The Alaska Plane Wreck

Our friend Jim Connelley raised high-powered performance Quarter Horses, but before that occupation he had another – Alaskan bush pilot.

He was small, only about 5 feet 5 inches tall, so he fit those small planes just fine. He delivered fishermen, hikers, etc … to the back country and then picked them up after their fishing or other activity.

He was good at his work, which he loved. He had one spectacular “incident,” though.

I’m told the water in those Alaskan lakes is so clear that from a plane you can’t tell how far you actually are from the surface, so pilots usually make a pass before landing on the water and pitch out a floatable object such as a lifesaver so they can judge exactly when to touch down.

One particular day Jim, flying alone, didn’t pitch anything out. One pontoon touched the water’s surface before the other. The plane somersaulted into the lake.

Jim was trapped in the upside down plane. The water was icy cold, of course. He wasn’t sure which of his body parts were damaged the worst, but he really needed his hands so he managed to wrench them free of the cockpit’s tangled and twisted mass of wires, belts and broken pieces of metal.

Luckily, he had an air pocket so he could breathe until he figured out a way to clamber from the wreckage.

At last he escaped. One leg obviously was broken, one hand looked mightily damaged, some of his insides didn’t feel good at all. He was wearing a life preserver, luckily, and after quite a long struggle he made it to shore, totally saturated and half frozen, but cautiously daring to hope he would survive.

He hadn’t been on shore more than two minutes when he heard a commotion in the nearby bushes, and a bull moose burst out of the underbrush. An adult bull moose weighs more than a thousand pounds, and has a reputation as aggressive, territorial and, if threatened, just plain mean. This fellow definitely lived up to that billing.

Jim had a pistol on his hip, of course, but would it fire after the soaking it just took? No time to speculate. Jim grabbed it and shot. It fired! Several times, in fact.

The moose, at last, died – on top of Jim. That moose was very much an adult – a big booger.

The details of Jim’s eventual rescue are sketchy, but he survived with minimal damage considering his scary predicament. The only noticeable consequence was a finger that pointed in a really strange direction.