• A Strange Tale

In the Navy, tales are often prefaced with the statement, “This is a no-shit story,” which of course immediately makes its voracity suspect. This, however, is not such a story. While I can’t personally vouch for all the details, I can say that these are the facts as I know them unless stated otherwise. Those facts that I can’t speak for are from sources I trust completely.

Part The First

A Cessna Citation crashed January 24th, 2006 at Palomar Airport (KCRQ sometimes also referred to as CLD) killing three people and the pilot. The NTSB report reads as follows:

NARRATIVE: Citation N86CE departed Sun Valley (SUN) at 05:50 MST on a flight to Carlsbad (CLD). The airplane climbed to its assigned cruising altitude of FL380, which was reached at about 06:06 MST. The descend for Carlsbad was started an hour later, at 06:06 PST. Air traffic control cleared the flightcrew for the ILS approach to runway 24, which was 4,897 feet long. The flightcrew then reported that they had the runway in sight, cancelled their IFR clearance, and executed a VFR approach in VFR conditions to the airport. The reported winds favored a landing toward the east, onto the opposite runway (runway 6). During the approach, after a query from the first officer, the captain indicated to the first officer that he was going to "...land to the east," consistent with the reported winds. However, the final approach and subsequent landing were made to runway 24, which produced a six-knot tailwind. During the approach sequence the captain maintained an airspeed that was approximately 30 knots higher than the correct airspeed for the aircraft's weight, resulting in the aircraft touching down about 1,500 feet further down the runway than normal, and much faster than normal. The captain then delayed the initiation of a go-around until the first officer asked if they were going around. Although the aircraft lifted off the runway surface prior to departing the paved overrun during the delayed go-around it impacted a localizer antenna platform, whose highest non-frangible structure was located approximately 304 feet past the end of the runway, and approximately two feet lower than the terrain at the departure end of the runway. The aircraft continued airborne as it flew over downsloping terrain for about 400 more feet before colliding with the terrain and a commercial storage building that was located at an elevation approximately 80 feet lower than the terrain at the end of the runway. The localizer antenna platform was located outside of the designated runway safety area, and met all applicable FAA siting requirements. PROBABLE CAUSE: "The captain's delayed decision to execute a balked landing (go-around) during the landing roll. Factors contributing to the accident include the captain's improper decision to land with a tailwind, his excessive airspeed on final approach, and his failure to attain a proper touchdown point during landing."

A friend, who is also a United 757 pilot, watched the landing from a passenger seat on a commuter airliner as he headed for LAX before a flight to Singapore. Sitting on the right side of the aircraft, he watched a Citation ”dive bomb the approach lights,” and noted that it seemed extremely fast as it crossed the threshold. The commuter taxied into position, but then exited the runway instead of taking off. As they taxied clear he saw the smoke at the departure end, and knew what happened. He talked with the commuters flight crew briefly, and then called us with his story a few minutes later while driving to work at LAX.

Part The Second

One of our pilots brought in a photocopy of (I believe) a Business & Commercial Aviation article written by a corporate pilot. Seems he was IFR holding near Aspen, working his way down the stack, and was stunned to hear a Citation call in VFR requesting landing clearance. The next day, in the FBO’s crew lounge he heard a pilot call Flight Service with the same N-number. After the call, the writer asked the pilot if he was the one flying the day before, and if so, how did he manage to get in VFR. The pilot said he was indeed the pilot, and bragged that he often used a special route through the mountains under the clouds to sneak in. The writer commented that what the pilot described would have violated a number of his company’s procedures not to mention several FAA regulations. The article concluded with the moral that taking such chances will eventually kill you—as it did in the case of this pilot and three other people at Palomar Airport when the Citation he was flying went off the end of the runway and burned.

Part The Third

A woman showed up at our door about two weeks ago, and asked if she could come in and look around, explaining that she was a neighbor and heard we’d done some things to our house. She wanted to make some changes too, and her’s was the same floor plan as ours. We showed her around, and as she left she invited us to a Fourth of July bash at her neighbors. We had previous plans for dinner with a group of our former pilots and their wives known as the Dinner Gang, so we stopped by the neighbors just for a few minutes to say hello. The neighbor‘s husband is a financial advisor, and on hearing I was a pilot told me that he and his partner had had a Citation. Said they had a really terrific pilot, very safety conscious; but sadly he was killed when his Citation went of the end of the runway at Palomar killing his copilot and two passengers too. Just couldn’t understand how that could happen. I mumbled something about rare Santa Ana winds from the east and dropped the topic.

