SONDRESTROM AIR BASE, GREENLAND
"Thule One" was the radio call sign for the Thule Aero Club''s Cessna 172 aircraft.
Maybe the "One" indicated it was the only club aircraft, which it was.
However, Sondy Aero Club owned five aircraft, a Beech Baron, Cessna 185 (with hydraulic wheel skis), two Piper Cherokees (140 & 180 models) and a Piper Super Cub.
Having flown "Thule One" for approximately 100 flight hours I felt very confident landing and taking off from remote undeveloped locations.
Early spring at Sondy, and having a great desire to get "off-the-base," I decided to fly the Super Cub and brush up on off-airport operations.
It was one of those beautiful clear arctic days, unlimited visibility, and completely smooth air.
United States of America registered aircraft always begin with the letter "N." Danish registered aircraft always begin with "OY." This story is about Piper Super Cub OY-EAM.
I landed at some of our usual places, south of the Sondrestrom Fjord, took a few pictures of musk ox and stretched my legs. Heading back to the airport I decided to fly north of the fjord, needing just one more shot of adrenaline before putting the Super Cub to bed for a few days.
There were caribou north of the fjord and several hunting shacks had been built not too far from the road system. Sondrestrom is the proud owner of the longest road in Greenland - approximately 15 miles. That paved surface goes from the airport to the deep water shipping port.
Just about two miles north of the 15-mile road I spotted a hunting shack with what looked like a road leading directly to a shack. I flew over the area very low and slow looking at the hard-pack snow. The hard-packed snow surface was definitely long enough to land and take off again. Lightweight general aviation aircraft can land in a very short distance, however getting airborne again can become a real issue.
I wanted to extend the great feeling of "freedom" I had that beautiful spring day.
So, I came around on final approach to the hard-pack surface, planned to touch down early and taxi up to the shack.
Everything looked great, except I didn''t take time to examine my "ego."
As I descended close to the surface, my plan was to keep the aircraft just above the snow pack then gently apply back pressure to the control stick and the aircraft should settle onto the packed surface.
The plan went exactly as planned, until the aircraft began to decrease in speed and I felt the tires settle into the snow! Crap!!
All of a sudden my mind returned to a story about the time an old time Sondy pilot landed on the snow pack at Jacobshaven and tipped the aircraft on it''s nose.
It took six months of repairs before the aircraft could fly home.
As the Super Cub slowed down and sunk deeper into the snow, I realized I was landing on a soft snowmobile trail - not a road! Nonetheless, I didn''t give up on the landing because the tires were too far into the snow to take off again. Keeping the control stick buried in my belly, and just before coming to a complete stop, the tail section started to rise off the snow. I was helpless at this point. It seemed the aircraft now had a mind of its own and "it" wanted the tail section vertical. Soon I was looking through the windscreen at nothing but snow. OY-EAM was tail up, nose down.
The propeller hit the snow and bent. Finally the aircraft came to rest balanced on its left wing. I quickly turned off the fuel system, master switch, unbuckled my seat belt and fell out of cockpit on my face onto the snow. Everything happened so fast that my mind was not catching up to the present â€¦ I did realize I was in deep shit!
My flight plan, filed at Sondy Base Operations, indicated flying south of the fjord, so later if there were a search party they would be looking someplace where I wasn''t. It was going to be dark in a few hours and after the accident I was starting to shiver from the cold, while shock set in.
Being sure I could safely turn on the aircraft electric system, I tried to radio Sondrestrom Tower, I could hear them transmit to airport vehicles but it was obvious they could not hear me. I pushed the Super Cub back on its tail and it didn''t look too bad, however with a bent propeller it wasn''t being flown from the hunting shack today.
My luck began to turn. I remembered the C-141 from Thule would soon be flying down the fjord. I tuned the radio to Sondy Approach Control frequency and made a few radio calls to see if anyone could hear me. My face lit up when the C-141 pilot heard me call a third time. The pilot community in Greenland is a very small group of people so we knew each other or at least knew of the other pilots by name.
It was a comfort to hear the C-141 pilot say "Andy is that you?" I explained my stupid landing, that I''d walk to the paved road, and asked if he could let the tower know I needed a vehicle ride back to the base. "No problem, glad to be of assistance."
It was my responsibility to get the plane back to base. Seven days later I recruited Danish friends. Equipped with three snowmobiles and a Track Master, we headed off to bring OY-EAM home. As we hooked up OY-EAM to the Track Master I remember hearing someone say, "the aircraft doesn''t look damaged, can''t you fly it home?" Looks are deceiving, the prop was bent and so was the fuselage. "No. Now there is no other option but to drag it home."
We placed a set of skis on, "reversed" to reduce resistance while towing.
Going down hill was interesting as OY-EAM started picking up speed and pushed the Track Master. Thoughts of having the Track Master break down kept coming into my mind.
I have to admit my Danish friends always kept a positive attitude and believed we would bring OY-EAM home without any additional damage. I wasn''t too sure when several times going down hill OY-EAM picked up speed and swung to our left or right. Before we knew it the Track Master and OY-EAM were in a neck-and-neck downhill race.
Aircraft always believe they are faster than Track Masters whether in the air or on the ground. Once OY-EAM starting going faster than us and before I could stop its momentum we were nose to nose - fortunately no additional damage.
OY-EAM on the road system and a happy exhausted recovery crew.
Fortunately the Aero Club had insurance to cover damages to aircraft or property. Over many years of flying in Greenland the club officers had several dealings with the insurance company regarding damaged aircraft.
The insurance company was very understanding and quickly delivered a check for $12,000.00. In today''s (2007) Alaska market a Super Cub in fair condition is valued at $50,000 - $60,000.00.
I felt terrible. However, the Super Cub was not the most popular club aircraft.
OY-EAM was not the most popular club aircraft because it would carry only two people - the pilot and one passenger. The club''s other aircraft all carried four people - the pilot and three passengers. More people to share the flying costs was the major factor in the club deciding to purchase a Piper Archer II, "OY-BRA
OY-BRA turned out to be the most rented aircraft in the fleet. In the end no one was hurt. OY-EAM was disassembled, shipped to Denmark and flying today.
The guy with the biggest smile you may ever see on a Track Master, Mogens Larsen, owns a Pegasus glider and summerhouse at Aaronsborgh Glider airport. Mogens is a glider instructor and competes in an annual Danish glider competition.
After 20 plus years in the United States Air Force, I retired. Today I am airport manager at the Lake Hood Seaplane Base (LHD), Anchorage, Alaska. Having over 1,000 general aviation aircraft, LHD is considered the largest seaplane base in the world. Having good friends around to help, mistakes usually can be overcome.