Four aircraft, 12 airmen, 25 days, 40 below zero, in the middle of nowhere.
- By Edward Farmer
- Air & Space magazine, September 2011
(Page 3 of 4)
“I looked at that tow rope and thought, ‘If I could only crawl to the C-54 and had a chance of making it, I certainly would do so.’ But that was a fleeting thought, and I knew that I had no chance what so ever of accomplishing such a feat….
“It appeared that we were about to buy the proverbial farm; therefore, it was to our best interest to prepare for the big event, or try to stop the transaction if at all possible. At this time, I got out of my seat to go back into the fuselage of the glider to check on the life raft, that had been put aboard in case we had to ditch at sea. The life raft was rather large and it would have been a big job in order to discharge that raft out the side door, pull a lever to fill the raft with air, and then make sure the raft stayed around until both of us could get aboard. I realized that our chances were very small [even] if we could accomplish this task. The life raft was large enough to accommodate 10–12 passengers…. We would have to be extremely careful not to pull the air lever until the life raft was outside….
“I checked everything over and then returned to my seat, saying nothing about what I thought to the captain. As I put my headset back on and buckled in, the captain was upset about something. He said that the C-54 [crew] are considering cutting us loose because the weather ahead was forecast to be below minimums and they didn’t have the gas to return to Goose Bay towing a glider. He became completely irrational and dove the glider and pulled the nose up rather sharply and let go of the controls. This maneuver put a lot of slack in the tow rope and eventually in a few moments there would be a sharp jerk. I grabbed the controls and put the glider’s nose down and tried to minimize the jerk that was milliseconds away. We survived this maneuver and I asked, ‘What in the hell are you thinking about?’ All he said, ‘What’s the use, they are going to cut us loose anyhow.’ I shouted back, ‘We’re going to hold on as long as possible! I am not giving up that quickly!’
“We were now skimming along the top of the water not more than 200–400 feet above. The ice had melted, but that ocean was rough looking with many white caps present. The weather reports started to improve and it looked like we might make our destination. There was no more talk about ditching at sea, and we were beginning to feel that maybe we could survive another day.”
Finally, the glider released from the C-54 and landed at BW-1. Writes Murl: “I must say the ground felt so good that I could just kiss the ground and feel the soil and snow sift through my hands….
“A few days later, the other glider made the trip without many problems. The weather at BW1 was VFR. For some reason or another, the second glider flew directly to the rescue sight [sic] and proceeded to land near the downed aircraft,” even though the snow was very soft.
The Troop Carrier glider was readied for a rescue pickup. “Since this glider did not have skis on it when it touched down on the snow,” wrote Jackson, “it was noticed that the wheels penetrated the snow surface and the bottom of the glider became like a toboggan on a snow surface. Recognizing this, we instructed the ground crew to place large sheets of plywood…in front of the wheels to give a little platform as it started out.”
To prepare a glider for pickup by a towplane, the crew would place a loop of nylon rope between two eight-foot-high poles set about 10 feet apart. The glider was positioned about 250 feet away, pointing toward the poles. A nylon rope attached the loop to the glider. The towplane would fly low and, with a hook trailing from the back, catch the loop, pulling the glider up.
During the first attempt, the heavily loaded glider’s wheels dug in and the rope broke. The glider crew reset the bridle and removed the glider’s wheels, so the glider would slide on its belly. After an hour and a half, daylight was fading and the C-54 made a second snatch attempt.
Again, the towplane made a long run and snagged the bridle. This time the glider had frozen to the ice and would not move. The tow rope broke, then snapped back toward the glider, sawing into one of the wings and breaking off the horizontal stabilizer. The glider’s nose was also damaged.
The second glider, back at BW-1, was prepared for a Christmas Day attempt. “Our glider was stripped of all unnecessary equipment, including the landing gear,” Murl writes. “…Needless to say, I became excess baggage and the captain was elected to try the rescue attempt.” The glider was flown out, and Murl stayed behind at BW-1.
The second glider arrived at the site and was loaded with the stranded men. “I’ll never forget that rescue attempt,” said Edwin Thomson, one of the airmen, in a 1995 article in Yankee magazine. “It was on Christmas Day, and we were finally picked up successfully in the glider only to have the towline break when we were 500 feet up—half a ton of nylon rope snapped back like a rubber band…. I still marvel at how the pilot crash-landed us safely.”