Part The Fourth

At the Dinner Gang get-together later that evening I mentioned to one of our former pilots the strange coincidence of having just met someone who’d flown with the pilot that crashed at Palomar in the Citation back in 2006. Another pilot overheard my story, and added the final, and most bizarre twist to this tale.

Seems he was in Citation refresher ground school class recently, and one of the pilots in the class was asking very strange questions. So strange that the instructor asked the Chief Flight Instructor to sit through the next session, and see what he thought was going on. He too thought the questions were extraordinary—suggesting a complete lack of knowledge of aviation fundamentals. At the next break, he asked the pilot to step into his office. During the ensuing discussion it was revealed that the pilot was mega-rich, owned and flew his Citation himself, usually IFR, from Seattle to a ranch in Arizona. He’d never flown any other aircraft of any kind, and he didn’t have and never had a pilot‘s license or medical. A friend taught him to fly his jet.

I’ll bet you can guess who the ‘friend‘ was.

Part The Last: Moral

Why was the Citation that crashed at CRQ high on short final, why did he go off the end of the runway? Because at altitude the prevailing westerly winds were actually from the east and much stronger than the surface. Normal descent rates meant much longer than normal distance covered. In fact, the day before this crash I was at 3000 feet about 5 miles south of the airport in a biplane. In slow flight (about 40 mph) we were able to hang in one spot over the coast.

Why was he fast? Because he was high. So he tried to get down, and in a slick aircraft all that means is that you go faster. Plus he had that tailwind.

Why did he land long? Because he was high, fast, and had a tailwind. Although the dive bomber maneuver put him more or less in the right place over the threshold, all the extra speed meant he floated well down the runway.

Why didn’t he go around? Because he was trying to land. Sounds silly, but even experienced pilots can get fixated on the fact that they’re about to land (or takeoff), come hell or high water, and press on regardless of new factors that may have entered into the equation. Don’t know if it’s true, but I heard rumors that the Citation pax were running late for a meeting.

In our Twin Beech I brief before takeoff (out of earshot of passengers) that we’re going to try to takeoff, and if by some miracle everything cooperates so we can reach Vse, then we’ll proceed on our way. In other words I’m cocked to abort, not wired to fly. Same thing applies to landings. If everything cooperates we’re going to land. If not, we’ll go out and try it again. It is crucial, however, that you make that decision early. Wishful thinking and a late decision often means the aircraft staggers into the air (or not) with dire consequences. You're better off, if you decide too late, to take your licks and sacrifice the aircraft.

My Dad, a WW2 A-20 pilot, taught me that you have to always have options, and you have to fly in such a way as to maximize your options. The option of going around is good one to keep in mind.

• High Flight

This short movie was created using the marvelous IL2 1946 flight simulator. I offer it as a small token of appreciation (and envy) to the men and women that flew the Supermarine Spitfire.

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew -
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untresspassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

Pilot Officer Gillespie Magee
No 412 squadron, RCAF
Killed 11 December 1941

• A Bombardier's Tale

A first person account from a B-17 bombardier, in his words:

On mission days a special mindset evolved, one that embraced a sharpened focus on detailed information supporting the mission. An awareness of the importance of the mission also became paramount in your mind. Hopefully today´s effort would bring victory one step closer.

The day began with an early wake up call followed by breakfast. I allways had 2 eggs ( fresh eggs) followed by the mission briefing.

The OP-officer made a cordial greeting and the proceeded to tell us the name of the target of today. The reaction from the crews was predictable, if the target was on of the dreaded ones like Berlin, the audible groans and moans could be heard in the next building.

The briefing continued with the lenght of the trip flak in the target area and all the other important details we had to know. Specialty officers provided complete details of the trip from start to finish. When the flak analysis officer spoke you could hear a pin drop. All present had become very serious in there demeanor by the end of the briefing.

Following dismissal of the briefing all headed for the operations area to dress for the flight. Our clothing and other equipment were stored in personal lockers.

Dressing for the cold altitude temperatures took some time. The layer system was used to achieve an acceptable level of comfort in the sustained -55 to -70 degree Fahrenheit temperatures (-47 to -56 Degrees Celsius).

