Gateway Gazette

From My Bookshelf: Into the Abyss

By Lynn Willoughby

Into the Abyss ~  Carol Shaben

In this book of non-fiction, Erik Vogel  is a young, eager, fatigued, overworked bush pilot.  He flies for Wapiti Air out of Grande Prairie, trying to get in his flying hours so he can apply for his commercial pilot’s license, like so many others.  He is constantly afraid of losing his job.

On the night of October 19, 1984 , with nine passengers aboard, he flies out of the Edmonton Municipal Airport. although he is exhausted, his plane has iced up on the flight into Edmonton, and the weather has deteriorated.  He crashes the small Piper Navaho in the frozen wilderness somewhere outside of High Prairie, Alberta.  This is the story of the four survivors – Erik, Larry Saben – an MLA, Scott Deschamps – an RCMP officer who is escorting  prisoner Dale Archambault to Grande Prairie.

Three of the four survivors are badly injured, but Archambault builds a fire, gathers wood, and does whatever he can to keep them alive for the fifteen hours it takes for help to arrive.  It is a fascinating read – from their rescue, through the inquiry in the following months, to the toll taken on each of the men.  

Archambault cannot handle being called “hero” and his already sad life does not improve.  Shaben, – the first Muslim Cabinet Minister in Canada, leaves politics and becomes a voice for reason and civility after 9/11.  Most of the book is about Vogel and his struggle with guilt in the years following the crash.  Deschamps leaves the RCMP.  His life too is forever changed from his near death experience.

This is a good, non-fiction read, especially as it deals with an historic event in our backyard.  Bush pilots in Canada’s north play such a very important role and it is shameful that we only hear about the tragedies like this one and the Martin Hartwell story.

Who Knew?

Ruth Parsons was the only woman earning her living as a bush pilot in 1957.

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