Alaska Air Tales – “Doctor in Peril”
A doctor takes an unfortunate step that could have been fatal.
Story by Bonnie Hemry
– from the book, Alaska Air Tales, written by Jack Gwaltney
It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon in July, 1978. Conditions were superb for flying and fishing. My husband, three and one-half children, and I decided to fly over to Lake Creek in our Cessna 180 to do some fishing. This would require landing on the Yentna River, which was the only dark cloud so far on the horizon of this perfect day. The river was running high and swift from recent rains and there were logs and debris floating on the surface. My husband who was a cautious pilot admitted some apprehension as we approached the river for a landing. Our three children were nestled and buckled snugly in the back seat, and I was settled in the front passenger seat.
The landing was perfect, and I knew my husband breathed a sigh of relief. As we taxied toward shore, a new challenge presented itself. Because the river was flowing so swiftly and the shore unprotected, it would be necessary to beach and tie down quickly to prevent the plane from floating downstream. I must admit that often when flying, I was a passenger along for the ride rather than a co-pilot in assisting. This day, however, sensing the urgency of the situation, I was eager to be helpful. My husband asked me to be ready to help tie down the plane after we were beached. I consented. He cut the engine and the plane glided toward the narrow sandy beach. I prepared by opening my door and stepping out onto the float. I could see the tie-down rope trailing from the front tip of the right float. As we hit the sand, I ran forward in a bent over position to grasp the rope in the water as soon as possible.
The next thing I knew I was lying on the sandy beach. My husband was screaming my name. He came rushing toward me in a frenzy that I had never observed before. I felt stunned, the sand was cold and wet, and I wondered how I came to be lying there. After several seconds, a searing pain began in my left shoulder and crescendoed to an intensity that finally made me realize I had been struck by the airplane propeller. Being a doctor, my mind made a rapid assessment. Was the blow fatal? How badly was I injured? My shirt was soaked with blood, but I was able to breathe. I seemed to pass out at that point.
My husband’s screams brought a nearby fisherman running to our aid. He happened to be our next-door neighbor who had flown unbeknownst to us in his own plane to that same fishing area. He was eager to help. He took the back seat out of his Cessna 185. He and my husband lifted me into his plane for the trip back to Anchorage.
An ambulance was waiting at Lake Hood when we landed and took me to Providence Hospital emergency room. After several X-rays, it was determined that I had a fractured left clavicle and scapula. The doctors put on a sling, gave me pain medication and sent me home after several hours. There I recovered well. Six months later, a very healthy little girl was born to us who showed no effects of the trauma which she and her mother had experienced when she was but four months gestational age.
I praise God that He spared my life and the life of our unborn daughter in that instant of time. What I am equally grateful for is the preservation of the lives of our three older children. You see, in all the fuss and flurry over my accident, the plane with our three children in the back seat never did get tied down. This is despite all our initial fervor (and carelessness) directed to beaching the plane so it would not float away. They sat in the back seat throughout the events on the beach without ever knowing what had happened. But by the grace of God, the plane did not drift down that swift river with them in it!
In flying I have learned that carelessness and overconfidence are usually far more dangerous than deliberately accepted risks.
Wilbur Wright in letter to his father, September 1900
If you enjoyed, “Doctor in Peril,” and love reading about Alaska air tales, buy the book: Alaska Air Tales by Jack Gwaltney and Larry Kanuit.
Read another great story from Alaska Air Tales—”Thick Fog, No Land In Sight And Low On Fuel – ‘An Unexpected Emergency.‘”