I started with long underwear and heavy wool socks. Regular GI pants and shirts (no id.patches ect.) followed. Next came the electrically heatet suit components (flight boot inserts, trousere and jacket). The design and appearance of these items was similar of that of an electric blanket. The inserts snapped into the trouser legs and and the trousers plugget into the jacket to complete the electricial circuit. Heatet gloves with silk liners were added later on in flight. The gloves snapped into the sleeves of the jacket. A pigtail lead cord from the trousers plugged into a 24-volt rheostat controlled outlet in the B-17 aircraft. A one-piece garbardine flightsuit sealed the body cloting. Lined flightboots, leather helmet with googles, o2 mask and .45 Cal. Pistol in a shoulderholster became added fixtures. The 2 final items were life preserver vest and parachute harness with walking shoes tied to the back in case it bacame necessary to abandon the aircraft in flight.

I checked out a chest pack parachute. My flaksuit and helmet were stored in the aircraft.

The muted sounds of the APU (auxiliary power unit) from around the field greeted us on arrival at the aircraft. Bombs had been loaded during the night and the .50 Cal. Gun barrels were in a neat row on the ground.

The B-17G was motionless. On opening the nose hatch and pitching in my chute, bombardiers case. 2 gunbarrels then swinging up into the aircraft a few groans were forthcomming from my added weight.

On damp, cool, misty morning, the odor inside was like that of a museum being opened to the early morning fresh air. Other groans, soft voises and a slight movement of the airframe became prominent as crewmembers completed their pre-flight duties.

I operated the twin .50 cal. guns in the chin turret. I would install two of the barrels in my guns, through my gear in the nose. While the aircraft was still on the ground with bomb bay doors open, I would check the bomb fuses, armature wires and the fuse cotter keys to be sure they were straight so I could pull them once in the air.

“Walking trough the props” became the next crew task. This produced a low bearing noise. With the crew back on board the awaited “start Engines” command was received. The first sign of bomber life gushed forth with a belch of black smoke. The sleeping giant was alive and from that moment on it became a beehive of activity that continued until we returned and shut down the engines.

We took-off one squadron at a time each aircraft at 30 second intervals. A full squadron would total 10 aircraft. Following take-off each squadron would form in a predetermined area the form as a Group.This was done in the dark so it was a challenge. Each squadron lead aircraft fired assigned colored flares to help in the process.

While the formation process was under way, I was in the bomb bay pulling the fuse cotter keys, checking one last time the armature wires, bomb shackles and bomb release units to be sure they were set for an armed bomb drop. When finished I would return to my station in the nose.

By this time we were approaching the English Channel at an altitude of about 10,000 feet when we went on oxygen. Our guns were test fired over the Channel. Our Group had taken it's place in the bomber stream which generally numbered between 1,300 and 1,500 bombers. Our P-51 fighter support, numbering between 150 and 200 joined us on reaching the Continent.

The bomber stream rate of climb was set to reach a minimum of 18,000 feet when crossing the enemy lines. This altitude generally protected us from small arms fire from the ground. By this time I would have started crew oxygen checks. This was done every four minutes to be sure all were safe. On the intercom I would say, "bombardier to crew, oxygen check tail to nose". Starting with the tail gunner all would check-in. If one of the crew did not, I would send one of the other crew members located close by to check on him. If an oxygen hose came loose, the individual simply went to sleep without notice. If not corrected, he could lose his life in a matter of minutes.

The bomber stream continued it's climb until reaching the assigned bombing altitude then would proceed on a predetermined course to the target area. It your group position in the stream was near the rear, it was a breath taking sight to see all those aircraft, bombers and support fighters, ahead of you. It was like driving on a white highway of vapor trails. However it was always better to be near the front in order to clear the target before the enemy flak guns had a chance to sharpen their sighting on the aircraft. From the time of clearing the enemy lines until returning to that point on the return, all crew members diligent in looking for enemy fighters.

On reaching the Initial Point (IP), the point where you started the bomb run, the bombardier became commander of the aircraft and had complete control of actions to take place. This authority lasted until "Bombs Away". Following the drop, the pilot would make a sharp turn clearing the area for the following aircraft and take up a heading for home which generally parallel the inbound course.

