It was fall of 1994 at our Western Alaska camp. The day started out as one of those beautiful September days. I had been checking spike camps that morning with the Super Cub. One of the camps had a moose down so I needed to pick up a couple of packers and some supplies. I landed at my strip, taxied the plane into the tie down location, got out and faced into the wind. Most of the morning the wind had been blowing about 20 mph and the weather report never indicated anything about strong winds. It takes me about 10 minutes to tie the plane down and 5 minutes to untie it. Since, I was only going to be at the camp, which was on the other side of the lake for about 30 minutes, I decided to save time and not tie the plane down. I always leave the plane untied when I land at spike camps so there was no difference.
I took the boat across the lake, told the packers to grab their gear that they would be spending the night out and I got the supplies. The main camp is in a small ravine out of the wind, I was there about 45 minutes or so, a little longer than I expected. We loaded the gear and supplies in the trailer. One of the packers got on the 4-wheeler while I walked behind with the other packer. As the 4-wheeler reached the top of the ravine my packer stopped and turned and looked at us. He turned back toward the lake but didn’t go, he turned again to look back at me and for some reason I knew that he was going to say, “The Super Cub is in the lake.” I hit my knee a couple times and said, “You dummy, you dummy! What have you done?” When I got to the top I could see the plane in the water with about half of the rudder sticking out, one wing practically under, but it was at least right side up. Not what you want to see if you are not on floats.
We got in the boat and headed to the plane. When we got there we looked completely around the plane and I was amazed that I didn’t see any physical damage. While I was at camp the winds had come up to about 50 mph and had blown the plane over a 20 foot embankment covered with alder and was setting about 50 feet from the bank. About half of the engine was covered. I went back to camp to call my engine mechanic on the SSB Radio to see what all I needed to do. After he gave me instructions, we grabbed some rope and went back to the airplane. The wind was now blowing about 60 mph but the plane was below the bank so it wasn’t getting much wind. Using two ropes tied to the struts, we pulled the plane closer to the bank and out of the water as far as we could. My big 30” bush wheels made it surprisingly easy to pull. I was told to drain the carburetor, take out the spark plugs and turn the prop to get any water out of the engine. There was water in the two bottom cylinders. I changed the oil, poured gas on the plugs and then put them back in. The prop had only about 1 ½” clearance from the water. The first time I tried to start it nothing happened. I pulled the plugs again, poured more gas on them and it started right up. I was to let it run for 20-30 minutes to get it hot and change the oil again. It was still windy and getting late so we tied the plane to the alder on the bank and went back to camp to get ready for tomorrow.
The next day the winds had died down so now was the time to get the plane out of the water and up a 20 foot bank. There was an area about 30 yards from the plane where the bank was in two tiers, a 10 foot and then another 10 foot. The shovels and most of my axes were at spike camps so all we had was a splitting mal and two medium size axes to dig the bank off so we didn’t have to go straight up. I had a come-along and two 6 foot pipes. I drove the pipe into the ground and hooked the come-along to it and hooked the other end to the center of the landing gear. Using the come-along and a packer pushing on each tire we got it out. After doing a complete inspection, by the grace of God, the only damage was three small impressions on the elevators. I straightened them with my Leatherman. Started the engine and took off for a quick flight. Everything went well and upon landing one of my packers said, “That really is a Super Cub.” I changed the oil one more time and used the cub the rest of the season.
The packers said you are not going to tell anyone about this are you and I said you bet I am. If someone can learn from my mistakes, all the better. One pilot told me, “You must be living good since there was basically no damage.” My comment was it was God’s gentle way of telling me to always tie my plane down. Oh by the way, I did get some quick disconnects for the tie down spot. Now I always clip the plane down, even if I’m only making a short trip to the camp.