touched down and stopped in 65 paces, avoiding the larger rocks. I thought about walking back to Iqaluit but then decided that I would only have to come back later to retrieve the plane. I kept busy clearing a 250-foot strip of the larger rocks, up one side of the hill and part way down the other. Using some stones I made my own little Inuksuit to mark the left edge of this makeshift strip. I pulled the Husky backward down to my start point. At times I could not see more than 50 ft, as successive waves of fog rolled in from over the ridges of the nearby bay. I chatted to flight service with the handheld radio and then climbed into the back seat for a rest. At 23:00 it was still twilight, at 01:30 I awoke from my nap to answer the call of nature and see the red reflection of the sunrise on the clouds. The wind had shifted and the fog was being blown back out. A quick call to flight service confirmed that the airport was VFR, so I stuffed everything into the back seat and lifted off as the mains started down the other side of my little hill. A Hercules was departing on another search mission to the south just before I landed and taxied back to my parking spot.
A taxi ride is $3.50CDN anywhere in town, we picked up another fare of two rather inebriated women, and I got out at Bert's house. It was 03:00 but Bert got up to listen to my story and watch the video, then we both tried to get some sleep. The weather was improving on July 4th but I was exhausted from the excitement of the previous day and I was not about to go anywhere. I talked with North Bay radio to get a better weather picture. There was a high-pressure cell building over Hudson Bay. Bert took me to the museum and told me more of the history and culture of this land and its people. Back at the airport, we emptied the gas from the Husky into my jerry cans, then I taxied to the fueling station and put almost 53 gallons into the tanks (the Husky has 52 gallons of useable fuel). 100LL was 74 cents a liter, they were still using 1999 prices, I guess because it was shipped the year before.
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