I can remember being early in the bomber stream and seeing all those aircraft heading into the target while we were on our way home. My thought as we passed them,"we made it and you can too".

The routine on the return flight was similar in many ways. Oxygen checks every four minutes and a continued look out for enemy fighters by all members of the crew. Assuming we were not attacked by fighters or flak, it was a matter of time until we reached an area close enough to the English Channel when we could remove our oxygen masks. This was done at about 15,000 feet. Boy did that feel good. By this time they had become very uncomfortable. Ice around the outer edges etc.

Following our landing at Molesworth, we were picked up by a truck and taken to the operations area for debriefing. This was done crew at a time so often we had to wait our turn. The interviewing officer always had questions. Then we had a chance to reveal anything we saw that was unusual like fighter attacks, uncharted flak spots etc.

On one of my missions we lost number three engine over enemy territory on the way in, couldn't keep up with group so had to abort. Got rid of the bombs through a solid layer of low clouds and turned for home. A few minutes later, a V-2 rocket came up through the clouds about two blocks off our right wing tip. Needless to say, the interviewing officer became very interested in learning the location etc.

Following debriefing, we got out of our flight attire and turned in parachutes etc. then dressed in regular uniform and headed for the Mess Hall for dinner. Following dinner, a time of fellowship, I headed for the gun shack to clean the gun barrels I used in my chin turret guns. Then directly to the barracks hoping to find mail from home. We often were on flight duty three days in a row so there wasn't time for the Officers' Club, girls, and bars. What we really craved was a time of rest.

• Rescue From Devil’s Canyon

by James D. Greiner

In most places below its confluence with the shallow and swift Chulitna, five miles above the approach to Don Sheldon’s backyard airstrip at Talkeetna, the Susitna River, or “Big Sue,” as it is known to Alaskans, is at least one-half mile in width.

There is, however, a place 65 miles above Talkeetna where this generous breadth shrinks to a measly 50 to 75 yards between vertical rock palisades. Here, during spring, the Susitna’s 6,750,000-gallon-per-minute flow attempts to surmount itself in a roaring dervish of hissing gray spume at a place called Devil’s Canyon.

Sheldon had been almost content with the transport of itinerant fishermen, miners, and homesteaders during the weeks that followed his rescue of a woman from the Talkeetna River, but this contentment was overshadowed by a vague restlessness. It was 1958, Sheldon was 36 and was more convinced than ever that his specialty flying would become the profitable venture that he had hoped for.

The arrival of the northbound train from Anchorage, an event of regular though transient interest, took on new dimensions that same afternoon. Sheldon noticed that a crowd had gathered on the planking near the station almost before the engine jarred to a stop and braked against the slight grade. Resting on a special flatcar like some huge landbound ark was a bright yellow boat, its bow decked over, and sporting two formidable looking engines in its capacious stern section. The detachment of U.S. Army scouts that presided spelled property of Uncle Sam.

As the 50-foot boat was being offloaded, Sheldon joined the group of curious spectators, and found that little if any information was being offered by the Army as to why the boat was there, or what it would be used for. Speculation was the order of the day, and Sheldon had already heard several rumors, when he spotted a vaguely familiar face among the GIs struggling with the boat. The officer was a lieutenant with the Search and Rescue section at Fort Richardson in Anchorage, and a casual acquaintance. He was busy checking a sheaf of dog-eared papers.
“Hi, hi! How’ve ya been?” grinned the pilot.

“Good, Don. How’s yourself?”

“Great. Hey, what’s the deal here? You guys goin’ fishing?”

The officer glanced once more at his paperwork and allowed that the boat was to be used in an attempt to chart navigable watershed in the Susitna drainage.

Sheldon was incredulous. “Hey, you don’t mean you’re going to attempt to run this thing up the Susitna and through the canyon?”

The lieutenant, who had never seen Devil’s Canyon, missed the surprise in Sheldon’s voice. His reply was curt and precise.

“That’s exactly what we plan to do, and as soon as we can get under way, the better.”
There wasn’t time for Sheldon to appraise the real chances of such a mission on such short notice, and even if there had been, he was sure that the officer was not particularly interested in his homespun opinions. He did, however, have a very vivid picture of the Devil’s Canyon, and had serious doubts about the possibility of the mission’s success.

“Lookee, I’ve got a heck of a lot of fishing traffic up that way in the next few days, and I’ll check on your progress from time to time.”

