Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Whitehorse Star

Mr. and Mrs. Troy Hankins at Whitehorse Airport. Star Photo

It Started Out As A Holiday...

"It was the most beautiful sound I ever heard in my life.”

By Whitehorse Star on January 27, 1972

The Whitehorse Star, January 27, 1972

IT STARTED OUT AS A HOLIDAY...

"It was the most beautiful sound I ever heard in my life.”

That was how Anchorage businessman Troy Hankins described the Canadian Forces Search and Rescue Otter aircraft which first spotted him and his wife Tuesday after their light aircraft was forced down in a canyon 30 miles SSE of Muncho Lake Sunday.

The couple arrived in Whitehorse yesterday on board one of the helicopters of 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron, Comox, which had taken part in the air search.

They planned to return home to Anchorage as soon as a commercial flight could be arranged.

They had been on their way to Florida for a holiday when they went missing.

The search was started Sunday night after the Hankins failed to arrive in Fort Nelson where they had filed a flight plan from Whitehorse.

Mr. Hankins described for The Star what happened to his Mooney 21 single engine aircraft.

He said that he'd been flying the Alaska Highway and east of Muncho Lake followed a sharp turn to the left which turned out to be a mining road leading into a box canyon. It became too narrow to turn and he was surrounded by 8000 ft. mountains. He tried to climb to turn and at the 7500 ft. level lost power.

STALLED

Mr. Hankins stalled the aircraft, the left wing dropped and the plane went into a spin. He turned and managed to land at the 6200 level of the canyon in a clear space 300' by 600' long. It was a wheels up landing.

"We touched down on the belly,” he said, "bounced up once, then stopped. It was the most beautiful landing I ever made.”

The prop was damaged but the skin and hull were not. Mr. Hankins said he told his wife Tallulah to get out of the aircraft when he saw steam coming from the engine. Though both in shock they got out and looked the airplane over.

"I thought, now what?” he said. "You know you're 10 miles up a canyon and the temperature is 40 below.”

SPARE CLOTHES

The first thing they did when they got back into the aircraft was to put on all their spare clothes and insulate the cabin with suitcases and sleeping bags.

They had filed a flight plan and they knew there would be a search but they thought it might start the next day, Monday. They had food enough for 30 days and the aircraft was equipped with a manually operated ESP102A locater beacon. It was the beacon that would save them.

That first night Mr. Hankins used the beacon for only one hour, between 7 and 8 p.m. because he wanted to preserve it for when he thought the planes would be searching.

"We had a fairly comfortable night in the plane,” he said. But in the morning they noticed frost all over the interior.

He started the beacon at 11 a.m. and kept it on all day. At one point they thought they heard an airplane but the sound faded away.

MISERABLE

Monday night was miserable and cold. Mr. Hankin said he was thinking of alternate plans to try to get out if the planes didn't come. He had decided to wait one more day in the canyon because he didn't think they would be warm enough if they started walking.

They slept little and could not seem to keep warm.

"You start losing your resistance -- the will to stay alive,” he said. In the morning he was ready to start walking but his wife persuaded him to wait one more day.

"She had faith,” he said. "She kept saying they'll find us today... but we couldn't have stayed another night. Every time we went out of the aircraft it took us longer to get warm when we got back in.”

BEACON

On Tuesday morning he started the beacon at eight o'clock. The first plane came between 10:30 and 11 a.m. It was the Canadian Search and Rescue Otter from Edmonton.

"It was the most beautiful sound I ever heard in my life,” his wife interjected.

Mr. Hankins got out on the wing of his plane to wave and the Otter, piloted by Capt. Ken Durrant of 440 Squadron, circled.

"I could have gone to sleep with relief right then,” he said. Later a Buffalo aircraft from Comox made a low pass and dropped a pellet flag with a note saying a helicopter would be there in four to five hours. It was there in less than an hour.

CRYING

Mrs. Hankins was crying as the helicopter landed. "It was the first time she cried,” said her husband. They were taken to Fort Nelson and checked at the medical centre. Neither was hurt.

Mr. Hankins said he'd changed his thinking on what a person should carry for survival. Most important, he said, was warm mukluks which neither of them had. "When your feet get cold everything's cold." They needed candles. But there was nowhere to light a fire, they were too high up. "I should have drained the oil before it got cold to use it for a smoke signal," he said.

TENT

They needed a tent to put up in the snow because the condensation in the plane was soaking their clothes and sleeping bag.

They had maps but they had no snowshoes. They thought they should have whiskey or brandy along on a flight.

Having the locater beacon was almost an accident. Mr. Hankins said that he didn't own one but at the Anchorage airport before taking off a man suggested he borrow one instead of buying one.

"Now I'm going to buy it," he said.

HOMED-IN

The beacon can be picked up from 10 to 12 miles away but because of being located in the canyon it was not immediately heard by the search aircraft. It was only after the plane had followed a false signal that it caught the Hankins beacon and homed in.

Mr. Hankins considers his plane can be salvaged by a helicopter at Fort Nelson which will take it to a mining road where repairs can be made to the prop.

A retired ex-air force man he now owns an auto repair shop in Anchorage. He and his wife have two sons in school and college. He has 600 hours flying since 1967 and has had the Mooney aircraft since 1969. He thinks it was ice crystals in the air intake which caused the power loss.

He hasn't given up flying. "But if I ever start across country again it will be with I.F.R." (Instrument flying rating), he added.

Comments (2)

Up 1 Down 0

James Hankins on Oct 14, 2015 at 9:53 am

I too would like to add my sincere thanks to all that were involved in the search and rescue mission to find my parents. A job well done by all, my brother and I will be ever so grateful!

Up 1 Down 0

Michael Hankins on Oct 9, 2015 at 11:31 am

These were my parents. Almost 44 years now. I was a senior in high school. Such a miracle they were found and rescued! I never did get to thank Canadian Forces - COMOX - Transport and Rescue Squadron 442 for the remarkable job they did. Thank you so much! Until the day mom died she spoke of you as her Heroes!

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