A British pilot has spoken of his dramatic rescue from a mountainside on Canada’s barren north Labrador coast in which his farmer co-pilot died.
The Times reported how veteran pilot Sam Rutherford, 46, survived in the wreck in the midst of a blizzard and texted his wife Beatrice De Smet in Belgium to alert emergency services.
Nine rescuers set out on snomobiles from the town of Makkovik before climbing on foot through ‘hellish’ weather conditions to pull the two pilots from the snowbound wreck of their single-engined plane and bring them down from the mountainside.
Pilot Sam Rutherford takes a selfie with the Piper Malibu light aircraft he was ferrying from West Virginia, USA, to Shropshire, England, with co-pilot Alan Simpson, who died in the crash
Mr Rutherford’s co-pilot, Alan Simpson, 72, a poultry farmer from Shropshire, was fatally injured in the crash.
He tragically died just after they reached safety in Makkovik after a three-hour trek on rescue sleds and snowmobiles.
In a post on internet forum the Professional Pilots Rumour Network on May 3, Mr Rutherford wrote: ‘Saving speculation, I survived. My colleague, tragically, did not.
The former British Army helicopter pilot and experienced light aircraft flyer spoke of his ordeal in the aftermath of the crash as he recuperated at his home in Brussels a week after the accident.
The two men were ferrying a single-engined Piper Malibu propeller aircraft from West Virginia in the USA to Britain.
The crash happened as they flew a leg from Goose Bay in Canada to Greenland, a flight of about 800 miles.
Shropshire poultry farmer Alan Simpson died of his injuries after rescuers brought him to the town of Mokkavik
‘I still don’t what exactly happened’, said Mr Rutherford, who has made numerous marathon flights in light aircraft including one from Cape Town in South Africa to the UK in 2013.
‘We were on our way to Greenland to make the crossing to England. I was working on my laptop. The weather was not exceptionally bad.
‘Suddenly there was a blow, from nowhere,’ he said.
‘When I recovered, I saw Alan was not moving, but still breathing,’ he said. ‘I immediately put and emergency blanket over him to keep him warm.’
‘The plane was on the falnk of a steep hill,’ he explained. ‘I first tried to open the door. That was impossible. The snow was too thick.’
‘I started to pry at the emergency door but realised that was not a good idea. It was warm inside and outside it was snowing and freezing.’
The Piper Malibu aircraft that the two pilots were ferrying from West Virginia, USA, to Shropshire in Englad when they crashed into a mountainside in northern Labrador
Incredibly, Mr Rutherford raised the alarm by texting his wife Beatrice in Brussels.
He told Belgian newspaper Nieuwsblad: ‘My wife kept me constantly informed, saying the rescuers had left, that they were on their way, how long it would take.’
‘In the meantime it had become terribly cold,’ Mr Rutherford said. ‘Alan was still not conscious. I had found a few more blankets that I laid on him and crawled underneath.’
The flyer was brimming with praise for the heroic rescue team. ‘When I heard the voices of the rescue team, I was incredibly happy.
‘What those emergency services have done borders on the incredible. They risked their own lives to save us, because the weather was hellish.’
Former British Army helicopter pilot Sam Rutherford was full of praise for the nine emergency services workers who rescued him from the freezing Labrador mountainside
Canadian armed forces spokesman Major Mark Norris said Mr Rutherford was ‘very prepared’ for an emergency.
‘He had multiple communications sytems available and we had very good contact with him throughout the incident which really helped us.’
Depending on model, the Piper Malibu has a range of between 1,000 and 1,500 nautical miles (1,150 to 1,700 statute miles) with a 45-minute reserve, far less than needed to cross the north Atlantic in one hop.
It cruises at up to 274 knots, roughly half the speed of an airliner.
‘I’ve known Alan for a few years,’ Mr Rutherford said of his co-pilot.
‘He had bought a new airplane, a a single-engine aircraft, in West Virginia.
‘we would pick it up up together and fly it back to Shropshire.’
Mr Simpson ran Alan Simpson Farming Ltd. in Prees, Shropshire, with his son Charles, one of the biggest pultry farms in the UK with a half-million bird capacity.
The Simpson family said he would be ‘deeply missed,’ while the National Farmers’ Union was ‘deeply saddened’ by his death.