With the boat successfully launched, the small detachment of scouts that comprised the crew cast off, and with the powerful engines churning the current-roiled river, disappeared from view around the first upstream bend. Sheldon had flown over the five-mile stretch of boiling water in Devil’s Canyon many times. It was, in fact, a very familiar landmark to the pilot, one that he used often. From the air, the sheer rock walls of the canyon rising to 600 feet produced an awesome corridor, above which the air was characteristically turbulent, and at the bottom of which existed almost continual shadow. Of the current, Sheldon says, “The current here is so swift and heavy that even the salmon get beat to death trying to swim upriver.”

The day after the scouts started up the Susitna, Sheldon flew over the river to make a casual check on the progress of the boat, but did not see it. Since he was not really searching for it, he did not fly over the entire section in which he judged the party to be.

On the second day, he was curious, a trait which to date has accounted for not only his promptness in times of trouble, but to his own personal safety as well. This time, with two elderly fishermen aboard, and en route to Otter Lake north of Takleetna, he deliberately flew up the Susitna to the tail of the Devil’s Canyon rapids. As he reached the flume below the fast water, he banked sharply to the left, and rolled the portly Aeronca Sedan up on its ample side. Something had caught his attention at the periphery of his vision, and when he identified it on the second swing, his skin crawled.

“I was shocked to see pieces of yellow wreckage floating down the river. It was boiling.”
He continued the 10 miles to Otter Lake, offloaded his passengers, and quickly retraced his path to the rapids below Devil’s Canyon.

“I had a feeling this was a fresh wreck, and they’d really gotten clobbered. I saw barrels of gasoline bobbing around here and there. The wreckage was strewn downriver to a point almost 25 miles below the canyon, and it consisted mostly of bright yellow chunks of the boat’s hull and other debris, but no people.”

Sheldon then flew upriver, above the canyon itself, down to a point just above the rim, and after making several passes in the seething air, spotted a huddled group of men on a narrow ledge of wet rock in the shadows at the base of the north wall. Even from his vantage point, he could tell that they were in bad shape and in desperate need of assistance.

“They were in a terrible condition, cut up, and barely managing to cling to the shelf of rock. Their clothing was literally torn off, and a few of them still had life jackets on. These were also in shreds. They had apparently floated down about 60 percent of the canyon, a distance of about three miles.”

Because he knew the place so well, Sheldon could rapidly appraise his chances of retrieving these men, and they looked poor. The canyon walls at their top were but a scant 200 yards apart, and the river was a closed succession of hissing combers broaching over house-sized boulders in the river bottom.

His chances were not only poor, but probably nonexistent, for the Aeronca, though heavier than the Super Cub, weighed only a scant 1,400 pounds empty and would be tossed like a tiny rock, even if he somehow managed to land it on the surface of the river below, a feat which at this moment looked impossible.

To drop onto the surface of the rapids here would be suicide, for the floats needed a flat surface upon which to dissipate the inertia and forward momentum of the airplane. Sheldon needed little or no imagination whatsoever to visualize the results of running headlong at 65 miles an hour into any one of the tumbling white crests of water that surely towered up to six feet above the surface of the river.

“There was no place to land below them, it was just more of the same terrible rough water. I did a 180-degree turn, and about a quarter mile above the guys, I spotted a slick, high-velocity stretch of river that looked like it might be big enough. I made a couple of passes to try it on for size, and then set myself up for an up-canyon approach to the place. It looked mighty small.”

As Sheldon dropped the Aeronca below the tops of the canyon’s walls, he found himself flying in a narrow alleyway of wet spruce and vertical rock. The wings rocked with the turbulence produced by the unstable air of the canyon and he carefully adjusted his glide path. The floats were causing his airplane to respond to the controls in a delayed manner, which is normal, due to a lowered center of gravity, and in a routine landing produces no problems. Here, control of the airplane was everything, and Sheldon hitched forward as far as his seat would allow, to gain every last inch of forward visibility.

Even before the floats touched down, spray and mist from the river surface were streaking the plexiglass windshield of the Aeronca, and Sheldon had the compulsion to firewall the throttle plunger and climb away from the terrifying spectacle of the gray water, but he resisted it. Then he was down.

