Airplanes are a necessity for most guide businesses in Alaska. Whether it be getting clients into camp by using a flying service or as many guides do, use them to set-up and check on spike camps, fly-in supplies or for the numerous things needed done on a daily basis. You really get dependent on them. Operating in the bush in Alaska with the extreme weather conditions and bad or just short landing strips sooner or later you are going to have an accident. You may remember my first job as a guide working for Tony Lee in the story “I Can Do This” he had an accident on my first day. Another case in point is Gary Bishop, our chief pilot at the Dog Salmon River camp, was talking to one of our newly hired pilots about his personal safety record and the guy said with a cocky attitude, “I’ve never had an accident.” Gary said, “If you work off airport in the bush it’s just a matter of time.” The very next day the guy had an accident. AAA was no different than any other guide operation. On any given day during our season we would have two or three “super cubs” performing a wide variety of different tasks. We also had flying services flying our clients in or out of base camps so there was a wide range of exposure.
Looking back on the accident I had a total of 282 hours flying time. The insurance company’s representative told me that statistics show that around that number of hours is when first-time accidents are likely to happen and are quite common. They also say that a major accident usually only happens once. Our cub had a 150HP engine and I know now that a 160HP is much better at high altitudes. I made sure that our next cub was a 160HP. They say you fly a cub by the seat of your pants; you actually feel or experience the plane. This is so true. I believe to this day that with my experience and a 160HP engine and doing everything the same but with a little more finesse in my reaction, I would not have crashed. Every year I found myself landing in areas that I wouldn’t have the year before because of my experience. Experience in your flying environment is the most important part of becoming an exceptional pilot.
It was about a month after the accident that Paul Claus, who was flying for us at that time, was flying me back to Chitina. He asked me when I was going to fly again. I told him I wasn’t sure. He said he thought it was time and landed on a sandbar on the Chitina River. He got out and said for us to trade places. He told me that he had had a few accidents and if the plane hadn’t caught fire I could have flown it out. He climbed in the back seat and said, “Let’s go.” I think that take-off was scarier than my first solo take-off. When I greased the landing at Chitina Paul said, “You’re ready.”