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Arctic Survival

De Havilland Beaver Photo: geoftheref/Foter/CC BY-NC-ND

De Havilland Beaver Photo: geoftheref/Foter/CC BY-NC-ND

[by Earl Blacklock] When Canadian bush pilot Robert Gauchie left Cambridge Bay on February 2, 1967, he had every reason to be confident he would arrive in Yellowknife, less than six hours away, by late afternoon. He flew a single-engine Beaver, built to be both rugged and reliable. He had every kind of communication and navigational aid available.

Just over two hours later, Gauchie encountered a driving snowstorm. When he attempted to set up an instrument course, he discovered two crucial instruments – his turn-and-bank indicator and his artificial horizon – were not working. Descending quickly, he flew by sight until he spotted a stretch of clear ice. There he set his craft down.

When dawn arrived, he heated his engine and took off again. Then his compass failed. With the weather worsening, and his plane running low on fuel, Gauchie knew he was in trouble. He radioed for help, and received a weak signal from a plane near Yellowknife, which instructed him to land and activate his search and rescue transmitter.  “We’ll have you out in a couple of hours”, the voice said.

After Gauchie landed, he depressed the switch on the transmitter. It didn’t work. Nor did his Crash Position Indicator or his radio. Every instrument important to his survival had failed. All he had left was his cargo of frozen arctic char, emergency rations, and a survival kit. Gauchie knew he was in trouble. Temperatures were dangerously low, dipping to as low as minus 54, and his flight path had changed because of the instrument problems.

Frances Gauthier waited for news of her husband’s rescue, and she prayed a prayer each time the phone rang. After two weeks, the official search was called off, but residents raised money to continue. After Gauthier was missing four weeks, Frances began preparing for a memorial service.

In the meantime, Gauthier was determined to survive. He spent most of his time in his sleeping bag, on occasion inspecting his frostbitten toes, ready to chop them off at the first sign of gangrene. He ate from his emergency rations, but he couldn’t manage to down any of the frozen fish. He began to keep a diary in which he wrote a note to his family. He ended the note, “Please pray for me.” On March 28, he wrote to Frances, “Well, honey, at least you’ll know that I tried to come back to you.”

Four days later, Ronald Sheardown and co-pilot Glen Stevens left Yellowknife. They had left late, so their flight path took them over Gauthier’s plane near sunset. Stevens caught a flash of the setting sun against what could have been glass, and they turned to take another look. They saw Gauthier, walking around his plane, waiting for rescue “like a man waiting for a bus”. He had been missing 58 days.

Few of us have the kind of trouble that Gauthier had, but Jesus reminds us in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

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