Sheldon was landing against a current in the magnitude of 30 miles per hour, and the plane decelerated at an alarming rate. When an airplane is moving through the air at an airspeed of 90 to 100 miles per hour, the control surfaces—ailerons, rudder and elevator—work at optimum efficiency. This is due to the rush of air over the wings and tail surfaces, produced not only by the forward motion of the plane through the air, but by the slipstream blast of the rotating propeller.
An airplane, out of its design element and on the ground or water, is much more difficult to control, primarily due to the loss of this forward velocity, when all that is left is the rush of air produced by the propeller. In addition, an airplane on floats is infinitely less maneuverable than one on wheels or even skis, and as a result, the Aeronca became an unresponsive deathtrap as it almost immediately began to accelerate downriver with the current.

“The nose wanted to swing in about every imaginable direction, but somehow I managed to keep it pointed upriver with the throttle. I was floating backward at about 25 miles an hour, the windows were fogged, and I couldn’t see where I was going.”

Sheldon was certain of one thing, that behind him was the beginning of the heavy stretch of boiling rapids he had seen from the air only moments before. He was at that moment like a man blindfolded, rolling backward toward a cliff in a car without brakes that he could not steer.

Sheldon will never forget those moments that elapsed so rapidly that they precluded panic.

“As the plane backed into the first of the combers, I felt it lurch heavily fore and aft. It was like a damned roller coaster, the water was rolling up higher than my wing tips, beating at the struts, and I could barely see because of the spray and water on the windows. All of a sudden the engine began to sputter and choke, and I knew it was getting wet down pretty good. If it had quit, I’d have been a goner, but it didn’t.”

Suddenly, he saw the huddled group of Army scouts on the small rock ledge, through the Aeronca’s side window. Like white images on a frozen screen, they stared with open mouths as the airplane backed past them. And now the most critical and delicate aspect of the entire rescue began.

“After spotting the men, I had to stop the airplane’s backward motion, which I did with full throttle, but I knew my problems had only begun. I had to get the airplane close enough to the ledge for the guys to jump out onto the float and get aboard without damaging a wing on the rocks. If they missed, in their condition, they’d drown for sure.

“I jockeyed around and finally got the wing angled just enough to get one of them on the left float, and still keep myself from turning downstream.”

Once aboard, the grateful GI managed to balance-walk long enough to get into the cabin while Sheldon was already making his next move.

“Because of the heavy current and extremely rough water, it was impossible for me to taxi upriver, let alone take off in that direction, so all I could do was continue to float backward as I had been doing. It was a mile and a half downstream to the end of the rapids, and that first trip was one of the longest rides on a river that I’ve ever taken. It was a shocker.”

Once below the rapids, Sheldon was able to turn the plane and make a downriver takeoff. He would make three more of these landings for there were seven men on the ledge, and he could only remove two at a time due to the need to keep the plane as light as possible for maximum maneuverability.

With the unbelievable taken care of, Sheldon now accomplished the impossible. He returned to the rapids three more times without damage to the airplane, himself, or the rest of the stranded scouts, and then turned his attentions to the eighth man. Sheldon had ferried the seven to the tiny settlement of Curry on the Susitna, a way station for the Alaska Railroad, and then returned to the canyon.

“I flew upriver, looked and then looked some more. I still saw a lot of debris, but no eighth man. I was just about ready to go back for another load of gas when I finally spotted him. The guy had dragged himself out of the river, and he was about 18 miles below the canyon. He had floated all that way hanging onto a piece of debris, and when I got to him, he was a shock case and could barely crawl aboard. The water was about 55 degrees and he was all skinned up and bruised, but had no broken bones.”

The rescue at Devil’s Canyon had been a marvel of efficiency. It was the first of a multitude of tasks that Sheldon would accomplish with the passage of time. Many would be of milder cast, while some would exceed the events that had transpired that day at Devil’s Canyon. Today, Don Sheldon is well aware of the part that luck played in the four landings and subsequent takeoffs, for not even he could gauge the depth of the water as it plunged over the jagged rocks in the floor of the Susitna, yet somehow his floats missed them all four times.

Don received a special citation in a formal ceremony from the U. S. Army, Alaska, and today, when asked which aspect of the entire Devil’s Canyon episode he remembers best, he smiles thinly.

“I guess it would have to be the expressions on those guys’ mugs as they crawled aboard my old floatplane.”

Alaska Magazine—October 1974
Used by permission